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AAPDEP-Sierra Leone U.S. Tour on Infant and Maternal Mortality raises medical supplies and cash to build clinic

Nurse-midwife Mary Karoma - Freetown, Sierra Leone

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – On February 5, 2011, my children and I stood waiting inside the Nashville International Airport baggage claim anxiously waiting to see a sister who I had spoken to many times and whose face graced several AAPDEP posters, fliers and web pages but who I would now finally be meeting in person--Nurse-midwife Mary Koroma.

My three-year old son, who was supposed to be holding one half of a large sign that read “Welcome Nurse Mary!”(my 7-year-old daughter stood quietly holding the other half), was instead running circles around me when I saw Sis Mary nervously stepping off of the escalator, walking toward an airport employee, ticket in hand.

The children and I quickly headed toward her and with smiles and hugs welcomed and introduced ourselves to her.

During the 2 hour car ride to my home, Nurse Mary and I talked a lot about the clinic she built in Sierra Leone and her organization of traditional birth attendants, Women in National Development (WIND).

As it was her first time traveling to the US (as part of a 7 state 9-city tour none-the-less!), we talked a lot about the many similarities between African communities in the US and in Sierra Leone, what to expect during the upcoming tour and about our shared vision of sustainable development for Africa and African people through self-determination.

I could tell in that first discussion that we had indeed partnered with the right person to launch our AAPDEP Infant and Maternal Health Project!

The next six weeks took us to 7 US states and 9 cities as part of the whirlwind “Stop the Hemorrhaging!”(STH) US-wide fundraising tour.

By all standards, the “Stop the Hemorrhaging!”tour was a tremendous success!

Events were organized in Philadelphia, PA, Washington D.C., Baltimore, MD, Huntsville, AL, Jackson, MS, Daytona Beach, FL and St. Petersburg, FL.

There were stops at universities, nursing schools, birthing centers, middle schools, community centers and churches!

Hundreds of people had the opportunity to meet Nurse Mary, learn first-hand about the plight of African women and babies and the horrible conditions that have been imposed on African people in Sierra Leone in general.

More than that, though, audiences were able to walk away with a real analysis of why these conditions exist in Africa and among African people everywhere and what must be done to reverse them once and for all!

The tour kicked off in Washington, D.C. with three events, two sponsored by AAPDEP-DC and a third by the Family Health & Birth Center. The first AAPDEP-DC event took place at St. Stephen's Church and included presentations from Nurse Mary, Ayesha Fleary, Director of Information & Education for AAPDEP and Lauren Arrington, an African nurse-midwife based in Baltimore, MD.

People arrived early to make sure they had a seat. Despite the late start and a few technical difficulties the crowd stayed attentive.

Ayesha Fleary opened up the event introducing the attendees to AAPDEP and why we felt it necessary to use this tour not only as a way to raise awareness around the issue but also as a way to begin development through fundraising.

Midwife Lauren Arrington provided great information around the high rates of infant and maternal mortality in African Communities across the U.S., which helped tie the Sierra Leone work to the overall contradictions that affect African people no matter where we’re located.

Nurse Mary ended the program with a dynamic presentation that outlined her work and what she hoped to accomplish in partnership with AAPDEP.

The attendees were very receptive and at the close of the event stayed around to speak with all of the presenters, wanting to know more about how they could help.

At Family Health & Birth Center, Nurse Mary had the opportunity to meet fellow midwives and health care workers during a small gathering.

While the turnout was modest, we were able to spread the information and get connected to a network of midwives and develop a relationship with the birth center.

The second AAPDEP-DC event was an informal dinner fundraiser at Little Ethiopia Restaurant.

There, more than 30 people joined Nurse Mary and AAPDEP organizers for a delicious dinner and discussion about the way forward for the AAPDEP Infant and Maternal Health Project (IMHP).

Many of the attendees had attended our first event and came back for more. During this one event, we raised a little over $600 in donations which spoke to the impact that we were making in DC.

The first tour stop in Philadelphia was at Harambee Institute of Science & Technology, an African-centered K-8 charter school.

