Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Maternity Ward DONE!!!

Thank you so much to everyone for donating to this project. My village was so grateful! They were so impressed my loved ones raised all the money.

Delivery Room


Photo from the men's opening

Me and my counterpart Abassi

Photo from the women's opening

Mama's learning about giving birth at the hospital as opposed to home

Some of my neighbor kiddos playing around the health center

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Maternity Progress

Here's a few pictures of the work done at the maternity. The finishes are done, now we are going to buy all the furnishings and get it up and running!

Thanks, everyone, for donating!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Infant and Maternal Mortality

What’s it like to lose your baby? What’s it like to lose a loved one during childbirth? What’s it like to lose your child? What’s it like to lose your mom when you gain a sibling? What’s it like to lose your wife and baby on the same day? How do you get past that heartbreak, that grief?

Even in the States, with modern medical equipment, electricity, and trained doctors, people have to deal with losing the mom or baby. The USA’s infant mortality rate (infant deaths/1000 live births) is 6.2. Here, in Cameroon, it is 63.3. Now, imagine giving birth at a Health Center with no electricity, no running water, and no medical doctor.

The Health Center in village keeps track of how many births happen in the Health Center and which of the babies survive, or not. With numbers from the year 2008 until now, I calculated the (projected) village infant mortality rate is about 73.9. (There were 38 deaths out of the 514 births).

Because I believe in the power of story, I want to share some stories to make these numbers come to life.

Take one example from a small town in the States:
Pregnant, nineteen years old, one young girl starts having intense labor pains at about 25 weeks into the pregnancy. She has access to health care, a modern hospital, and trained physicians. She comes from a decent family who is willing to help her get the medical care she needs from the local hospital. In and out of the doctor’s office for weeks, nothing helped. Finally, on April 25, 2006, she is in such intense pain, she can’t walk, but her mom takes her to the emergency room and is immediately admitted and being tended to by medical doctors and nurses. Despite all the prenatal checkups, advanced ultra sound exams, and access to western medicine, she gives birth to a little boy at 25 weeks. He was perfect, but miniature, and not fully developed. Despite him moving momentarily in her arms, and her pleads for the doctors to save him, he was gone moments after being born. And, keep in mind this is in a developed country, with running water, electricity, modern medicine, and trained medical doctors.

Now, shift to a small village in Cameroon:
Pregnant, nineteen year old girl, who carries the baby to term goes to the local health center to give birth. Complications arise but there are limited options in a village health center with no electricity, no running water, no trained medical doctors, and outdated facilities. The city hospital is hours away on a bad dirt road. The nurses and staff members do what they can and know how to do. Despite the efforts, she, and the baby, don’t make it out of the health center and in one day the husband and family have lost their beloved wife, daughter, sister and new baby. It’s hard not to think that if she had access to better facilities, technology, or medical doctors, she may have survived. Maybe the baby could have survived with better medical care or if mom had given birth in the city. So many maybe’s and so many what if’s. And, on the other side of that argument, what if the young girl from the States had been in a small village, giving birth at the health center? Maybe she wouldn’t have survived.

Of course, there a so many factors that played into both of these stories that haven’t been mentioned. But, every woman and baby deserves access to adequate health care and trained medical staff to do everything they can to ensure a healthy delivery for both baby and mom. Even in the States, where we typically do have access to medical doctors and modern medicine, there are loses people have to struggle through. In Cameroon, and especially in small villages, there is not the same access to health care and people have to suffer through these loses more often than we can even imagine.

And, with outdated, unsanitary, and unpleasant facilities at the health center, many women choose to give birth at home, without the assistance of trained health care professionals. When complications arise in an at-home birth, there is no health worker to help mom or baby get through those situations.

My village and I are trying to get enough money to finish and equip the building designated as the new maternity ward in village. We will be able to purchase new materials and provide women with more privacy, more pleasant and adequate facilities. We will encourage women in village to go to the health center for prenatal consultations, to give birth at the new maternity ward, and finally give women and babies a portion of the care they deserve.

Please, take a moment to consider helping us raise the money to allow our village to update their facilities and hopefully decrease the number of at-home births and help decrease the number of women and babies who do not make it through delivery.

