Oh, the weekend. A time for all to catch up on sleep, relax, or maybe have a drink or two? Here it’s no different, unless you are on the Safe Motherhood Documentary team. While everyone else was sawing logs until an unbelievable 10:30 in the morning, we, as the intrepid documentarians, were up at 8:00 AM. We had a long day of meeting with mother support groups ahead of us and hadn’t a moment to spare. The mothers were waiting, we just had to go out and find them.
Since we were leaving at this ungodly hour, we had the usually over packed van to ourselves. Feet spread, arms sprawled, and spirits high we went out to our first mother support group, located a few miles away in a local village. Our car soon rolled up on the village entrance. The women, cloaked in vibrant, tropical fabrics, intricately braiding each other’s hair, were waiting for us out front. Jumping out of the van, tentatively heading up, uneasily interrupting their flow, we approached and introduced ourselves, hoping to be allowed a peek behind the curtain into their daily activities.
Thankfully, they embodied the Platonic ideal of Sierra Leonean openness and kindness. After less than thirty minutes of small talk we had gained enough of their trust to be granted free roam around the village, so long as we were accompanied by a group of fifteen tiny children. Making our way through the village we captured footage of women washing clothes, cooking lunch, making cooking oil, and simply caring for children. Through it all we managed to secure a substantial amount of b-roll, something we were previously severely lacking.
Before we left though we managed to pull a member of the women’s support group aside and sit her down for an interview. Considering we only had one interview with a mother so far, this was an important moment, but I’m not afraid to admit the reality; it wasn’t our best. I wouldn’t even say it was our fault though, she was just shy. No matter how many icebreaker questions we provided her, she remained reserved, unwill to share her true feelings. We managed to get a couple nice soundbites out of it but for the most part had heard it all before.
Upon wrapping up in the village we began the “ten minute” walk back to the Makombo. At least that’s how long we were told it would be. After personally completing the arduous trek I can say with little editorialization that it was a tad longer than “ten minutes.” It was, in actuality, closer to an hour, or about five kilometers if you’d prefer the distance measured out. But, despite the odds, we made it back and enjoyed a much needed rest before heading out to the next mother support group.
Flash forward a couple wrong turns and a half an hour later and we arrived at the second mother support group. Heading straight up to a house this time, feeling emboldened by our previous outing, we quickly made contact with a few of the mothers. Our translator then negotiated the terms of the interview, a woman and her child were called over, and we got right to our second interview of the day.
Unlike the first, this woman had a bit she wanted to get off her chest and was actually engaged in the discussion. She talked about the lack of drugs in the clinics, told us a heart wrenching story of a maternal death, and finally touched on the role men play in bringing up a child. Her information, enlightening and moving, was just what we were missing. We had heard vague things about the things she talked about but, until now, had no film to back it up.
From her we moved on to one of the leaders of the group. She, in a fiery yet compassionate manner, described the issues mothers face when dealing with the healthcare system. Painting vivid scenes of the healthcare systems failures, she explained the need for communities to have these support groups. Through emphasizing local, community focused care and education her village has been able to dramatically reduce the number of complicated deliveries and almost eliminate maternal deaths. While she was clear this vanguard party of maternal health has been effective on one front, she did not equivocate on the need to continuously improve, especially when it comes to the health of children. In a heartbreaking turn, she viscerally described how she lost five of her nine children, making it clear that the struggle doesn’t end with the mother.
After our best interview yet we began packing up and prepared to leave. But then I (Griffin) asked if we were supposed to also interview her husband, a local pastor. Realizing the opportunity before us we promptly set back up and got the man all pretty and mic’d up. Taking the lead for this one I began by asking about his role as pastor, husband, and father. And while all illuminating answers, the real beauty began when asking him to comment on the healthcare system and traditional beliefs.
We had been trying to get someone to talk about corruption in the healthcare system ever since we got here, but to no avail. The CHOs and nurses, hoping to protect their rackets, had only denied its existence, despite all the signs directly addressing the challenge. This man, unshackled from the bureaucratic restraints and free from potential personal gain, talked at length about the various forms of corruption within the system. From charging for ostensibly free drugs and treatments to diverting drug shipments to privately owned pharmacies, he exposed it all.
In addition to blowing the whistle on the whole medical establishment he also bridged a lacuna in our knowledge by elaborating on traditional superstitions and healing practices. He explained people’s affinity for using charms and herbs to treat serious ailments, how women associate condoms and contraception with demons and physical harm, and why people trust traditional healers, all of which we desperately needed to get on tape. Upon concluding his interview we all agreed to follow up with him and the community at his church next Sunday.
All in all, it was a productive day. Finally being able to avoid our gasoline reeking office at World Hope and instead get out and see the country was a true blessing. Who knows, maybe the pastor included us in his prayers? Regardless, it was still an incredible day.