Yesterday as morning broke, a flow of women wearing white dresses and head wraps came up the corridor leading to the hospital. Some were on foot, others were crowded into the back of tap-taps, and others were riding on the back of mototaxis, holding their skirts away from the spokes of the rear wheel. These were the graduates of a six-month long continuing education program for the Matrones, volunteers who support women in childbirth. Almost all women give birth in the home, with a neighbor who serves as a matrone, and sometimes also as an herbalist. It had been several years since our most recent training program for the matrones, and they welcomed the chance to improve their skills.
They convened at the almost-finished Beomi Hotel and Night Club, a large open space with a tin roof shelter from the sun and rain. All of the club’s chairs were set out, and benches emerged from the bushes beside the building, carried on the heads of parishioners from local churches. Soon, all of the participants were settled in, serenaded by squawks from the speakers as the sound technicians tried to connect a microphone (unsuccessfully, as it turned out).
Rosa Luckner, one of the supervisors of the HAS dispensaries, led the group in a prayer and then in rousing renditions of several hymns, which brought people out of their chairs into the aisles, dancing and acclaiming with their arms raised high. A minister offered a prayer of Thanksgiving for the valuable services of these volunteers, and for the employees of the hospital’s community services who support them.
The group was welcomed by Dr. Bien-Aime, Medical Director of the Services Communautaires Integres, and by the popular Jeanne Bright, the nurse who designed the program and brought it to schools and churches throughout the rural parts of the HAS service area.
A small group of matrones emerged from the side of the club, and set up two chairs. A visibly pregnant woman sat in one, in the throes of childbirth. Family members clustered around her, encouraging her, and asking where the midwife was. Soon, a woman appeared, saying that she was the midwife, but the family members did not recognize her. “Are you are a trained matrone?” several family members asked. “Of course, I have done all the training” she answered, sitting in the chair to assist the mother-to-be. But here ministrations raised suspicions by the family, who demanded to see her certificate. “It’s at home” she offered, but the family members were not satisfied, and chased her out of the room.
Then an elderly woman entered, asking if there was a woman in labor at the house. Relieved, the family welcomed her, but one person asked if she was formally trained. “Of course”, she said. “Here is my certificate and my birthing kit.” Whoops and applause surrounded her as she confidently took a pair of gloves out of the sterile pack and started to prepare the mother for the birth. With some drama, a doll emerged, wrapped in a blanket, and shortly thereafter a bright red stuffed bag, connected to the infant by a cord. As the applause continued, the midwife helped the new mother to leave.
Then a group of six midwives stepped rhythmically down the aisle, each one carrying a brightly-wrapped package, singing a song of gratitude. One by one, each of the key personnel who supported the program were called up to receive their gift, mimicking the steps of the singers, and receiving the gift and a kiss.
The large group of graduates would have made it hard to hand each one a certificate without an undue delay for lunch and the tap-tap rides home, so one participant from each sector was selected to come to the front to receive their certificate as a symbol of the achievements of all of the other members of the course.
After closing words, the ceremony came to an end, just as the sound system recovered, and as the graduates wandered over to the café where the food was distributed, many of them joined in impromptu dancing, bringing all of the honored guests into the circle.