The wonderful organization Hope Through Healing Hands Foundation graciously gave Belmont University a grant to offer a fellowship in global health with a focus on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies to one of the students in the College of Health Sciences. With my calling to teach natural family planning and my passion for global health, I applied with hopes to expand my knowledge and create the beginnings of my life work, setting up a path for my future.
This is my last week in Guyana and I can truly say that I am going away from this experience as a better clinician. I have been stretched in ways that will serve me well when I return to the States. Not having the luxury of many tests and medicines that I am used to has made me depend more on my physical exam and lean on my Guyanese colleagues to teach my what they do in this resource limited setting.
I have never been to South America. The thought of coming to a new place was exciting but also made me a little nervous. After only a few days here I have quickly realized that the people of Guyana are friendly, generous, and eager to teach outsiders about their culture.
Although I have seen medical systems around the world, I never got to understand the differences in decision making until I came to Guyana as resident physician. The care the residents offer is far beyond my expectations for the resource limited environment they are provided with. New cutting techniques of airway management and disease management have all been strategically adapted to the capabilities of their A&E. Still they continue to excel while I struggled to keep up.
I arrived in Kenya about 2 weeks ago and was warmly welcomed at Lwala Community Alliance (LCA). Thus far I have spent much of my time observing and learning. While my work this summer is to join the public health team to focus on malnutrition interventions within the Thrive Thru 5 project, I have had the opportunity to follow each of the Lwala teams in their work. Although I spent most of my time outside of programs specific to malnutrition, nearly everyday I saw work or projects that are positively impacting child nutrition.
After the providers, the pregnant mothers came for their monthly prenatal education class. I witnessed as one of the nurses who just participated in the class accurately and eagerly taught these pregnant women ways they can space their next pregnancy to promote better health for them and their babies.
This was the first day of fieldwork. We taught the Standard Days Method to over 80 people in a couple of different sessions. The first group that participated in the study consisted of 12 providers, who were health agents, nurses, and physicians. This lesson went really well. The enthusiasm of the group was palpable and the discussion was enlightening.
Anta Ba is a 26-year-old woman living in Guédiawaye, a poor urban area of Senegal’s capital, Dakar. In a new CSIS video, Anta explains why she decided to access family planning, despite her husband’s opposition, and why these services matter for her own life and for women’s health and empowerment in Senegal.

May 15, 2015 | Charisma Magazine

african family
We know that 1 in 39 women are at risk to die in childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa this year. Moreover, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19 worldwide. (Flickr | Emilio Labrador)

C.S. Lewis once penned, "Prayer. It doesn't change God's mind. It changes me." At Hope Through Healing Hands, we provide clinical care for vulnerable populations worldwide through medical missions. We also promote awareness and advocacy for maternal, newborn and child health in developing nations. We pray for mothers and children around the world, not because it changes God's mind, but because it changes our own.

We know that 1 in 39 women are at risk to die in childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa this year. Moreover, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19 worldwide. We know this is a preventable tragedy. This is why we have launched the Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. We are galvanizing leaders in the evangelical community across the nation who are athletes, actors, artists, authors, pastors, academic and nonprofit leaders to rethink and reconsider the critical importance of maternal and child health in developing nations with a special emphasis on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies as a part of that continuum of care.

What do we mean by healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies? Becoming pregnant at age 15-19 creates twice the risk of death to a mother as becoming pregnant at age 20-24. In Ethiopia, the average age of marriage is 16. This means so many young girls are at risk of severe complications and death if their pregnancy debut is before 20. Even if they survive, they face a high risk of fistula or other disability. If these young married women can simply "time" their first pregnancy in their early 20s, they have a substantially better chance at having a safe pregnancy, delivery and healthy baby.

And if the young woman can have the opportunity to "space" her children, just three years apart, the child is twice as likely to survive the newborn stage.

The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope (Zondervan, 2015) chronicles the stories of women in Ethiopia, Burundi, Kenya, India and Uganda. They share their stories about how healthy timing and spacing of families has saved their own lives, the lives of their children, or the stability of their families. Authors like Christine Caine, Natalie Grant, Mary Beth Chapman, and Michael Gerson talk about their experiences in developing nations with stories and anecdotes to demonstrate why this issue is so critical to combatting modern day slavery, sex trafficking, the orphan crisis and mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies means combating both maternal and infant mortality worldwide. It is a critical tool to save lives, empower women and promote sustainability for families, communities and even nations.

What can you do as a believer for these women and children? How can you be a part of saving lives and creating sustainable, lasting change for millions worldwide?

First, pray. And, when you pray, consider Amy Grant's simple prayer in "Greet the Day" on her album How Mercy Looks from Here:

"Lord, lead me to the ones I need.

And, to the ones who need me."

This is a simple prayer that may change the way you encounter your own daily experiences. This prayer opens your eyes to those who cross your path that you may need in your life, and opens your heart to those who may very much need you and your voice.

Secondly, promote awareness. Talk with family and friends about these issues. Tweet this article; ask friends on Facebook to join you in prayer for these women and children. Lead a Bible Study or book club with The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope and its companion 4-week discussion guide.

And finally, join the chorus of voices. Advocate. King Lemuel's mother in Proverbs 31 advises him to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; speak up for the poor and the destitute." She knew the wisdom and the righteousness of uplifting those on the margins. We are called as believers to raise our voice for the voiceless, and to let our elected leaders, such as our president, senators and congressional representatives, know that we want them to support foreign assistance, less than 1 percent of the U.S. Budget, on behalf of vulnerable populations around the world.

Let's lift our voices together to protect and increase funding for maternal, newborn, and child health worldwide to save lives as we strive to care for the "least of these," as commanded in Scripture.

Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands a Nashville-based global health organization, founded and chaired by Senator Bill Frist, M.D., committed to improving the quality of life for communities around the world using health as a currency for peace.

This piece originally appeared on Charisma Magazine.

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