Saving lives in Afghanistan: four mothers tell their stories

Saving lives in Afghanistan:

four mothers tell their stories

Christians in Afghanistan are saving mums’ and babies’ lives this harvest.

Can you imagine losing ten children? Many mothers living in remote villages in the mountains of Afghanistan don’t have to imagine. It’s been their life. Giving birth used to be a terrifying prospect for these women: they never knew whether they, or their babies, would survive. For hundreds of women across Afghanistan’s icy mountains that’s all changed, thanks to transformative training courses supported by BMS World Mission. Thanks to you and your support. Children born in these villages are far less likely to die before they’ve had a chance to live. Mums don’t have to live in fear anymore.
We want to introduce you to four of these mothers, so they can share in their own words the way that you have helped transform their lives.

1. Negar: ‘The men are really helping, they’ve had the lessons as well.’

Negar, a mother from Afghanistan

My children didn’t all survive. I’ve given birth to about ten children in all, but three of them passed away from tetanus. Us women used to keep carrying really heavy loads all through pregnancy. We wouldn’t be eating and drinking very much. And we’d give birth down in the barns.

The birthing lessons have really made a difference to the way we look after ourselves when we’re pregnant. The men are really helping, they’ve had the lessons as well. They’re the ones who are saying, ‘don’t do the heavy lifting’. They’ll bring water into the house, they’ll make sure their wives get a couple of hours extra sleep during the day. This has really made a difference to the way that men behave.

And it means our children come into the world healthy and whole. They are not passing away from hepatitis, and pneumonia, tetanus.

2. Maheen: ‘If we had known about this a generation ago, it would have made so much difference.’

Maheen, a mother from Afghanistan

Eight of my children passed away. I have eight living children as well. The others died from bleeding, from other complications, from getting sick after they were born. Even my children who survived had problems when they were young. One of my sons had problems with diarrhoea and deafness for about two years when he was younger, he’s still deaf in one ear. Another had problems with his heart, and other complications. We took him to the clinic and they managed to save his life. He’s a nice, big man now. This was before we had any of these lessons we have now.
I’m one of the local midwives, and since I took part in the training and became a facilitator I’ve delivered about 35 children and they’ve all been fine. I’ve applied what I learned in the lessons and those have been healthy deliveries.

If we had known about this a generation ago, it would have made so much difference. There are so many women from this village who are not here today, because they lost blood and died during childbirth. And children who died from infections. I recently helped my friend here with a baby that couldn’t breathe. We knew how to pat it on the back, how to give it the breath of life and to start it breathing. And he’s okay now. We’ve learned so much. And we want to learn more.

Life’s First Cry, our 2018 harvest appeal, shares the hidden struggles of families in rural Afghanistan.

Click the button below to download the video and visit www.bmsworldmission.org/cry find out more about all the amazing resources that you can use to share how women’s lives are being transformed.

3. Taban: ‘I’m happy to be a mum.’

Taban, a mother from Afghanistan and her daughter Chehrah

This is my daughter Chehrah. I gave birth at home and, because Chehrah was born after we started the lessons, we knew to make the place nice and clean. And, praise God, Chehrah’s fine. She’s really well. We didn’t know much about childbirth before we had the course. Some of my other children had problems with malnutrition and things, because we didn’t really have much idea about feeding ourselves well as mums. This time, I found it a lot easier. I wasn’t so worried, and we had a nice place to have the baby. Chehrah was born in the night, and the next morning we went to the clinic to get her vaccinated.

I’m happy to be a mum. It’s a nice thing. I am really hoping I can bring my children up well, and they will be healthy.

4. Andisha: ‘What we’ve learnt here is the reason that my children are alive.’

Andisha, a mother from Afghanistan

Our kids just kept dying. Some of them would live for a few hours. Some would live for a few weeks. And then they would pass away. And that was just terrible. You can’t really cope with that kind of feeling. But after the course we changed what we do, and our children have survived. Now that we have two living children I am very happy. It’s hard to describe the difference between then and now.

It’s really great being a mum. It’s a really joyful feeling. Our house feels much better. It really made a difference that my husband went on the course as well. He was a real help when I was expecting – he helped around the house and we’ve been more in agreement. It’s brought us closer together. I am really happy now.

What we’ve learnt here is the reason that my children are alive. The lessons you have given have made all the difference in the world.

For these four women, giving birth is no longer a terrifying prospect. But for many other women in Afghanistan, it still is. Please show Life’s First Cry in for your harvest service this year to support this extraordinary work and help keep more mothers and babies alive.

Visit www.bmsworldmission.org/cry to find all the resources you’ll need, including the British Sign Language and subtitled versions of our Life’s First Cry video, collection jar labels and gift envelopes. Thank you for supporting this powerful work and giving families hope for the future.

Give to Life's First Cry right now Click here
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Four-month-old Navid yawns in his mother's arms in his home in Afghanistan
Your gifts to BMS are saving the lives of babies like Navid.