You can go to gofundme.com/villagematernity to pledge any amount you are able to donate. If we reach our goal within 30 days, we will be able to go through with the project and get this currently empty maternity ward up and running.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and considering donating however much you can for this project.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Let's open a maternity ward!

Here is the email regarding my village's soon-to-be maternity ward. Most of the people reading my blog have probably already seen this, but if not, read on! Hopefully I have not shared this information too early; I'm hopeful they will approve the grant and we will be collecting donations in no time!

Hello, everyone!

I am currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in the Grand North of Cameroon, Africa. There are about 1,000 people in the village of Tourningal. Or, because I know some of you prefer exact numbers, there were 1,068 the day I walked around and counted everyone. There is no electricity or running water in village, but we manage (as they like to say). The majority of the residents are Muslim and are extremely welcoming and kind. There are some Christians in village; they make up about 10% of the population. Most of the villagers work as farmers and cow herders, raking in a small income to sustain their large families.

I have included all of you on this email because you have helped me get to where I am today and to become the person I am. It is a little backwards that I am asking for your help, instead of me returning the favor for all you’ve done. While I am the one asking for your support, I am asking on behalf of my village, which will be extremely gracious when they receive the funds to open a maternity ward. I will be sure they know who has helped them accomplish their goal.

I have just applied for a partnership grant through Peace Corps. If approved, I will post a link online and email it to you. You can donate any funds you want to, or are able to. I know some of you are going through school, have new babies, new homes, and other expenses to take care of. I don’t know what the rules are on a minimum donation, but, truly, every dollar will help. And, if it doesn’t work right now, I definitely understand. There is no pressure, I simply wanted to share the news and give you all a heads up well before so you knew what was coming.

We are trying to raise $9,687 to finish the interior of a new building in village. This building was constructed a couple years ago and has been standing empty since. It is designated to become a maternity ward, situated a few yards away from the current Health Center in village. We will also be purchasing all the equipment and materials needed to furnish a maternity and get it up and running. It is a large sum of money for the States; imagine how far it can go here in Cameroon. My village is situated a few hours away from the city, so we will have to pay for the transport of everything from the city. The Health Center staff, along with certain villagers, will be doing the set up of the maternity on their own time. The only labor included in the sum of money is to pay the construction workers to finish the interior in order for it to be ready and welcoming for women in village. (I have the specific budget breakdown if anyone wants to see it!)

There are many women in village who choose to give birth at home because the current birthing room in the current Health Center is extremely outdated, unsanitary, and unpleasant. At-home births mean no trained health worker and increased risk of injury or death of the mom or newborn. The most recent example of this is one woman gave birth at home to a small baby boy, Adamou. She passed away a few hours after giving birth, leaving multiple children behind. There were no trained health staff present and the family still is unsure exactly what happened. Because of tradition (women are the ones to raise the children) and the fact that the father works in another part of the country, the baby has been passed around to various families in village, and nearby villages, depending on who is able to take care of him at the moment. He is surviving but not thriving; he is extremely underweight. This is just one example of what happens when complications arise during at-home births. When women do come to the Health Center, they have a lack of privacy and often are in shared rooms with multiple sick beds before and after the delivery. There is only one old delivery bed in a small room for women in labor. Despite all this, some women are able and willing to come to the Health Center for delivery, but more women would be inclined to make the trip to the Health Center if they had more privacy and nicer facilities. Twice in my first few months at village there were two women in labor at the same time. One had to wait in the shared sick room while the other gave birth and the Health Center staff and family cleaned up the room.

The goal with this project is to provide facilities the women and babies in village deserve. We will encourage women to come to the Maternity for prenatal visits and for giving birth, therefore, working to decrease the maternal and infant mortality rate in village. I will email you all when I have the information needed to donate, when the project is approved (hopefully). If it is not approved, then I will go from there and see what we can do. So, for now let’s hope we will be able to raise the money and get this maternity open for use in the next few months.

If you want to read some stories or see pictures of my village you can look at my blog, moincameroon.blogspot.com. I sometimes struggle to keep it updated, but I do try to maintain it.

