By Ruby Pratka
Cuso International Volunteer Communications Adviser for Midwives Save Lives
Emmanuel Nicus Nyagor politely brushes off the offer of an interpreter as he walks into the maternity ward of a hospital in Kahama, Tanzania. He and a small group of midwives have arrived to discuss birth preparedness with new mothers at the hospital as part of a workshop on family planning.
It’s a far cry from 2010, when he was first assigned to the agricultural district of Ushetu, where the majority of the population speaks Sukuma. Educated in Swahili and English, and from a Luo-speaking community near the Tanzania-Kenya border, Emmanuel didn’t speak a word of the local language.
“A lot of the mothers would come to me talking in Sukuma, but I couldn’t understand. From the beginning, learning the language was one of the things I wanted to do,” he says, adding he would often ask someone in the community to work as a translator when he met with mothers.
“We continued like that for one year, two years, and I started understanding more and more Sukuma,” says Emmanuel. “Now there are many words of Sukuma that I know.”
He’s comfortable enough in the language to chat and laugh with the mothers in the labour ward, and confidently discuss family planning and birth spacing with Elizabeth Maduhu, a Sukuma farmer from the Kahama region who recently gave birth to her seventh child.
His willingness to adapt to the Sukuma language and culture, as well as his skills as a midwife, have earned him high praise in the community where he works.
“Many children in the village, their parents give them my name,” he says with a grin. “They call the baby Emmanuel if it’s a boy. If it’s a girl, I’m married, so the mother or the father sometimes names the girl baby after my wife, Catherine. There are a lot of little Catherines out there.”
Midwives play a large public health role in the country. They educate mothers about the signs of a high-risk pregnancy and speak to families about the importance of birth planning and of giving birth in health facilities with a skilled attendant.
“The first challenge for midwives in Tanzania is that many women arrive too late for us to help,” he says. “Another challenge is that many women, many people in Tanzania, are not aware of what health facilities offer.”
Emmanuel has participated in workshops on emergency skills training and postpartum family planning, offered through Cuso International’s Midwives Save Lives project in partnership with the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) and the Tanzania Midwives Association (TAMA).
“If an organization like Cuso wants to help the midwives of Tanzania do their jobs better, keep doing what you have done, offering opportunities for them to improve their skills,” he says. “The postpartum family planning workshop helped me better perform procedures and provide health education and family planning counselling. I’d say it helped me in many things.”
Emmanuel comes from a long line of health professionals; his grandmother and mother were midwives and his father was a doctor. He still remembers, in detail, the very first time he attended a delivery.
“It was in 2009, and I was still at college. It was late at night and I was on the maternity ward,” he says. “When I went into the labour ward, I saw the mother push. I didn’t even have time to call anyone and—delivery! It was a baby boy. By the time my supervisor came, he saw that I had already delivered the baby and he appreciated it. That was my first delivery, and now I deliver, deliver, deliver.”
Even after a decade of practice and working long hours, he still enjoys every birth.
“Delivery is my favourite,” he says, adding a midwife requires both skilled hands and a committed heart. “When you choose to work in a health field, you’re supposed to help people. My advice is to love the job in order to help people.”
Midwives Save Lives (MSL) is a four-year initiative in Benin, DRC, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Led by Cuso International in partnership with the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) and local midwifery associations, MSL is contributing to the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality by improving the supply and demand of health services and strengthening the work of midwives’ associations. MSL is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.