5 ways you’re making the world a healthier place

5 ways you’re making the world a healthier place

Saving mothers and babies in Afghanistan and helping pregnant refugees. Discover five of the ways your generous support for BMS World Mission is helping to provide healthcare for thousands of people around the world.

1. Meeting medical needs in Chad

Man in the distance looking at the camera. An ambulance in a courtyard at a hospital in Chad.
You're funding pharmacists, surgeons, doctors and nurses in Chad.

There is one qualified doctor in Chad for every 25,000 people. Nearly 40 per cent of children have stunted growth because of a lack of food, and illnesses such as malaria, HIV and Aids affect many people’s lives. But thanks to you, hospitals in Chad (one near the capital and one in the north of the country) are providing much-needed medical treatment and helping people survive. Your giving has enabled us to fund pharmacists, surgeons, doctors, nurses, malnutrition prevention workers, midwives and other hospital staff who are giving the right care to thousands of people. They’re treating gunshot wounds, cancer and malaria, and delivering babies, thanks to you.

2. Giving children with disabilities the support they need

Children with disabilities in Thailand face huge challenges. Many families struggle to cope with the needs of their children, and government orphanages are often unable to provide the one-on-one care and support they need.

Thanks to your giving, BMS worker Judy Cook is providing therapeutic and respite care to children with disabilities at Hope Home, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Hope Home currently provides full-time care for ten children, and offers respite care for many other children and their families.

Check out the amazing work you’re supporting in this video:

3. Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

The South Sudanese women who make it to Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda after fleeing conflict are often in danger of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. But thanks to your giving, an electronic device that measures people’s blood pressure and heart rate is helping to save lives. At least 7,000 pregnant women will receive medical checks that could identify any problems and save their lives, and the lives of their unborn children. To read more about how the device works and the impact your support is having, click the button below.

A woman in a refugee camp carrying a pale of water.
You're helping at least 7,000 refugees get medical checks in northern Uganda.

4. Saving the lives of mothers and babies in Afghanistan

Boys playing football in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Thanks to you, men and women are being trained in safe birthing practices in the remote mountains of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. In remote mountain villages, it’s difficult for pregnant women to get to clinics to give birth, and unsafe birthing practices such as smearing dirt on the umbilical cord, or pushing on the mother’s stomach during labour to make the baby come out, can lead to infection and even death.

You’re enabling us to help train men and women in safe birthing practices in the mountains of rural Afghanistan. You’re helping them learn to spot when something is wrong, and to dispel unsafe birthing practices, and you’re saving the lives of mothers and babies as a result.

5. Giving children a voice through speech therapy

Being unable to communicate your feelings and needs to the community around you can be incredibly isolating. In northern Uganda, BMS worker Lois Ovenden is providing speech and language therapy to children with disabilities. We’ll leave it to her to explain more of the inspiring work she’s doing in this video:

By supporting BMS, you’re funding life-transforming health work like this around the world. Thank you! You can help us do even more by making a donation today.

Inspired to give? Click Here
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Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

Technology and mission:

Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

Women in refugee camps in Uganda are in danger of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. That threat is about to change for thousands of them, thanks to an electronic device and your support for BMS World Mission.

They’ve fled a civil war, trekking for days to cross the border from South Sudan into Uganda, seeking sanctuary from crippling food shortages and men with guns and machetes. They’ve fled to save themselves, their loved ones, and the ones yet to be born.

The South Sudanese women who make it to the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda find a settlement of tents and mud-brick huts that sprawls for miles. The number of people living there, roughly 280,000, is higher than the population of many a British city, and most of them are women and children.

Refugee women and children walk along a dirt track in northern Uganda
Women and children have walked for miles to escape conflict in South Sudan.

Left behind because they were killed, abducted, forced to fight, or too weak to travel, are brothers, sisters, grandparents, children… and future fathers. An estimated one in five women of childbearing age in humanitarian emergencies like this are likely to be pregnant. Keep that in mind when you read the following:

– An estimated 830 women die every day from pregnancy and birth-related causes around the world.

– Of these maternal deaths, 99 per cent happen in developing countries.

– More than 50 per cent of maternal deaths are caused by conditions that could be detected if vital signs were assessed.

A £20 handheld device that measures blood pressure and heart rate can change these statistics. It is called the Microlife Cradle VSA (Vital Signs Alert), and from March, hundreds will be used in the Bidi Bidi camp, and the Nakivale refugee settlement in south west Uganda.

A patient in Haiti has her blood pressure and heart rate checked.
The device has already been used to help pregnant women in Haiti. Picture by Hope Health Action.

How does the device work?

The device needs minimal training to operate and uses a traffic light warning system that shows the risk of shock or high blood pressure in a patient.

– A green light shows the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are normal, and they are likely to be well.

– A yellow light shows the blood pressure is high, and the patient could have pre-eclampsia, a condition that occurs in pregnancy, or soon after delivery. If untreated, it can cause a pregnant woman to suffer a seizure, stroke or even die.

– A red light shows that blood pressure is very high and the patient could have severe pre-eclampsia, or may have severe bleeding or infection.