I have attached three photos. 1) The new Maternity building, next to current Health Center. 2) Current delivery room. You will notice a sink but there is no running water, and no floor drain, so when cleaning fluids up they have to sweep it through the hallway to dump it outside. 3) Baby Adamou on my lap, wrapped in many layers, so you can’t see how little he is.

Thank you for reading this long email and for all you guys have done for me in my life. You have all had some impact on me that has lasted until now, and even if we haven’t talked recently, know that I still appreciate you and thank you for everything.

I will keep you updated! And, please pass this along to anyone you think may be interested in helping out, or to any businesses who need a worthy project to donate to!

Maureen Bjerke

Saturday, February 14, 2015

'Merica to the 'Roon

Wow, I have not posted on here in a LONG time. I have lots to say about life here in Cameroon and my trip HOME to the States! Since most of you know how awesome the U.S. Of A. is I'll stick to life in Cameroon.

It was so wonderful to see my loved ones and enjoy the luxurious life of 'Merica, but it made coming home to Cameroon very difficult. It took me a couple weeks to stop whining and actually want to leave my house and participate in life here. I needed a real attitude adjustment. I'm less whiny now, and enjoying life here, for the most part. My new positive outlook can be partially attributed to Stephen Covey's "7 Habits" book. I guess my dad was right about everyone needing to read that book in their life. It's a good one, check it out! (I'm running for favorite daughter right now!)

Anyways, after some private pity parties, I put my super hero pants on and decided I can, and want, to finish my service here. Definitely still struggling to feel like I'm making any sort of impact here in Tourningal, but my counterpart and I are writing a grant to get the maternity ward opened and functioning (keep your eyes open for your chance to help out!!). So, hopefully that will make a small positive impact on life here.

It was Bilingualism Day here this past week. I got to see both the high school students and elementary kids sing and do skits in English. I taught the kids "Old McDonald" but they seemed to struggle with some of the words, so, we will see if they use it for the upcoming Youth Day. These kids are impressive. They grow up speaking Fulfulde (their local language); then, around 5-6 years old they learn to speak, read, and write Arabic. When they enter school at about age 6-7 they learn to read, write, and speak French. In high school, they learn English and study one other language (Arabic, German, Spanish). I can't imagine how awesome and difficult it is to learn so many different languages. Especially because the first language many of them learn (Arabic) to read and write is opposite of the other languages they learn (French/English). I've seen kids who write French words/phrases perfectly backwards, probably because they've been taught Arabic. It has to be confusing growing up in such a multilingual area. But I also think it is admirable and impressive and we should push kids to learn at least one other language before getting into high school.

It is dry season right now and I have to say I never knew the meaning of dry season until this year. It is DRY! Dust forever and always, with no talk of rain and rarely any clouds in the sky. It is so sunny, hot, and dusty here. I walk around with my scarf covering my head and face, which they think is pretty funny. I love nights because I'm not sweating. It is hot by 8 and, then, around 4 it starts to get shady. I felt better today when I went to visit my neighbor and she was just lying on her couch, sweating. When I walked in she said it was too hot. Suddenly I didn't feel so bad for taking a break almost every afternoon when it's too hot for me to function. And the more northern areas of Cameroon get even HOTTER! I couldn't survive. It was apparently 90 degrees today and I was wishing for ice, air conditioning, anything cool, or anything to get some air moving. I truly have a renewed appreciation of winter and Montana fresh air. Not to mention, electricity, refrigeration, and climate control.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One Year Anniversary

Well, it has been difficult to keep my blog going while living in village with no electricity, but I am currently in the city and enjoying electricity, internet, hot showers, and sleeping in. I just picked up 6 packages from the post office and had one little package waiting for me already at the PC house. Wow, I have some great family and friends. Just enjoyed some M&M’s and Top Ramen soup; my fellow PCV’s appreciate the M&M’s as well. They are going fast!

Life is good here. I have been homesick and missing all you great people back home, but I do enjoy village and the people there, as well. I am continuing to “work” at the Health Center in village and going out on Polio Vaccinations every so often. I do a lot of observing and stepping out of rooms as to keep from puking or passing out at the Health Center. I am learning a lot about health care in the village, and just how strong people are. There were two births the other day, and the only screaming and crying was from the newborn baby. Women are crazy strong here. The same week, I showed up to the Health Center around 9 am and there was a woman who had given birth that morning before I got there. She was packing up her things and getting on a moto with her newborn child wrapped up in her arms to go back to her nearby village. I often tell my coworkers at the Health Center how amazing women are here.

