Stronger Together: Umoja partnership creates unity among midwives


Group photo

As Canadian midwives Anne Wilson, Emmanuelle Hébert, Deborah Bonser and Katrina Kilroy arrive in rural Tanzania, their local counterparts are waiting for them with matching necklaces and outstretched arms.

The Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) and the Tanzania Midwives Association (TAMA) have been “twins” for more than seven years. They call their partnership Umoja, Swahili for unity.

“At the first contact, we all became friends and we started laughing and discussing issues of common interest,” says Sebalda Leshabari, a Tanzanian member of the Umoja steering committee.

The two organizations, in partnership with the Cuso International Midwives Save Lives initiative, recently came together in Bagamoyo, a few hours north of Dar es Salaam, to develop their objectives for the future.

It gave the midwives a chance to catch up with each other, to celebrate the successes of their partnership and  to see the work being accomplished on the ground in Tanzania. The workshop reinforced one of the key components of the Midwives Save Lives project—helping organizations build capacity to advocate for and make lasting change to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women and girls.

“We made this alliance with Cuso International to do bigger things,” says Anne. “We believe that through association strengthening, midwives are better supported and more competent. They can be more visible in their own communities. For us, association strengthening is a core part of any work that we do with other countries.”

The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) paired the Canadian and Tanzanian associations as part of a north-south twinning initiative to share skills and best practices.

“ICM decided that we would be a good pairing because we were both fairly young associations and at similar stages in our development,” says Anne.

The partnership has led to several successful grant applications, one of which led to the development of the Midwife Emergency Skills Training module. Developed by the two associations, the training has been delivered to 1,040 Tanzanian midwives and is credited with greatly improving the quality of care given to mothers who experience complications during delivery.

Since then, TAMA has been able to hire full-time staff for the first time and subsidize recently retired midwives to work in underserved rural areas. Training opportunities have also brought new members to the association.

“I am very proud of this relationship because we are friends, we are working together, and we have a lot of successes,” says Sebalda. “We can speak with one voice to help more mothers and babies in Tanzania.”

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.