I got an unexpected and sad reply from a friend in Africa when I sent him a birthday greeting this weekend. And it all resonated particularly harshly because of the theatre piece I saw last night.
Tobias is the Beach Management Unit Chairman at the Kamin Oningo beach on Lake Victoria, a small fishing community in Kenya where I have visited several times.Through The CanAssist African Relief Trust we have been able to build up a small school there. The school, in fact, is named after my Dad as is one of the kids in the community!
Tobias responded to my cheery birthday note with the sad news of the death of two relatively young people in the village.
Now I will take one step back.
Last night, I attended the Theatre Kingston performance of What a Young Wife Ought to Know. The show was really well produced and there were some very funny and intimate moments. The general theme was a tough one, however. It centred on the desperation of young women in Canada in the early 1900’s to limit their family size . Living in relative poverty put them at increased health risk and they were simply not able to care for either themselves or their children adequately. Their family planning choices were limited and sometimes the only choice was abstinence, a solution that strained their marriages. Desperate attempts to terminate the pregnancy were life-threatening and distressing. The show was dramatic and intense and personal and, for us in Canada now, it was “historical”.
Well in some parts of the world it is not history.
One of the deaths at Kamin Oningo was a 35 year old woman who already had four kids and who delivered the fifth two weeks ago. She must have been anemic during the pregnancy or, like many there, had some post-partum bleeding that was not fully addressed. Like many African mothers, there really was no time to recuperate and she had to take up the usual household tasks immediately. Apparently she had been given some iron tablets for the severe anemia but she collapsed on Saturday and died at home. Three of the older kids go to the SP Geddes school from pre-school age to grade 2. The husband, a fisherman with a meagre and unreliable income, is left with this young family.
So this news drove home the message of the play even more (not that it needed any more driving home). It was not that long ago that this conundrum was being played out in Ottawa. It still is a concern in Africa and with people I know there. And women die. Less than two years ago, another young mother that I know died with a post-partum hemorrhage. The baby survived but without a mother.
The other fellow who passed away in the community this week, a 32 year old fisherman with three young children, died of what sounds to me like an Upper Gi Bleed. Here, he would likely have had access to the medical care to prevent or manage this. In Kamin Oningo there is no medical care in close proximity and most people can not afford transport to the nearest facilities that can deal with this or the meagre fees that are charged for health services. So they leave it too late.
Tobias has reached out to his friends for financial help so the families can achieve release of the bodies of these two community members from the mortuary and to help to provide a funeral and burial for them. I struggle to imagine what it is like to lose your wife, have a newborn baby at home and four other children and not have enough money to retrieve the body from the mortuary. Of course, the families will also be distraught by the deaths and suffer even more financially.
If anyone feels they want to reach out in support, I will be pleased to receive any donations and forward them directly to Africa where they will be used in support of these two bereaved families. Even $10 will help. An online transfer is best (firstname.lastname@example.org) or give me ten bucks when you see me next. I promise that every cent will reach this community and the grieving families.
(This is not a CanAssist request, by the way, but a personal one from me.)
I would also recommend you seeing What a Young Wife Ought to Know at the Baby Grand – playing from now until February 16. And when you see it, realize what many women/families around the world are still going through and how it is not that long ago that this was the situation here in Canada.