Nicki's African Adventure; REAL LIVES Your Stories of Courage

Article excerpt

MY daughter Clare was just one when we went to live in Sierra Leone in 1986.

The little hut we lived in had no electricity and there was no way to keep food fresh, so I used to take her to the market every day to buy produce.

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Strangely, it wasn't daunting to have a baby in such a rural place.

My husband Chris, a teacher, and I had travelled from Cameroon through central Africa for six months in 1982 because we wanted to experience a different culture. We hitch-hiked and stayed with local people.

Not many people did that sort of thing then. But we had a brilliant time - although I don't know whether we were brave or stupid.

So when the opportunity arose for Chris to work there we went for it.

I was breast-feeding Clare, so I knew I didn't have to worry that she would have good nutrition.

We used to carry her in our backpacks from one village to the next.

I was a nurse and we were fortunate we didn't pick up any illnesses that were too bad. Both Chris and I did get Hepatitis A, but fortunately it was just the viral infection, not like hepatitis B that sticks with you for life.

We returned to England when Clare was two and we had another baby, Paul, a year later.

I later trained to be a midwife and for the last 17 years we've lived in Hereford and I've worked at the County Hospital.

It was through my midwifery that I returned to Africa.

I started going out for one month a year with a small charity called Useful Hands. I would volunteer and self-finance my flight.

In the rural areas of Sierra Leone, the facilities are really poor and most women give birth in almost unbearable heat, with no electricity or running water.

Sadly, up to one in eight mothers and babies die in childbirth in Sierra Leone, the highest in the world.

Many women give birth on their own with no-one else around, sometimes in the fields they are working, while others are too frightened to go to hospital.

As a result, some die because not everyone gives birth easily on their own in the bush.

Of course, not many have painkillers. However, since April, the government has brought in free health care for mothers and we have delivered lots of healthy babies.

One thing I helped introduce was clean birthing kits which the local communities can resource for just 70p.

They include soap and gloves, a razor blade to cut the cord, tape and gauze to protect the umbilical cord and a piece of plastic onto which the baby is born.

So many children are born straight onto the mud, even if they are born in their homes.

By protecting the baby, we can greatly reduce the numbers of deaths.

When I'm there I work at a health centre where there is no electricity or running water. Through the nights, I have to work by torch and candle-light.

We collect water from a tap 10 metres away from the house, although it's not always running so we have to stock up with big plastic barrels. It is, of course, always cold.

Yet working on your own and without facilities enhances your skills. …