Between May 2019 and December 2019 my wife and I had the privilege to work at Kivulini Maternity Centre, Arusha. Nestled within coffee plantations, with Mount Meru as an imposing backdrop the Hospital serves as a true beacon of hope to some of the world’s most disadvantaged women. It is a place that offers safe motherhood as well as the spiritual and physical repair of women, some as young as 13, damaged by the complications of pregnancy. It is a place from which the women come away healed and volunteers, like myself, leave changed. I participated in all aspects of maternity and newborn care; my wife oversaw training in ultrasound. Needless to say the experiences were unlike those of the North Shore of Sydney. The black mamba snake bite that led to a woman’s preterm birth; the need to donate blood myself prior to operating on a woman with massive blood loss, and those women who presented with fistula due to advanced cervical cancer for which there is little treatment. I found myself frequently deeply embarrassed by the opulent grandiosity of the health system I was so familiar with in Australia.
What can one say about Kivulini in a few short sentences? The hospital itself gleams, it is spotlessly cleaned daily. The staff offer a high level of technical expertise whether in the labour ward, operating theatres or on the ward. Their warmth and humour is a joy. However, it is the women for whom the hospital cares that are most inspiring. Whether it is the silent, resolute nature of the Maasai women during labour and birth, the sense of shared humanity that oozes from women who have been debilitated by obstetric fistula when they gather from all directions to meet those with similar stories, or the bond between mother and her newborn strapped to her back – those women reminded me to delight in things that matter and that providing hope is essential to health care. The words that greet those who enter Kivulini are the inspiration and instruction for all: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”