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From flashlight to LED light: Making childbirth safer with solar power innovation

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We’re bringing a little sunshine into the delivery room because a tiny little flashlight just ain’t gonna cut it.

Adriel Booker Love A Mama Community PNG maternal health-74

Women Empowering Women via We Care Solar and the Sunshine Project - PNG-Bamu-Adriel_Booker

One of my greatest objectives during the 31 Days of Women Empowering Women series is to highlight important initiatives, organizations, and ministries that work toward positive change for women. These are women (and men) empowering women at their finest.

Of course there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of organizations that fit the bill, so narrowing them down to just a few is proving difficult. But one that you absolutely must know about is the wonderfully innovative We Care Solar.

Last year a reader forwarded me this video from a CNN news report, wondering if it might help with our work in Papua New Guinea (PNG). If you have 1:49 minutes to spare, I know you’ll be inspired and impressed by this “CNN Hero” story.

We Care Solar is making birth safer for women in the developing world by introducing solar-powered suitcases that provide light and energy in clinics where electricity is sporadic or non-existent. (The maternal solar suitcases also come equipped with a rechargeable fetal doppler.) Dr. Laura Stachel’s compelling story of her experience in Africa is a reflection of conditions throughout the developing world:

“Co-founder Dr. Laura Stachel went to Northern Nigeria in 2008 to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals. She witnessed deplorable conditions in state facilities including sporadic electricity that impaired maternity and surgical care. Without a reliable source of electricity, nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients waited hours or days for life-saving procedures. The outcomes were often tragic.

Laura wrote to her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator back in Berkeley, California. Together, Laura and Hal co-founded WE CARE Solar to improve maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity.”

After watching the CNN report it took me about—ohhhh—a nanosecond to agree that it was a perfect fit for the girls of the Love A Mama Community. It came on the heels of two years of successful Mother’s Day birth kit drives where hundreds of women rallied to see maternal health improved in the developing world by donating thousands and thousands of clean birth kits.

So this last Mother’s Day rather than asking for more clean birth kits, we instead raised money for the Sunshine Project – a campaign to buy a solar suitcase to donate to YWAM Medical Ships for use in remote areas of PNG where the maternal death rate is staggering.

The Sunshine Project - Bringing light into the delivery room. Help a mama in Papua New Guinea this Mothers Day by giving a gift to your own mom. | 31 Days of Women Empowering Women Series.

And wouldn’t you know it? You guys rallied. En force.

Within a few short days we raised enough to pay for the solar suitcase (including international shipping costs, customs fees, and import tax).

And then it gets even better…

Though a last-minute turn of events I was able to personally return to PNG (after only being home for three weeks from our previous trip) and I landed on the YWAM Medical Ship headed straight to the very location we hoped to install the suitcase – a clinic in the Western Province. This clinic has no access to electricity (the entire village and surrounding region has no electricity) and if women were to go into labor at night, they would literally be birthing by candlelight or—if they’re lucky—a flashlight or small lantern.

Oh, and did I mention that the suitcase had been stuck in Australian Customs and was released the day before I flew out to PNG? The whole thing was pretty miraculous.

Since you’ve all been so invested as we’ve worked to empower these mamas in the developing world, I wanted to make sure and share some images from my time there. Girls, this is your work and heart in action, along with ours.

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presenting the solar suitcase to local health care workers

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teaching the health workers how to operate the suitcase

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installing the solar panels on the roof of the tiny maternity ward

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inside the delivery room

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with antonia and one of our volunteer midwives

(Read the full story on the YWAM Ships website here.)

I’m humbled by the response of heart and generosity of spirit by women all over the world who have linked arms across zip codes and nations and time zones to see light and life come into the delivery room through this little initiative. It was a huge privilege to be a part of the Sunshine Project and an even bigger privilege to be a part of the ground team actually installing the solar suitcase and training local workers how to use it.

And now picture me lifting up my eyebrows all serious-like and eyeballing you directly because I have something very important I need to say to you: Though we may have never met in person, we are not strangers. Thank you, sister-friends, for your incredible contribution and for the way you constantly rally to women in need. You blow me away. Repeatedly.

Thank you, sincerely.

In closing I want to leave you with a beautiful image of my friend Antonia. Antonia is the head nurse/midwife of the Emity Health Station in the Bamu River region of Western Province, PNG where we left the suitcase. According to the Human Development Index, if this province were a nation of its own it would be the second poorest nation in the world, and although Antonia is trained and experienced in her profession, her tools and resources have been extremely limited. Here she is learning how to use a fetal doppler for the first time in her 30-year career:

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using a doppler for the first time ever

Witnessing this moment where her world expanded that little bit more? It made my heart sing. (And it made me cry like a fool in love.) So much beauty in these moments… so much love… so much sisterhood… so much hope for the future.

Thank you for helping to empowering these women. Now let’s get behind We Care Solar and empower more women as they work to change the face of maternal health right throughout the developing world. Please visit their website, consider how you can support their work, and follow them on facebook.

Love,
A

31 Days of Women Empowering Women at AdrielBooker.com p.s. This post is part of 31 Days of Women Empowering Women, as well as part of a larger movement of writers all over the world joining in with The Nester in writing everyday for the month of October. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.

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1 Comment

  • Reply 4 Innovations That Are Changing the World 23 October 2013 at 9:49 pm

    […] here we raised money for one through the Sunshine Project last Mother’s Day and I was able to deliver and install it in a clinic in Papua New Guinea last month!) This portable solar energy system helps save the lives of mothers and babies by delivering […]

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