One highlight of our April, 2013 trip was a meeting at the Bill Rice Clinic where we got to meet 11 of our “Matwones” or traditional birth attendants. What a wise and wonderful group of people.
Several years ago it was determined that one way to address the high rate of maternal deaths in childbirth was to bring in the traditional birth attendants and to have them become part of our Bill Rice Clinic team. We were hearing reports that the women of La Gonave were becoming more attuned to wanting service based healthcare and deemed it the safer way to get treatment during pregnancy and delivery. But, the reality of their lives is that on any given night, when they go into labor, the only person available to them is most likely the Matwone who lives in their village. If we could combine the collective wisdom of years of delivering the babies on La Gonave with better and safer delivery practices we could impact the safety of home deliveries.
What could have been a rigid and resistant system of older practitioners turned out to be a warm and welcoming font of wisdom and enthusiasm. They eagerly became a monthly fixture at the Bill Rice Cllinics. They show up each month for training wearing their picture ID badges stating that the are members of the Bill Rice Clinic healthcare system. They are eager for the monthly training sessions and, on this most recent day when we met, they were eager to tell us things that would make their work safer and easier.
At the prompting of one who asked for flashlights, another spoke up and said that headlamps would be more useful! What a wonderful and funny thing it was to think of these wise and elderly people donning the headlamps we most often see on younger people in the US in order to deliver a baby in the remote mountains of La Gonave, Haiti.
When they were told we might be able to secure some training from the Ministry of Health to make them certified Matwones they cheered! Always eager to learn in order to provide better care to the women they have served for years.
We left the meeting in agreement that we had learned an important lesson. People in any country can dismiss their elders as being old-fashioned and out of date…but when you need their wisdom and experience we all turn back to them for the things that money can’t buy.
The combination of experience and education helps all of us to be the best we can be..and they are no different.