Midwife helps save lives in Rwanda

GIVING BACK: Anne Dymond is working in a medical clinic in Rwanda for the next three months.
GIVING BACK: Anne Dymond is working in a medical clinic in Rwanda for the next three months.

Kigali, in Rwanda, might be a modern capital city of almost 1 million in the brochures "but there are no Angelina Jolies" in the slum where Invercargill midwife and mother of seven Anne Dymond has been living for nearly three months, working in a clinic about the size of Winton Maternity Centre.

And for the first time in 26 years as a mum, Mother's Day plans are far from her mind.

Mrs Dymond - who graduated from the Southern Institute of Technology nursing programme and trained as a midwife while working at Southland Hospital - is able to talk with her husband and kids almost daily thanks to WiFi, but said it was hard to describe the overwhelming need she saw around her.

Rwanda has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. For a population of 11.4 million there are only 700 qualified midwives. On average, 550 women die for every 100,000 births (in New Zealand the number is 14) due to the lack of skilled birth attendants.

Thousands of health professionals were targeted and killed during the 1994 Tutsi genocide that killed nearly a million Rwandans.

This was done deliberately so that people who had survived brutal machete attacks would not receive medical attention, Mrs Dymond said she had been told.

Instead, secondary school students with no medical training were pulled from schools to fill healthcare positions in the 19 years since then.

There are minimal medical supplies at the clinic. There is no ultrasound to check for a heartbeat. The three mattresses in the birthing unit - separated by a shower curtain - have no sheets, other than what had been donated.

Many of the women who come to give birth are on average, age 20, and are the result of their mothers being raped.

Most of the women were not filled with excitement when they went into labour, they were filled with fear, not just of survival, but for the world their baby would grow up in, she said.

Which was why she was stopped cold by the expression on a grandmother's face last week as she held her daughter's newborn. The look the woman had was so raw and full of emotion, that Mrs Dymond asked in limited French if she could take the woman's picture. The woman, who Mrs Dymond has referred to as "Matilde" consented. Mrs Dymond snapped the photo and gently asked where Matilde had come from.

The answer took her breath away.

Through an interpreter, Mrs Dymond learnt that almost 20 years before, at the height of the massacre around her, Matilde, her husband and her four children - aged 6 months to 6 years - had made plans to leave their house and seek safe refuge. Matilde had been out all night, trying to find food as it was too dangerous on the streets during the day.

She came home to find her husband and three of her children killed by machete.

Her 2-year-old daughter was missing.

Matilde searched frantically amongst the bodies of family and neighbours who were also killed by militia but could not find her. Matilde was forced to flee from the area before the militia returned, as rape was systematically used as a weapon of war.

She lived in swamp, sometimes in water up to her neck, to hide for the next 30 days, before she was rescued.

Six months later she discovered her daughter had been found by the Red Cross. The two were reunited.

Watching Matilde's face as she held her first grandchild, Mrs Dymond said she it was a bittersweet moment of reflection for the family Matilde had lost - but it also rekindled a powerful feeling of love and protection for the baby.

Mrs Dymond still has another three months with World Vision before she returns to Invercargill and said she knew it would be hard to explain everything she had seen and every story of unimaginable pain she had heard.

As much as she missed her own family - yesterday's Mother's Day was also her 15-year-old son's birthday - she was grateful for the rare chance to literally be saving lives every day.

It was also heartening to see her own children - aged 13 to 26 - embrace a social conscience that she and her husband had worked to instill.

"It is overwhelming. People are poor, very poor here - they live on $1.20 a day. But as a country Rwanda has actually come so far [since the genocide]." For more information on World Vision go to www.worldvision.org.nz. For more on this story go to www.southlandtimes.co.nz.

The Southland Times