This is not the usual story about motherhood. It is a story about high infant and maternal mortality among indigenous women and their newborns. Part of this story is about how young women living in desperate situations learn to deal with those situations by helping others.
Who are the 'indigenous' in Mexico? Six million people, descendents of America's original inhabitants who speak 61 indigenous languages, most of which do not include Spanish or English.
In Mexico indigenous women die from pregnancy and birth related causes at three times the rate of non-indigenous women. Recently, newborn and maternal deaths among this group have received attention at the highest levels within the Mexican government, thanks in part to the NGO, CASA, which operates a training school supported by Johnson & Johnson in which women can become midwives.
As part of this attention, the federal government has, for the first time in 2011, provided funding to eight of Mexico's 32 states to hire midwives to serve indigenous communities. The federal government also approved funds for scholarships for women who want to go to the CASA midwifery school -- the only government accredited midwifery school with its own teaching hospital in the country. A CASA graduate was hired by the Health Ministry's National Center for Gender Equity and Reproductive Health to promote professional midwifery throughout the country. National legislation passed the Senate to further women's rights, and Mexico´s National Public Health Institute published a book of studies that recommends that the country open more midwifery schools using CASA´s curriculum.
Successes such as these do not come overnight and happen as a result of sacrifices made by many. There are frequently untold stories such as the one CASA co-founder Nadine Goodman shared with me the other day -- an amazing story about a remarkable young woman who is currently studying midwifery at CASA.
Nadine explained how she recently boarded a bus at one in the morning to make a trip to Veracruz, a state that is struggling to lower its extremely high maternal mortality rate. Veracruz's Health Minister requested a presentation about CASA's midwifery model. Graduates from CASA are working in Veracruz and the government is very pleased with their work, leading to interest in Veracruz starting its own midwifery school with technical assistance from CASA.
Nadine's visit to Veracruz went well. As she was about to leave, one of the government hosts inquired about one of the midwifery students at CASA who is from Veracruz. It turned out that this colleague had worked diligently with Maribel Hernandez, the Administrator of the CASA Midwifery School, to help this particular midwifery student weave her way through the application and scholarship processes. Applying to a school far away from your home can be a daunting experience for many of the young Mexican women who come to CASA, and it is common for the CASA Midwifery School staff, especially Maribel, to band together with government representatives and other groups to help an aspiring student. In this case the young woman had been brutally beaten by her husband and in turn kept in intensive care for seven days. It was not the first time her husband had beaten her. He did not want her to go to midwifery school.
Two weeks after Nadine's visit to Veracruz, health officials from Veracruz traveled seven hours by car to San Miguel to visit the CASA school where they were greeted by the same 17-year old student from Veracruz mentioned above. The student eloquently and passionately spoke about how she loves being a midwifery student at CASA, explaining why new midwifery schools are needed throughout Mexico to produce the critical mass of midwives that Mexico needs and to give young women the opportunities they deserve to study, work and contribute to their communities.
It would be enough to say that CASA's midwifery school is producing desperately needed midwives who are saving the lives of pregnant and birthing women. It turns out the school is doing even more...
For more information about how you can help please see www.casa.org.mx and contact Ana Marquez, CASA Development Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or U.S. phone 718 360 5645 or Mexican phone 52 415 15 4 60 90 or CASA's General Advisor, Nadine Goodman at email@example.com or U.S. phone 212 234 7940.