There, Nurse Mary and I spoke to a group of about one hundred 7th and 8th graders.

This event was especially important to me as a former student, having attended Harambee almost 30 years ago.

Nurse Mary and I were both excited and a bit anxious about speaking at Harambee, since our presentations would need to be different from all the others, which had primarily adult audiences.

We decided that the best way to approach the presentations would be to share with them some of the conditions that our people are faced with in Sierra Leone and around the world (in Philly too!) and to focus on the students themselves by reminding them of their primary responsibility as African students–to learn all that they can in order to solve the problems we are confronted with as a people.

In the end, we were pleased to find that the students were not only brilliant, attentive and eager to learn, but that they were in full unity with accepting their responsibility to African people!

Harambee has donated $500 to the AAPDEP IMHP, qualifying the school as a “silver”level sponsor.

As such, the school will be honored with a commemorative brick in the new AAPDEP birthing clinic that will be built in Sierra Leone.

Their support of the AAPDEP IMHP hasn’t stopped there, though! Several teachers at Harambee have expressed interest in donating personally, and the school has decided to continue to sponsor the IMHP, initially through a school-wide pennies drive!

Uhuru Furniture Store-Philadelphia, an institution of the African People’s Education & Defense Fund (APEDF) organized a second Philly stop on the STH tour.

This event, the only one of the tour with a predominately North American audience, featured a dynamic presentation from African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC) organizer Harris Daniels who laid out the dialectal relationship between the poverty experienced by African and other colonized people and the wealth of the white world.

Harris’s presentation made a clear distinction between charity, which does not address the core reason for the misery and poverty experienced by Africans and other oppressed people, and genuine solidarity with the struggles of African people to reclaim control over our resources and lives.

There were several nurses and midwifery students who attended the event, all of whom were so moved by the presentation given by Nurse Mary that they offered to organize fundraisers and equipment drives for the IMHP clinic.

From Philly the tour traveled to Holy Ghost Missionary Baptist Church right outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

Words can’t express how much AAPDEP appreciates the warm reception that was given to us from Pastor and Mrs. Burse and the entire congregation!

Nurse Mary spoke at both 8am and 11am services as part of the church’s Black History Month program organized by AAPDEP volunteer Dr. Teri Robinson.

After 8am service, Nurse Mary and I were ushered into the fellowship hall of the church, decorated beautifully in red, black and green and with a large sign that read “Welcome Nurse Mary.”

There, we, along with those who attended morning services enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet cooked by several of the sisters at the church.

At the end of the 11am services, we were honored with a luncheon that was only topped by the generous donation of $5,000 made by the church to the AAPDEP IMHP!

In order to honor the congregation for their tremendous contribution, the largest birthing room of the new clinic will be named “Holy Ghost Missionary Baptist Church Birthing Room.”

From Mississippi Nurse Mary whizzed back to the east coast to speak at Sojourner Douglass Nursing College located in Baltimore, Maryland.

There, Nurse Mary gave a powerful presentation to the students.

She explained her role as a health care worker and the difficulties she faced working for the State, which is what led her to ultimately start her own clinic.

She explained the importance of the responsibility they hold as health care professionals and what they must do with their degree.

Even though the students did not expect to donate when asked they contributed their coins, dollars and checks to this great effort.

We raised $120 at this event, but gained forces who were committed to helping raise awareness, gather supplies, and organize fundraising events on behalf of the IMHP. We truly want to thank those students who attended.

Next stop was Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama where Nurse Mary spoke to science students who are a part of the Health Career Opportunities Program.

The events was really important in that it offered African students who are studying to enter into science and health-care fields an opportunity to have a first-hand account of the issues faced by African women and infants on the Continent.

Our last leg of the tour took us to Florida where we had events in St. Petersburg and Daytona Beach.

In St. Petersburg, we spoke at the Uhuru House, the international headquarters of the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement.

