Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Pineapples into Pineapple-ade

As you have read, since coming to the baby home, I have become involved in the ongoing issue that is hydrocephalus in Mwanza. It is something that has touched my heart and left me asking, “Why?” on so many occasions. Again, such a simple procedure that can save a baby’s life is being held off because of money.

This is something that I feel I need to clarify based on some responses I have received regarding my previous blog entry about hydrocephalus. As you may recall, I wrote that the women in the hydrocephalus ward are “literally just waiting for us to help.” Some might interpret this as meaning that these mothers are “lazy,” unwilling to work for themselves, their children, or their future, and would instead rather wait for mzungus to come and “save” them and their children. This is neither the case nor what I was trying to convey.

In America, when one discovers she is pregnant, there are a series of tests and scans to determine anything and everything about the unborn child. Our technology is so advanced that we can even tell if the child has his father’s nose (3-D ultrasound) or his mother’s lips. In Tanzania however, a woman finds out she is pregnant and then hopes she and the child survive. My point is, parents would be completely unaware, before the birth of the child, if the baby has hydrocephalus or not.

Now, imagine you are this pregnant woman. You start to feel contractions so you gather about a week’s worth of food for your two young children whom you are leaving at home alone while you have the baby. You now make the five hour journey by foot on uneven, dirt roads to the nearest hospital (keep in mind this walk is being done while you are having unbearable contractions). You reach the hospital and have the baby without any labor-related complications besides the beatings you received by the doctors and nurses for making noise while pushing (true story- women must be silent during child birth or they are beaten).

A few days after giving birth, you begin to notice the size of your child’s head growing rather large and altogether too quickly. Your baby is diagnosed with hydrocephalus. You and your baby are now moved upstairs to the hydrocephalus ward where you discover you will be spending the next undetermined amount of time in a small room with thirty other women and thirty other babies.

The reality of the situation is that your child has been born with hydrocephalus and is slowly going to die because you cannot pay the $250 for the surgery. You also realize that your two small children at home are also probably going to die because you are not allowed to leave the hospital or this new baby.

I stand corrected: The women in the hydrocephalus ward are NOT “waiting for mzungus” to come and help them. They do NOT expect that anyone is going to come and help them pay for their baby’s surgery. They have simply been given a sentence to carry out the next six months or so in the hospital because they have a baby with hydrocephalus. They have no way of knowing their baby was going to have hydrocephalus and even if they did, it would be impossible for them to save up enough money in even three years time to pay for their surgery. They simply do not make that much money here. It would be like a mother in America having a baby that needed a million dollars worth of medical treatment. If this mother could not afford the million dollars (and insurance didn’t exist of course), she had to wait in the hospital until the child died.

Again, these women did not expect Amy to come and help them, but it just so happened that Amy found out about this situation and wanted to help.
Now that that’s settled...
Cacey, Emma, and I went back to the hospital to take more pictures for the women and children there. Guess what? Because Amy put the photos on the baby home website and asked for donations for the surgeries, we got all 27 babies their surgeries!!!! There were only a few babies that we recognized from the last time. They had all gone home. To us, it was $250. To them, it was a miracle.

Unfortunately, there are now 38 babies and their mothers in the hydrocephalus room. This is less than a month later. Like I said before, hydrocephalus is an ongoing issue in Mwanza. There are always going to be more and more babies with the disease until someone comes and does research and then educates the people on prevention (if possible).

Knowing that this problem is bigger than we are, Emma, Cacey, and I decided to make it our mission to bring just a tiny bit of joy into these women’s lives by taking and bringing them pictures of themselves and their babies. We also brought them each two cloth diapers and two towels. The excitement we caused in the hospital that day is hard to explain in words. The women were elated. It was a child-like, Christmas morning type of excitement. They were proudly showing their gifts and sharing their pictures with one another, giggling as they bounced about the room. Although we were doing something so small, it was nice to be able to do something to break up their solitude and sorrow that will last for weeks to come.

Just putting it out there one more time: If you or anyone you know (organization or personal contact) would like to sponsor one, a few, or ongoing hydrocephalus surgeries, please, please, please let me know.


  1. Ciara, You should email Pat McD and the Rotary,
    they are still waiting for your presentation and willing to donate.

  2. Thta's so cool that you wonderful ladies were able to bring them so much joy