There was a some recent cases of Polio found among the Central African Republic refugee’s here in Cameroon. Since we, in the Adamawa, are one of the regions that border CAR, we are one of two regions who have to do three rounds of vaccinations within a month, for all kiddos aged 0-10 years (it used to be 0-5 years). It has been a little tiring, but I always enjoy getting to see the houses, people, and different villages “en brousse” (in the bush). It is rainy season, so it can be a little scary and slippery when we take the moto out to the small bush villages. But I wear my helmet, jeans, keens, and long sleeve flannel despite being told I look like a man when I go en brousse. And, they think it is hilarious when “nasara” falls in the mud, on the moto, which can get annoying, but no burns or injuries, so I try to laugh it off when we do fall.

While out on vaccinations this past week, Ebola was the hot topic. It has been concerning with it creeping closer. People out in the middle of the bush know about it, were worried, and were asking for the vaccine. My Cameroonian friend/counterpart/neighbor explained there is none and we are only giving the vaccine against Polio right now. From what I could understand in Fulfulde, she explained there is no treatment and no vaccine and it is not in Cameroon, yet. I’ve been doing my fair share of reading and research on the virus and have been pushing for a short little session on how to protect oneself, but it hasn’t been accepted or put on anyone’s priority list as of now. There is a one new small poster in the health clinic about symptoms, who to call if you suspect Ebola, and how to protect yourself. But, it is small, it is only one, and it is in French. For a village of people who speak Fulfulde and has an estimated literacy rate of 40%, that is not sufficient.

Reading the news and the problems with Ebola in nearby countries, I can imagine how impossible it is to control. Seeing how people deal with illness here in village, in the bush, and at the health center is extremely disheartening to imagine the ability to control something like Ebola. Traditional remedies are almost always tried before going to the health center, if they have the money to go to the health center. I try to share the information I have, but it is limited and we can talk all we want but it’s going to require some serious dedicated behaviors to deal with it. People are told to protect themselves from any loved ones who have symptoms, but when you sleep in the same bed, eat from the same plate, how realistic is that? Can you imagine not having the protective equipment needed to take care of your sick loved ones and therefore not touching them, helping clean them up, prepare their bodies for burial? I can only imagine the suffering of those in these other W. African countries affected by Ebola.

It is easy to forget about things when we live in the good ol’ USA. It is easy to distance ourselves from things going on around the world when we live in a developed country. Sometimes I look at the world news here and I wonder is the news always like this? Does it affect me more now, here in Cameroon, because I can empathize with these stories on these struggling developing countries? Or, is this what growing up feels like?

It is humbling to live here. It is not always easy. Sometimes I think about coming home. But, also, it’s not always difficult and I wonder what it would be like to live here forever, not to have a year left until I go back to my country. Yes, if Ebola becomes a concern here in Cameroon, I can go home to Montana. But, what about my friends and my Cameroonian “family”? Those in Tourningal and Mayo-Darle can’t pack up their things and leave the country. They will be fighting for their lives as those in multiple West African countries are struggling to do.

Peace Corps has definitely showed me that you truly cannot take anything for granted. We should appreciate the development in our country, the access to health care, the support from the government in disasters, and just the basic security we have in our country. Of course, we have our fair share of problems in the States, and people even asked before I left for Cameroon, “why not stay here and work on our own problems?” It is a fair question and I don’t have a good response. I just know this is truly a life changing experience and makes me realize how much I have taken for granted all my life.

There are people here who don’t understand why an American would leave the US to come suffer in Africa (their words). It is also difficult to explain and sometimes I think, “yeah, what am I doing?!?” But there are amazing things here amongst the suffering. People are genuine here. They are welcoming. And they love to laugh.

It has been a wild ride, but I’ve made it one year here in Cameroon. I can’t believe it has already been one year. Looking back, it has gone fast, but I don’t have much to show for my time here. I am half way done; I have one year left to work. And, about three months until I will spend Christmas with my loved ones. On the hard days, that is what keeps me going.

