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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Filled with fear, Eh Wah knew where to turn for help.

    by Charlotte Falconer | Jul 18, 2017

    Imagine for a moment that you are in desperate need of medical care, but the only care available to you is either too far away or too expensive. In Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, this scenario is a reality for many people.

    Meet Naw Eh Wah, a mother of six in Myanmar. She experienced complications during her most recent pregnancy, and was able to receive much needed care from Naw Too Day, a health care worker in her village who was trained by Medical Teams International. Naw Eh Wah and her seven month old son are now healthy. 

    Thankfully, when Naw Eh Wah began experiencing pregnancy complications, she knew where to turn for help. A mother of five, Eh Wah’s other pregnancies had gone smoothly. But, during her sixth pregnancy, she began bleeding. Filled with fear for her health and that of her unborn baby, Eh Wah quickly consulted the community health worker in her village, Naw Too Day. Too Day, a volunteer trained by Medical Teams International, performed a checkup and offered Eh Wah guidance on the best next step to ensure her and her baby’s health – to go to the nearest hospital for delivery.

    Filled with fear for her health and that of her unborn baby, Eh Wah quickly consulted the community health worker in her village, Naw Too Day.

    While Eh Wah trusted the guidance that Too Day provided, she knew going to the hospital would be next to impossible. Her husband was away working, and she could not leave her other five children home alone to care for themselves.

    Unfortunately, this is a reality for many mothers like Eh Wah around the world. Only 37 percent of babies are delivered in health facilities. Follow-up care--including vaccines and health monitoring--is less likely to happen, putting children at greater risk.

    But these harsh realities are exactly why we establish community health programs like the one that equipped Too Day. Trained as a midwife, Too Day serves a critical role for mothers in her community when going to the nearest clinic isn’t feasible. That way, regardless of constraints, mothers and children are better guaranteed a safe delivery and follow-up care.

    Thanks to Too Day’s training, Eh Wah delivered a healthy baby at her home. Because of Too Day’s training, Eh Wah’s baby boy was also able to receive vaccinations that some of Eh Wah’s other children were not able to get early enough –one of her daughters is now partially deaf due to a preventable case of whooping cough. Eh Wah is thankful for Too Day’s advice and care, and that she has someone in her village she can trust to help keep her children healthy.

    Through the Safe Motherhood Project, Medical Teams International is striving to reduce mortality and morbidity among women and newborns. Because of the invaluable training of women like Naw Too Day, the lives of many people in Myanmar are being improved.

  • Humbled by refugee's perseverance & courage in Uganda

    by Rachel Wolverton, Africa Program Coordinator | May 26, 2017

    This story comes from the field, where Rachel Wolverton just returned from serving in a refugee settlement where we provide medical care in Uganda. Read her heartfelt reflections about one woman she met who's shown incredible bravery and perseverance, despite incredible obstacles.

    "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

    -Mother Teresa

    I first noticed Rose as she was waiting for medical care with her children at the Medical Teams International reception center health clinic. It wasn’t only her enduring beauty that drew me in, or the two young special needs children clinging to her. No, there was something else I sensed deep within this young woman that made it hard to simply pass by.

    Discreetly, I watched Rose as she made her way outside of the Medical Teams International health clinic to collect water.

    She slumped to her hands and knees and crawled across the hot rocky northern Ugandan terrain, sandals worn interlaced between her fingers to protect from sharp rocks, thorns, scorpions and other hazards of the East Africa countryside; the dusty, calloused knees I had noticed amid her fragile, spindly legs suddenly made sense.

    A brutal attack

    Through a translator, Rose graciously told us her story. Struck by a nearly-fatal bout of polio at age eight, Rose never regained use of her legs. No stranger to war as a child in South Sudan, Rose grew up a survivor in the midst of conflict. When her country found short-lived peace for a time between civil wars, she was married to a local man with dwarfism and within five years became the mother to three children (all of whom were also born with the same genetic mutation as their father).

    Rose and her family continually faced ongoing daily challenges living as a special needs family in rural South Sudan. But despite all that life had stacked against them, they made a simple home and a life together. Understandably, with the reality of their disabilities compounding their situation and limiting their options, they were in no hurry to leave their home and community, even when conflict and violence escalated around them once again.


    When her village outside of Yei, South Sudan, was attacked at night by a brutal rebel group that began to indiscriminately kill her neighbors, Rose and her family had no choice but to flee immediately into the dark protection of the bush. They left that night carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, joined by a newly orphaned neighbor boy who had that same night witnessed his parents’ senseless murders.

    For two months the young family anxiously and arduously navigated the highlands of South Sudan, living day to day, moment by moment, always in fear of being discovered by those who would do them harm. They survived, hiding in the bush and along riverbanks, at one time going four days without food, attempting desperately to make their way south, toward Uganda. Traversing under the cover of darkness, through approximately 100 miles of East African wilderness, would be an incredible challenge for any young family with three small children. But for Rose, it meant literally crawling one grueling “step” at a time toward any chance at survival for her family.

    A miraculous arrival

    Miraculously, Rose and her entire family were able to cross the border into the safety of Uganda, where they were transported to Palorinya Settlement in the Moyo district. There, Medical Teams International provided health screenings and immunizations. The family received tenting from the UNHCR, food and water rations, and a plot of land to build a new home and start a new life.

    Unfortunately, the relief for Rose and her family was short-lived. Their tenting disappeared before they were able to set up shelter, and without being able to physically construct a home on their own, the family had resigned to sleep under a tree at night. This was a dangerous arrangement for many reasons, not least of which is the risk of contracting malaria from mosquitoes. Malaria continues to be one of the leading causes of death in Uganda, especially among refugee populations.

