Beyond Flowers for Mom
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: May 4, 2011
In a few days Americans will celebrate Mother’s Day with roses, chocolates and fine dinners, inducing warm and fuzzy feelings all around. But, in addition, I’ll bet helping mothers less fortunate would also render any mom giddy.
That’s what some Americans have decided to do: commemorate motherhood by saving the lives of mothers halfway around the world — such as in this impoverished nook of Somaliland in the horn of Africa. Beyond celebrating moms with fleeting flowers, they are helping an extraordinary Somali woman, Edna Adan, run a maternity hospital here to make childbirth safer.
We in journalism often focus on villains, but Edna is one of my heroes. She’s a tireless 73-year-old whose passion is to save her countrywomen’s lives, get them access to family planning and end female genital mutilation.
Somaliland is a breakaway republic carved from Somalia but recognized by no outside country. It has only two OB-GYNs, and a woman here has perhaps a 1-in-10 lifetime risk of dying in childbirth. Just about the most dangerous thing a Somali woman can do is become pregnant, but Edna — with her American supporters — is changing that. They provide a lovely example of how Mother’s Day can be about something richer than the finest chocolate, and more lasting.
One of the first Somali women in this region to get a proper education and study in the West, Edna became a nurse-midwife and served in a senior post in the United Nations. For a time, she was foreign minister of Somaliland.
But Edna’s life dream was to open a maternity hospital. After she retired from the United Nations in 1997, she sold her Mercedes and took her entire life savings of $300,000 to build a maternity hospital on land that had been the town dump.
When the hospital was almost complete, her money ran out. But then an article appeared in The New York Times in 1999 about Edna and her flickering dream, and a few readers in Connecticut and Minnesota reached out to help. One of them, Anne Gilhuly, a retired teacher, told me that she and her friends leaped at the thought that they could use spare cash to keep women alive.
The Americans founded a tax-deductible charity, the Friends of Edna Maternity Hospital (www.EdnaHospital.org), and a remarkable partnership was born that allowed the hospital to be completed and flourish. “If it weren’t for ‘Friends,’ we would never have built this hospital,” Edna said.
What they have wrought is stunning. On a continent where hospitals are often dilapidated and depressing, Edna’s is modern, sterile and hums with efficiency. She lives in an apartment above the hospital so that she is available 24/7, and she accepts no salary. She also donates her U.N. pension each month to help pay hospital expenses.
So far, the hospital says it has delivered about 10,000 babies, some of them after the woman was rushed to the hospital gate in a wheelbarrow. Edna has also used her hospital to train Somali midwives to serve in remote areas. Training a midwife at Edna’s hospital costs $215 a month for 18 months — and then that midwife will save mothers and babies for many years.
If there’s ever a time when the needless deaths of women in childbirth — one every 90 seconds or so somewhere in the world, according to the United Nations — should be on our radar screen, it’s at Mother’s Day. And we know how to save those lives…(click link to read the rest!)