On one of my last days in Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project we visited Project Mercy, a not-for-profit relief and development agency that provides services to help alleviate human suffering and overcome systemic poverty in Southern Ethiopia. The visit ended up being one of the most enlightening moments of our entire trip.
In order to combat Ethiopia’s high maternal and newborn mortality rates, Project Mercy opened a “Lie and Wait” home for rural woman to come to stay before delivering their child at a nearby hospital. In a country in which an estimated 90% of women deliver at home with little or no trained birth assistance, a Lie and Wait house ensures women from the far away, remote villages will come to wait to stay and deliver at a hospital with a trained midwife or doctor. Lie and Wait houses have saved many lives of both mother and child.
Many of these expectant mothers walk miles on foot on various terrains and topographies to reach a Lie and Wait house. At Project Mercy in the Yetebon community of Southern Ethiopia, pregnant women can walk hours through rugged, mountainous terrain to reach the Lie and Wait home. It is a true test of endurance to walk on foot carrying almost a full term baby.
Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Although child under five deaths are improving, newborn mortality rates remain high. Many challenges remain. Roads and hospitals need to be built, expanded and/or improved. Cultural traditions need to be changed such as child marriage, traditional beliefs in home birthing and female genital mutilation. Rural communities need to be educated on the importance of pre and post natal care and the increase in newborn and maternal survival by delivering with a trained assistant.
As a mother, I cannot imagine having to walk hours on foot to reach a safe place to deliver my child. Millions of women around the world do not have the luxury of roads, cars, and modern hospitals. For them, delivering their children is a test of endurance and a hope for survival.
About the Yetebon Community
The Yetebon community is located in the Gurage Zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. It is about 87 miles (140 km) southwest of Addis Ababa. Yetebon is situated in the highlands at an altitude of 8000 feet.
The total population of the surrounding area is approximately 70,000 people. The majority of people are Muslim—roughly 95 percent. Farming is the primary occupation of the people, producing mostly maize, wheat, sorghum and enset. The two cash crops are pepper and chat.
The families in the community are very poor. In fact, as of 1993, most households earn less than 50 USD per year and were in living conditions that put them in danger of contracting diseases. As of 2011, many of the households yearly income had raised to $300USD per year due to Project Mercy’s significant development in many areas of need.
I was in Ethiopia as a fellow on newborn health this past June with the International Reporting Project.