    I had the incredible honor of meeting Rose and her children as they were being treated for malaria in the Medical Teams health center. As she recounted her journey, tears spilling off of her cheeks and onto the baby in her arms, I marveled at this woman. She embodied profound courage, pure tenacity, and an unrelenting will to survive.

    A growing crisis

    Rose is one of almost 900,000 South Sudanese refugees now living in Uganda, finding respite from the mass conflict and carnage in their homeland. A shocking 86 percent of the South Sudanese refugee population are women and children. The crisis is growing, with thousands of refugees each week coming through border crossings.

    Each person has a story to tell, accounts of unfathomable hardships full of loss and perseverance.

    After hearing Rose’s story at the Medical Teams clinic, we were able to connect Rose with representatives from Lutheran World Federation (LWF), who will work to construct a traditional tribal house for her family. This simple structure will protect her family from future bouts of malaria and help them to begin a new chapter in life – one of safety, health, and hope.

    I will never forget Rose, and pray that her narrative is written upon your hearts as well. Thank you for listening, for caring, and for sharing her story, and the plight of the South Sudanese refugees, with your families, communities and networks. Thank you for stepping with us into the tragic brokenness of our fragile world with your prayers, social media engagement, activism, and support for those who are on the front lines - loving, healing, protecting, and serving the most vulnerable, tirelessly, day after day.

    We can never know, short of eternity, what affect that our small acts of sacrificial love will make.

  • Maha: Refugee volunteer spotlight

    by Emily Crowe | May 17, 2017


    One of Maha’s favorite memories from Syria was going to school with her friends. After war forced her family from their home, life became much harder. “Hope to go back to Syria is the only thing that we live for,” she shared.

    Now 23, she works in the local fields to make a few dollars to support her family. She wants to continue her education, but it’s too expensive. Even though their situation feels hopeless at times, Maha is passionate about helping her community. Now, she can do both.

    Working with our teams and the local health clinics, Maha was able to go through medical training to provide health care and referrals to her fellow refugees in the settlements. Now, Maha serves with 500 other Refugee Outreach Volunteers to improve healthcare for the thousands of other refugees at the settlements.

  • Happy Mother's Day! One mother's story of health.

    by Emily Crowe | May 13, 2017

    This Mother's Day, we want to honor the incredible women we serve alongside to make better health a reality. Experience shows that if you provide something for a mother - medicine, training - she almost always uses it to help her family. Here's just one mother's story that shows the lasting impact of healthcare access:

    In Guatemala, Medical Teams-trained Mother Counselors started working with Marta three years ago when she was pregnant with her first child. Marta took this training to heart.


    This training gave Marta the tools she needed to keep her family - and herself - healthy. And, she's already put it into action.

    When her daughter, Britany, was young, she struggled with constant diarrhea and was losing weight. Because of her training, Marta knew her daughter needed rehydration salts quickly to avoid serious complications like dehydration and even death. Following up with regular health monitoring appointments allowed Marta to track her daughter's weight and make sure she was getting proper nutrition. Because of this, Marta's children are some of the healthiest in the community.

    Marta says, “I am so thankful for the Mother Counselors and I am grateful that Medical Teams provides the training to the Mother Counselors so I have the knowledge on how to raise healthy children.” Marta said she learned how to take care of her kids, how to properly wash dishes and clothing and has learned safer hygiene practices.

  • A New Role in an Uncertain World

    by Sarah Austria | May 08, 2017

    Like many homes, Noufa’s has the warm smells of cooking spices. A stove sits in the middle of the home, and the room is warmly decorated with wall hangings. Unlike many homes, though, Noufa’s isn’t a house - it’s a tent. Noufa and her family are refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

    Regular bombings forced Noufa and her family to flee their home in Syria. Despite losing so much - her home, her education, and a secure future - Noufa spends her free time serving as a Refugee Outreach Volunteer in the settlement. Now, she has the knowledge to provide healthcare for her fellow refugees.  

    In Syria, her father was a taxi driver and the family lived with her grandparents. They were very poor, but she was still able to attend school. Noufa, unmarried and the oldest in her family, lives with her parents and seven siblings in an informal refugee settlement.

    The family fled their home in Raqqa, Syria after the regular bombings became too much to endure. In Syria, Noufa was only a year from graduating high school. More than two years later, Noufa still longs for an education.  

    Now in Lebanon, none of the siblings attend school. They tried, but it was too expensive. They’ve lost everything. Like Noufa’s family, many Syrian refugees in Lebanon have little or no financial resources. Around 70% live below the poverty line. According to the United Nations Refugee organization, only 22% of refugee adolescents (vs. 84% of adolescents world-wide) receive a secondary education.

    Instead of attending school, Noufa works in the fields during the summer and in a grocery store during the winter. When it rains, water pours into their tent. And, when the water tanks in the settlement are empty, she must walk two kilometers to fill water bottles for her family.

    Her situation can be discouraging - but she’s found a bright spot. While not the traditional education she sought, she is still able to learn. “In Syria, I hoped that I could continue my education,” she shared, “but that wasn’t possible. I volunteer with MTI to learn more.”  When she’s not working, Noufa serves as a Refugee Outreach Volunteer with Medical Teams International.  As part of her volunteer responsibilities, she is trained to measure blood pressure, blood sugar, and follow-up with patients with non-communicable diseases. This allows our clinics to have much greater impact, reaching more and more refugees in need.

    Noufa’s volunteer involvement has given her a practical education that she put to use immediately. Her training is an obvious benefit to the patients she cares for,  but it’s also invaluable to Noufa.

    In a place with few educational opportunities, Noufa’s training has given her a critical role in her uncertain world.

    Thanks to you, Medical Teams International has trained over 500 Refugee Outreach Volunteers in 100 informal refugee settlements in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.  Volunteers are a critical component to the health of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.