Organized by AAPDEP-Tampa/St.Pete, the event featured presentations from local AAPDEP organizer Camilla Hippolyte and Chairman Omali Yeshitela, leader of the Uhuru Movement.

Chairman Omali discussed the significance of AAPDEP in this period as an organization, which provides African people an opportunity to use our energy, skill and resources toward building concrete programs that help to transform the conditions we are faced with as African people.

With the assistance of Sis Baye Moye who offered a heart-felt, impromptu second call for donations, we were able to raise just over $1,000 in cash and pledges!

The tour wrapped up at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida at the National Conference of the National African Students Association (NASA).

The event was outstanding! Nurse Mary and I spoke to a full house of almost 200 African students from universities throughout the US.

After our presentations, dozens of students rushed to meet Nurse Mary and I to discuss ways that they could become a part of AAPDEP, volunteer their skills, time and resources.

One young student, a brother born in Liberia, has offered to help us get computers and internet access for AAPDEP’s new clinic in Sierra Leone.

Another brother from Ghana whose older sister died in childbirth, applauded AAPDEP’s effort to build awareness of African infant and maternal mortality and pledged his support to organize other Africans, especially men, to participate in supporting the project.

Based on contacts we made at the conference, we are currently in discussions with African student organizations at Miami Dade College as to the best way to bring their entire membership into AAPDEP!

The day after the event at Embry-Riddle was March 20, and Nurse Mary was heading back to Sierra Leone, having worked almost non-stop since her arrival in the US in February.

Not only had we successfully spread awareness of African infant and maternal mortality to hundreds through the STH Tour, but Nurse Mary had a hands-on one week intensive training on emergency delivery techniques with AAPDEP Partner, Midwife Jennie Joseph, founder of The Birth Place and Commonsense Childbirth School of Midwifery in Winter Garden, Florida.

AAPDEP leadership was also able to make quite a few important determinations about the way forward for the overall work in Sierra Leone. One of the most exciting advancements is that Nurse Mary is no longer just AAPDEP’s “partner.”

She has become a member and will serve as the AAPDEP Chair in Sierra Leone.

Now, all of AAPDEP’s projects in the country, not only the IMHP, will be under Nurse Mary’s direct leadership.

Connected to this is another exciting development - Women in National Development (Nurse Mary’s organization of TBA’s) is now merging with AAPDEP to become AAPDEP-WIND, increasing AAPDEP’s overall membership by over 150 people!

Now, before the new AAPDEP clinic is built in Sierra Leone, which is slated for summer 2012, Nurse Mary’s current clinic will officially become an AAPDEP clinic—The AAPDEP-WIND Community Birth and Health Clinic.

As an AAPDEP clinic, we will work to ensure that it has access to the necessary supplies, medicines and equipment.

In fact, AAPDEP was able to organize for Nurse Mary to return to Sierra Leone with over 250 pounds of medicines and equipment including fetal heart monitors, blood pressure cuffs, infant and adult scales, clamps, thermometers, suture, and a variety of first aid supplies.

Many thanks to AAPDEP partner Jennie Joseph (Winter Garden, FL), and supporters Dr. Michelle Strongfields (Philadelphia, PA), Brother Shabaka Mombatha (Philadelphia, PA), and Lauren Arrington & Family (Baltimore, MD), for the very generous donations they made to this first medical shipment.

When it was all said and done, hundreds of Africans and our allies contributed a little more than $10,000 to AAPDEP during the Stop the Hemorrhaging tour, for the work to build the IMHP, giving us a solid footing for the establishment of our new clinic and for our work to train traditional birth attendants in Sierra Leone. The tour helped us to expand our influence and organization into cities around the US and has helped us to break new ground in terms of our organizational capacity in Sierra Leone.

It is AAPDEP’s goal as the weeks and months since the STH tour pass, to be able to report that Nurse Mary’s 6 weeks in the US offered our people more than a great tour, but that it in fact will come to represent a turning point in our effort to stamp out the high rates of infant and maternal death in Sierra Leone.

To borrow an often repeated quote from Nurse Mary herself, “Together we will succeed!”

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