Part two: My Trip to Africa with Every Mother Counts

Part two: EMC’s Kristen Kirkland reflects on her trip to Tanzania to improve maternal health.

Kristen Kirkland is Every Mother Counts’ Running Program Director and Human Resources Director. She and a group of 25 runners, including EMC staff, members of our board, and supporters traveled to Tanzania to participate in the Kilimanjaro Marathon. Their goals were to raise awareness and funds to support EMC’s portfolio of programs that link women to critical maternal healthcare and also to celebrate our fifth anniversary as an organization.

Part Two

The Clinic

Janet with her son, Obama.
Janet with her son, Obama.

Eventually, we hiked the rest of the way to her village. When we got to the top of a hill, we saw Janet and her family coming towards us, whooping and greeting us in a long line, like a receiving line at a wedding. Meeting Janet felt like meeting a celebrity. It was surreal to be standing there looking at this person in terms of what she and her story have enabled us to do. I don’t think she has any idea how many people know her story and feel like they know her and the impact she’s had on our organization and our individual lives. And here she is on this hill, living in a mud hut.

The hill where Janet lives has three huts — hers, her mother-in-law’s and another for her sister-wife. Janet is the second wife so her sister-wife’s hut is larger. Janet introduced us to her children. The youngest, Obama, is named for the president. Janet’s husband showed off their cow and calf as chickens and goats roamed the hill. Christy, Erin, an interpreter and I visited inside Janet’s hut and talked about Janet’s children. The hut was tiny, made of red clay with glass soda bottles built until the walls to let in light and divided by a curtain that separated their sleeping and living spaces. Janet said the roof leaked in the rain. We filled one half of the hut with Janet, her children, our small group, Janet’s husband and mother-in-law in a space so crowded, our arms touched each other. It was impossible to fathom that’s where she lived, that this was all the space she and her family had. Even having lived in New York City in small apartments, it was hard to grasp living in what was literally about 25 square feet.

When we got back to our hotel that night, we sat around and talked about the day. Everyone found the experience of installing the suitcase meaningful. We went to bed feeling like our perspectives and preconceived notions about Africa and our own lives had changed and I think I can say for all of us, for the better.

Read part one of Kristen’s blog here, and stay tuned for part three.

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