Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Open Letter and a Women's Co-Op Update

I've returned from Tanzania with an increased commitment to maternal health. I am convinced that economic development and education are obligatory components of the maternal health conundrum. We can assemble birthing kits AND we can buy kitenges and bracelets. Our collective resources are staggering. What the women of Kidete have to teach us is priceless. The letter I am including will introduce my journey to you. We need each other.

Dear Virginia and American Baptist Women:

Many thanks for your support of the Kidete Women’s Cooperative (Ushirika Wa Wanawake Kidete). My village women friends formed the cooperative as a way to increase maternal health. 100% of sales go to the women who made the goods.

I’ve just returned from Tanzania and four weeks with the women of the cooperative. My time there was overwhelming in every way possible. Joy and sadness seemed exaggerated by the lives and needs of those around me. As a researcher in Body Theology and maternal health I struggled with the statistic that, in Tanzania, one out of ten women die as a result of pregnancy. This statistic doesn’t have to be, but how do we change it?

On Sundays after church and multiple times throughout my stay, the women asked me basic questions about biology and Theology. We would sit together for hours as I led them through a maternal health Bible study. I wanted them to know that God cares about the health of women. I wanted them to know that one out ten deaths due to pregnancy is too many.

Mid way through my journey I started to feel overwhelmed. The needs were and are so great and I am one person. I believe that as Baptists we are a part of a worldwide network capable of contributing to the increase of maternal health. While in Tanzania I struggled with the vastness of maternal mortality. Yes, we are part of a network, but how do we engage the network?

I thought about the beautiful African cloth the women in the village wear. I thought about the different ways the cloth can be worn and used. I thought about Baptist women in Illinois, Florida, New York, and California. And the women in Kidete began to sew. They made bracelets and what we would call wraps. The women sat in circles and laughed and sang and sewed. As I watched their hands and heard their stories, I felt less overwhelmed.

Within days of returning home I received your letter, Virginia. Because of your meeting 60 bracelets have been sold. My friends from the village are selling the bracelets as a way to purchase a treadle sewing machine. Because of you, they are 60% of the way to their goal. Because we know that economic development means increased opportunities for education, it isn’t just a sewing machine. Increased education means increased healthcare. That is how the $1 bracelets you purchased will increase the maternal health of an entire village.

You will notice that some of the bracelets are better crafted than others. The majority of the co-op participants had never used a pair of scissors before. The women do a lot of work with their hands, but scissors aren’t used in their day-to-day lives. So I am asking you to consider any flaws in the bracelets a part of its worth. Know that your bracelet was made with hands full of hope and love. Your bracelet was made with hands that are typically drawing water, harvesting crops, gathering firewood, and comforting multiple babies. I imagine that as they make more, the flaws will be less frequent. In my opinion, the first batch is worth more than perfection.

The women are busy crafting even more bracelets and wraps. They want to use the money from the sale of the next batch to provide a grant to a sister village as they begin their own co-op. They believe in the power of networking and know that as the economy develops, so will their secondary school and health clinic.

I believe in the power of networking too. Thank you for partnering with us in this endeavor. As you wear your bracelet, know that it is much more than a piece of jewelry. Your bracelet represents maternal health.

Any questions or comments you have concerning global maternal health and the women of the Kidete cooperative are welcome. Again, many, many thanks for your collaboration and purchase.

With great appreciation,

Suzanah D. Raffield


Anonymous Pam Durso said...

I think you did it - you captured the quote you sent me by Thomas Merton: "How do you tell somebody that they are walking around shining like the sun?"

8:00 PM  

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