Midwives are heroes. They save lives, they care and listen. Grace is one of them. This Ugandan 37-year-old mother of four left her family’s urban home in Kampala to serve refugees in Rhino refugee settlement seven years ago. Now, she mainly supports South Sudanese women and girls who have fled their war-torn home country.
In front of the health centre in Rhino refugee camp, one of the largest refugee settlements in Uganda, hundreds of refugee women with children in their arms are patiently waiting for treatment. Suddenly, the door of one of the few concrete buildings opens. A middle-aged woman with curly hair and a big smile steps outside to call for the next patient. This is Grace. She is one of six midwives working in the maternity unit at the health centre.
Since conflict broke out in South Sudan three years ago, more than 80,000 people have sought refuge in Uganda’s Rhino camp. The latest bout of violence, which started in July 2016, is forcing up to 300 South Sudanese to flee to Rhino camp every day, stretching capacities beyond limits. Most of the new arrivals are women and girls who need urgent physical and psychological support.
Grace is the one who cares for them.
She can’t remember how many babies she’s helped deliver or how many mothers’ lives she has saved during her seven years at Rhino maternity ward, but there are some cases she will never forget.
“A few years ago, a mother went into labour at her hut 25 kilometres from the centre. She had problems with her pregnancy and was about to lose the baby, but her family had no money for treatment,” tells Grace. “Out of desperation the mother went into the bush, preparing herself to die. Miraculously, a friend found her, took her to our health centre and we managed to transfer her to hospital just in time. Sadly, her baby passed away but at least the mother survived.”
Today, Grace and her colleagues are able to treat most of the difficult pregnancies on their own. “Since we participated in a CARE training for midwives, there are less cases that we need to transfer to the regional hospital,” explains Grace. “We also got new equipment like vacuum aspiration sets which help to treat miscarriages.”
But despite these lifesaving improvements, there are still many daily struggles – long distances for women to travel to reach the centre, lack of space to treat patients, and challenges to convince women to get treatment after they experience sexual violence and to report their cases to the local police.
Each month, one or two cases of violence are reported to the healthcare centre, but Grace is convinced there are many more survivors of rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence who suffer in silence. “Sometimes we receive women with heavy bleeding and trauma,” says Grace. “Many of them try to deny what happened but we investigate, and we provide medical and psychological support.” CARE also trains healthcare staff and community leaders about gender-based violence, helping women and girls know being violated is a human rights’ abuse and giving them strength and confidence to report this crime to the police.
Midwives also visit refugees at their temporary homes to inform them about treatments at the health facility, including sexual reproductive health services, family planning methods and psychological support. CARE also distributes hundreds of dignity kits including baby clothes, wipes, soap and cloths to women who have recently given birth.
“I have seen a lot of progress in healthcare for women and girls, which encourages me to carry on,” says Grace. “I left my family back in town to serve people in Rhino refugee camp seven years ago and there is not a minute I regret this decision. Women here need my help and through supporting them I found well-being.”