In October 2018 I had the privilege of attending the opening of a beautiful new birthing clinic built by ADRA for mothers living in a rural region of northern Cambodia. About 500 people from nearby villages who came to celebrate. Speeches were given by the governor of the province, an official from Global Affairs Canada, and the country director of ADRA Cambodia. I was asked to say a few words on behalf of ADRA Canada.
As I thought about what I might say, my mind drifted back to one of my previous visits to Cambodia. As a photographer and video producer, I have had the unique opportunity to visit Cambodia about 30 times over the years. I have observed many sad scenes, but also a lot of progress over the years, thanks in large part to the work of non-profit organizations such as ADRA.
On one of my visits about 20 years ago, I was filming a health training session that was being conducted by ADRA near a hospital when my translator and guide asked me if I would be interested in filming the birth of a baby. I was delighted! It is a rare opportunity for a video person to get the chance to capture that wonderful moment of new life entering our world. I am a father myself and I was present for the birth of my children. To see your baby take that first breath, hear that cry, and see the little body turn from dark blue to a rosy pink is perhaps the greatest experience a parent can have! I was excited to try and capture a little of that emotion on video.
Sadly, on that day, the little baby that entered this world never did take that first breath. There was no sweet cry and the little body never turned pink. Like so many babies born in rural regions of our world, this precious little child never got a chance at life. I was devastated by what I had just witnessed. I can’t begin to imagine what this experience must have been like for the baby’s parents.
As sad as this story is, the harsh reality is that it is only one of the thousands that happened in Cambodia that year. About three million such deaths still occur each year worldwide. The numbers tend to be higher in remote regions of our world where people have limited access to health facilities, health professionals, pre-natal care, or education in maternal health and the importance of hygiene and sanitation.
Thankfully, ADRA has worked hard to reduce these sad statistics in many countries of our world, including Cambodia. In 2005 we began forming women’s groups in remote villages all across the country. Health workers and trained facilitators educated women on the many things that they could do to have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
This training is still being conducted in Cambodia today, through the EMBRACE project. Funded in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, EMBRACE is an ADRA project that is designed improve the health of women of reproductive age and children under five, in some of the most remote villages of our world.
EMBRACE teaches women about the importance of living healthy lives while pregnant, free from alcohol, drugs and tobacco, including second-hand smoke. In the group training sessions, women learn that the first 1,000 days, beginning with conception is the most important time period in a child’s life for physical and mental development.
EMBRACE encourages women who know they are pregnant to make sure that they are getting good nutrition every day. The training sessions teach people about the importance of eating balanced, healthy meals with lots of organic greens and vegetables to provide vital vitamins and minerals.
The importance of prenatal checkups is emphasized as a way to discover any potential complications and give the health professional an opportunity for further education. Practices of good hygiene and sanitation are also taught. If the mother is healthy, there is a better chance that the baby will be healthy.
The EMBRACE project is also conducting training for midwives to make sure that they are up to date with the latest, safe practices for delivering babies. Traditional birth attendants, who are still well-respected in the village, have been included in the training and have been given new roles as the local educator and promoter of good prenatal health and practice.
Some of the poorest in a remote village may not have the resources to go into a health post for the four recommended pre-natal checkups. To respond to this need, ADRA has set up a community-based transportation system in each EMBRACE village to make sure that everyone who needs help to get to the clinic will be helped.
ADRA has also been building birthing clinics and equipping them so that mother and baby can have a clean, hygienic, comfortable place for this joyous moment in life.
In Cambodia, the EMBRACE project is working with 168 communities, directly improving the lives of 40,000 people. The building and equipping of birthing clinics and health centers is a key component to this endeavour. The new sanitary facilities will provide a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment for mothers and babies.
During my visit to the Sandan district of Cambodia, the new clinic in one of the villages was still a few days away from being opened and so I had the opportunity to see and photograph the difference between a typical “waiting room” for women giving birth in rural Cambodia and what the new ADRA clinic will be like for them. What a contrast! One of the ladies that I spoke with had been in labour, waiting outside the old government clinic on a typical hard wooden bed frame, for 15 hours. My translator and guide then pointed out the “recovery room” that she and her baby had to look forward to – a small room where the walls and roof were made of tin sheets and roofing. In the tropical heat, this room becomes a hot box! The new ADRA birthing clinics in this region of Cambodia are being received with genuine appreciation.
By: Frank Spangler, ADRA Canada Multimedia Specialist