Here’s to another year of more “firsts”, learning new things everyday, and realizing the more I learn, the less sure I am of what I know.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"You have an African accent when you speak French"

Well, I did it. I spent a month in village, without leaving, without electricity. My fellow villagers seemed to appreciate it since I kept hearing, "you're not traveling?” "you haven't traveled lately, that's good", and "you have been in village for more than a week!"

When we are first posted in our villages, we are supposed to spend three months in village, without leaving, except going to our banking city for a night or two. I understand that better now. I was traveling a lot in my first few weeks at my new post and it made it difficult to integrate and enjoy my new home. After spending a month solid in village, I appreciate my friends, neighbors, and my house. Even though the kids drive me crazy and make my house dirty, I do miss them, and I do love them. They are so dirty but so cute. I get mad and annoyed but then I hear them calling my name and asking me where I'm going and what I'm doing, and with a deep breath, I can smile and laugh with them again.

It has been a while since I’ve written a blog, and there is a lot to catch up on. June was a busy and exciting month. I got to see three out of four sisters, my dad, and meet my new nephew. Meaghan and my dad came to Cameroon for a week. It was wonderful. It was a lot of traveling, but they were troopers. We spent a night in Yaoundé (the capital) at the Hilton Hotel. It was a vacation from reality for me. We took the train overnight up north to Ngaoundere and then went out to my village. After waiting for the car for hours, we left in the rain, but made it to village a couple hours later. When we arrived, all my neighbors came and greeted us. Dad was called “grandpere nasara” or “white grandpa.” I think he liked it. Meaghan was my “adda” (big sister in Fulfulde) and many people told me how beautiful she was. People are still asking about them.

We spent two nights in village, exploring the area and meeting many neighbors and friends. I did my best at translating between French, English, and Fulfulde, but there were some conversations, which were definitely lost in the wind. Dad was worried about breaking the cultural gender norms, and even stressed himself out about it! You can ask him for the story! Let’s just say, between Dad and Meaghan, I didn’t sleep through a night outside of the Hilton. Guess that just shows how nervous they were about coming, but they came anyways. I appreciate they came on an adventure with me.

We spent one night in Ngaoundere, my banking city and the regional capital. It is a very calm and nice city, with some good food. Meaghan and Dad ate some grilled fish and baton, and really loved it. After a good day in the city, we took the train back down to Yaoundé and went back to Hilton Paradise. We all had a solid night of sleep. We explored Yaoundé, a little, but I’m a small town girl and I am far from comfortable in Yaoundé. After swimming in the pool, blended coffee drinks, yummy pizza and a relaxing day, we took off for FRANCE!

I was watching movies, drinking free red wine, and actually enjoying most of the airplane food they gave us. Funny how your perspective changes after a few months of cous cous and sauce. Our flight arrived early in the morning and we anxiously waited for more sisters and my new nephew. They all looked exhausted after an overnight flight with a baby. We found our bags and headed to our hotel for the night. After a little relaxation, we set out to see a little bit of Paris. I was shocked at how expensive everything was. I would say everything was three times, or more, than Cameroonian prices. But, it was also so beautiful and clean. We ate some yummy French food and drank mojitos and red wine.

Even though we were all exhausted, I think we were all happy to be together and we wound up walking around Paris the entire afternoon. At dusk, Dad, Ann and I went up the Eiffel Tower; sad Mom was not there to see it with us. We made our way back to the hotel and found some to-go pizza next door. We found some red wine and M&M’s and had a feast with the World Cup playing in the background.

The next day, despite French Traffic Strikes, we found our train to Bordeaux. It was amazingly fast, smooth, and fancy.

I have a lot more to say about France, and my recent time in country, but I my neighbor and friend from village is waiting for me to go back to village and prepare for the Grande Fete de Ramadan! It has been so long since I posted on here, I felt the need to give something to my dedicated fans out there, aka my loved ones in MT. Miss and love you and I will add more when I come back to the city. All you need to know is I am here, alive, and happy. Village life gets better with time, and I am seeing potential for projects and work in the area.

For now, au revoir! Or, if you prefer Fulfulde, bahaouji (no clue how to spell it)! Or, as the kids are learning in village, see you later!