Watch a step by step guide to using the device

Thanks to your gifts, at least 7,000 pregnant women will receive a medical check that could save both their lives, and the life of their unborn children. The device will alert volunteer health workers to a problem that can then be referred to a doctor or nurse.

BMS funding of £18,000 will help partner organisation Hope Health Action (working with King’s College London and the United Nations refugee agency) distribute more than 700 of these devices into the two camps from March and train people to use them.

South Sudanese refugees climb a hill at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda.

By giving to BMS, you’re making a life-saving difference to women in the Bidi Bidi and Nakivale refugee settlements.

But it could lead to so many others being helped, as it’s hoped a successful programme will prompt the Ugandan health ministry to distribute the device to other refugee camps.

We give thanks for your gifts. Amazing things are happening because of you.

What to help us do more? Click Here
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Helping babies and mothers survive in Afghanistan

The mountains in Afghanistan are breathtaking. Red, gold, and rusty orange soils swirl together in giant ridges, pressed against a brilliant blue sky. It looks unreal – a beautiful painting. But, as with all art, it’s important to look beneath the surface for truth. Beneath the beauty in Afghanistan, there is a country where babies and mothers are dying.

Babies and mothers don’t stand a chance in Afghanistan. Their odds of surviving pregnancy and birth in a country with one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world are very poor. That’s why BMS World Mission is hard at work, standing alongside Afghan communities to bring about lasting change for the people of this beautiful country.

A woman and child in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan currently has the worst infant mortality rate in the world, 112 babies dying in every 1,000 births. It also has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, ranking 11th on a list of the 200 most dangerous countries to be a mum. A blend of poor access to health care, unsafe birthing practices and cultural barriers all contribute to these devastating statistics. And beneath the numbers, there are human stories of pain and loss and hopelessness.

At BMS, we are determined to do something to help. That’s why we help to run a training programme in the mountains of rural Afghanistan to educate men and women about safe birthing practices.

Most of the people BMS is helping are at least one hour away from a clinic by 4×4, and most people don’t have access to that kind of transport. Understanding pregnancy and birth better can be crucial for the survival of both the baby and mum. “In a rural area like this that’s so remote, they don’t have access to good health care,” says Tim*, a BMS development worker in Afghanistan. “It’s really important to tell people the danger signs that they need to look out for so they will be prepared in case they are unable to make it to a clinic.”

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Challenging dangerous practices

A big part of our training is dispelling some of the unsafe birthing practices that are common in Afghanistan. Making women give birth in the dirtiest room in the house, pushing on their stomachs during labour to make the baby come out and smearing animal dung on the umbilical cord after it’s cut are just a few of the dangerous traditions that can lead to infection and even death.

“It’s not just about saying, ‘this is wrong’,” says Tim. “It’s more about saying ‘this is safe, this is what you can do.’” Knowing what to do if a woman is bleeding after labour or if a baby isn’t breathing and how to stay healthy during a pregnancy are all covered by the BMS-supported courses, and have already saved lives.

Involving men

And, by making men part of the training, more lives will be saved. “Maternal health is seen as a woman’s business in Afghanistan,” says Tim. “But it’s actually men that are making the decisions.” Educating men about safe birthing practices is often vital to survival. Tim remembers one woman who came to the course but whose husband did not. Having been on the course, she knew she should call for medical help when something went wrong with her labour. But her husband said it was best to just pray, and that it was in God’s hands. Sadly, the woman ended up dying.

There are many sad stories like that in Afghanistan, but health education, made possible by donations from UK Christians, is paving the way for a safer future for babies and mothers in remote mountain villages. Now, 100 per cent of the women who receive training breastfeed their babies within the first hour of giving birth. Before the training only 50 per cent of them did. Take-up of antenatal care has also improved. Before attending the course only 11 per cent of women were having regular antenatal check-ups and now 52 per cent of them are receiving the care they need.

Thanks to people like you, many babies and mothers are getting a chance to live, and the blessing can be passed on to future generations.

“If only I had known”

At the end of one of the courses an Afghan grandmother named Aliah* pulled a trainer aside. Through tears she explained why this course was so important. Her own daughter had died during childbirth. Facing complications during labour, her family had tried everything – they prayed, offered sacrifices, performed traditional rites, but still she died. “That’s why I’m bringing my granddaughter to this course,” Aliah told a BMS-enabled trainer. “I don’t want the same thing to happen to her. I don’t want her children to live life without a mother like she had to.”

Beneath the surface, Aliah had a real sense of guilt about her daughter’s death. “If only I had known then what I know now,” said Aliah. Today she is more hopeful, and her granddaughter has a far better chance of a healthy labour and childbirth. We want to see more mothers have the same hope. And you can help today.

Want to support our work in Afghanistan?

You can help us save more babies and mothers lives in Afghanistan right now by supporting our Christ-centered work around the world. Donate now to give the gift of life.

*Names changed

First four photos taken by Graeme Riddell, 2016. Final photo taken by Carol Turner, 2012.