It was dusk by the time we walked back to the birthing centre that sat steadily and in solitary at the top of the hill. Well, a hill in my eyes, but perhaps only a speed bump in the eyes of our Nepali friends who live in a country with the world’s highest mountain.
We’d spent the last eight hours learning how our funding is being used to lower the maternal and child mortality rate in Durchim, Khotang through our Impact Partner One Heart World-Wide and the local community. Khotang is a remote area where the number of maternal and child deaths is twice the national average in Nepal. This means two mums die every four hours during pregnancy and child birth and four babies die every two hours.
It wasn’t part of the itinerary, but it seemed fitting, upon reflection, that we finished the day in the birthing centre - a building that’s changing that statistic, with Parbati, the woman at the helm of that change, and Durchim’s much-loved Skilled Birth Attendant.
As Parbati led us into the birthing centre, it was as if night fell within the few steps we took from the front door to the consultation room. Whilst Parbati found light, I couldn’t help but wonder about the courage and commitment it would take for her to work and live alone in a remote village that’s an eight-hour drive away from her family.
When she came to work in Durchim four years ago, the birthing centre was in a bad shape. It had one delivery set. No electricity. No access to safe water and no toilet inside the centre.
“It felt like a place for ghosts,” said Parbati.
Not a place a mother would feel safe visiting, let alone delivering her baby in.
Back then, only one or two pregnant mothers would visit the birthing centre every month.
Having been an advocate for women’s rights since her schooling days, Parbati was determined to provide better health services for women in Durchim.
So she set to work.
She spoke with the government, advocated to get One Heart World-Wide’s funding and support, mobilised local Female Health Community Volunteers who play an integral role in educating mothers on the importance of coming to the birthing centre for check-ups and delivery, had challenging and brave conversations with families to change the local norm of mothers delivering at home and even called her husband to learn how fittings work (who then asked her if she was building a house).
Parbati’s task is huge but her unwavering resolution to ensure mothers and children are given the best opportunity to survive and thrive is greater.
Together with One Heart World-Wide, the community in Durchim and hundreds of thousands of Australians who have purchased a Thankyou baby product, Durchim birthing centre has been transformed into a safe space for mums and bubs with separate consultation, delivery and resting rooms, ultrasound equipment, electricity, safe water and a toilet. It’s also now seeing double the number of mums compared to two years ago.
As Parbati shared her story and darkness enveloped the birthing centre, I sat in awe of the light she’s brought to everyone around her and of the light that she is.
Months later, sitting here in Melbourne, I googled what ‘Parbati’ means.
I smiled when I saw this word.