The problem of the high maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria was never on my mind when I started Mamalette.
Certainly, my privileged background, beliefs, and social status may have affected my views on the state of maternal and infant health in the country.
My journey with the Mamalette Champions program started with my work with the Mamalette online platform, through my thriving community on Facebook, through stories told by community members I was able to get an insight into the quality of healthcare mothers and infants were getting in Nigeria’s largest urban cities Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
This piqued my curiosity and I wanted to see first hand for myself where women were having their babies, this journey led me to several communities across Lagos, every week I travelled to various urban poor communities, visiting Traditional Birth Attendants, Primary Healthcare Centres and Government Hospitals.
I visited these facilities in various parts of Lagos, Ilaje-Bariga, Surulere, Orile-Agege, Ikotun-Egbe, Mushin, Ajegunle, Badagry and Epe. I disguised myself as a pregnant woman, enquiring about health services and the costs of registration in the various facilities etc
Being able to go through this experience was very important for me, as I needed to see first hand what it was like to be an economically disadvantaged pregnant woman looking for healthcare in an urban city like Lagos. Once I was done with my field research, I also held focus group discussions with hundreds of mothers in Lagos.
The experiences shared by these women allowed me to see how preventable a lot of the problems they complained about were. I realised that while money ultimately determines the quality of healthcare you can get, getting the right health information and at the right time was also key.
Being a mother and having lived through similar experiences as these women, I believe I understood and related to their plight. Having personally gone through difficult experiences in recent years also provided me with a basic foundation for understanding what it may be like for other women who experience adversity and how they may benefit from the power of having a community they belong to and a support system to overcome their challenges and take control of their lives.
It was through this experience and my process of learning and discovery, that the Mamalette Champions program was born.
Before the program started, I was nervous and questioned my ability to be able to convince women do go out into their communities to educate other women on practicing positive maternal and infant health behaviours.
My brand name, consistency in the space and my lived experience of being a mother was helpful in establishing relationships with the Champions.
Like all of them I had also gone through the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing. These common characteristics enabled me to easily build rapport and develop strong bonds and relationships with our Mamalette Champions. I was also able to share my stories from my experiences on going into several communities for my research and why this work they were about to embark on was important.
In 2017 we started with ‘Motherhood Cell Groups’ program, this was funded via a loan and the income from our online platform.
We recruited and trained 70 mothers as Mamalette Champions across 3 cities, Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan.
Champions were also equipped with basic tools and resources they needed to conduct health education sessions in their communities. Through this we reached 2000+ mothers across 35 communities in these 3 cities. Our work was also featured on the BBC.
In March 2018, I was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow and through this experience, I was able to develop my skills, grow my networks and increase my knowledge.
This experience proved extremely beneficial to me as later in the year I was selected for the Facebook Community Leadership Program. Mamalette subsequently received a $50,000 grant from Facebook in 2019 to implement a Home Visiting program in 24 communities across Lagos.
The project ran from January 2019 to September 2019 and involved a lot of learning, testing and building. The program trained 41 women however 24 health champions were selected to work in various communities across Lagos and a test site in Ibadan. Their role was to provide monthly home visits, health education, information and support to socially disadvantaged pregnant women and new mothers.
These home visits followed a defined curriculum on various maternal and infant health topics. Program enrolees were taught in the comfort of their homes or places of business (Some of enrolees were petty traders). Health Champions also took pregnant women who were unregistered to Primary Health Care Centers and General Hospitals. They followed them for clinics, for those who had new babies, the Health Champions took the women and their infants to immunisation clinics. Some even cleaned the houses of overwhelmed new mothers and washed their baby’s clothes.
Some champions had to donate food, clothing and materials to impoverished women. For pregnant women who had C-Sections and could not afford hospital bills, the organisation had to crowdfund in one case and make contributions in others to support the poor women.
Over the course of 9 months, 2,153 home visits were completed. 501 women were enrolled however we only completed home visits for 488 of the enrolled women. 212 babies were born over the course of the program.
The passion and commitment of our Health Champions was very important for the success of this program.
Our Health Champions also felt rewarded by their work because they believed that they were giving back and that they were a part of something great, making a difference in the lives of others.
The Mamalette Champions program also helped mothers learn to be advocates for themselves, their families, and the communities in which they live. Mamalette empowers women to “become the leaders they want to be.”
It was a great privilege for me to manage this program. During my numerous visits to 22 out of our 24 program sites I was always taken aback by how welcoming and happy program enrolees were to receive Mamalette staff and Health Champions.
I was welcomed into the homes of hundreds of families across Lagos and this rare privilege gave me a chance to see firsthand how the poor in Nigeria live and how underdeveloped and under resourced our communities are.
It is my hope to use the lessons learnt from this program in my future projects and career.