Stephanie Holcombe of Columbus is pictured with a Ugandan mother and child at the remote birth center she volunteered with as a nurse-midwife and nurse practitioner this past summer. Photo by: Courtesy photo
November 16, 2013 10:22:07 PM
While many were sunning on beaches this past summer, Stephanie Holcombe of Columbus was living in a mud hut and delivering babies by candlelight in a remote community in northern Uganda -- and loving it.
As a volunteer midwife at a birth center there, Holcombe saw firsthand the dire need for a working ambulance and decided to do something about it. Now she is asking her own local community to pitch in to provide this life-saving transport.
Holcombe is appealing to the public through the crowdfunding site StartSomeGood.com. The ultimate goal is $18,000, but to receive monies already pledged, the campaign must reach a $5,000 "tipping point" by the end of November. As of Thursday morning, total funds pledged stood at $3,381.
"If everyone would give one day of lunch money, we'd have an ambulance overnight," said Holcombe, a frequent world traveler who graduated from Vanderbilt in May as a nurse-midwife and nurse practitioner.
The ambulance will be operated by Mother Health International at the birth center established by two Americans six years ago after international aid organizations departed the area. Women were left to fend for themselves during birth.
The center's previous ambulance broke down about six weeks into Holcombe's volunteer service.
"But birth still goes on," she said. "Women walked 10 miles to get to us. It was rainy season, and I had one woman who forged a river -- in labor -- and gave birth on the bank. I also had a stillbirth and really needed to get the woman into the hospital, which is two and a half hours from the birth center. I could go on and on."
In northern Uganda, a woman has a one-in-25 lifetime chance of dying during childbirth, cites Mother Health International. The infant mortality rate is 10 times as high as anywhere else in the western hemisphere.
In rural Africa, it's not uncommon for women to give birth on the side of the road while walking from isolated villages to seek help. Their lives and the lives of their babies are put at risk. Additionally, many must walk miles home after their child is born, chancing hemorrhaging to death on the way.
A functioning ambulance is critical, allowing midwives to bring women in labor to the clinic and transport them home postpartum. Mothers could also receive vastly better prenatal and postpartum care.
"If you spend time in some of these places overseas, it's clear the list of needs is more than what any one person can tackle, but you find the small pieces of the larger picture you can help with," explained Holcombe. "I can't just come back here and turn my back and walk away. It was a joy for me to go and work at the center, and this is a way I could help."
How to give
The campaign's immediate need is to reach the $5,000 crowdfunding site goal by the end of November. To make a tax-deductible donation, go to StartSomeGood.com and enter Mobile Midwives in the "search keyword" location.
Contributions by check should be made out to Mother Health International and mailed in care of Stephanie Holcombe, 109 Crescent Cove, Columbus MS 39705. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The crowdfunding initiative is so exciting for me," said Holcombe. "I know most people are good-hearted and want to genuinely help those who really need it."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.