New to the Valley
Spirit on the Job
Putting to rest the silent fear of Tibetan women by spreading a sustainable system of maternal wellbeing through the Tibetan plateau.
by Sarah Zook
Imagine you are a woman, alone in the barn, it is dark, so cold, and you are afraid. The being inside you is pressing to get out, but something is wrong, and it hurts too much. You cannot go into the house, or scream in pain, and you fear you may not have the knowledge to save your child or even survive.
95% of Tibetan women give birth alone. They usually find a dark, quiet place in a shed or barn, because they believe that the placenta and the birthing fluids will bring bad luck if spilled in the home. The mothers cut the umbilical cord with what ever they can find, an old pair of shears or a rusty knife. The Tibetan society is one of the few in the world without a history of trained birth attendants. It is because of this that 1 in 33 women die in child birth, and 1 in 10 Tibetan newborns die in the first twenty-eight days of life.
One H.E.A.R.T (Health Education And Research in Tibet) is putting to rest the silent fear of Tibetan women by spreading a sustainable system of maternal wellbeing through the Tibetan plateau. It began with a request, a spiritual summons issued by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. In 1997 after working as a volunteer nurse practitioner in Tibet, Arlene Samen was invited to Dharmsala, there she was honored to meet His Holiness, the Dali Lama. She told him of the work she was doing, of how advances in western medicine had helped so many people. “You must go into Tibet,” stated His Holiness, “and help rural poor people. When you are on the path of service all doors will be open to you.” With these words, One H.E.A.R.T was born and Arlene’s dedication to Tibet was sealed.
One H.E.A.R.T.'s programs include a Trained Birth Attendant program, PAVO (Patient and Village Outreach) and Physican Training. The Trained Birth Attendant program is held once a year for a period of three months and is available to villagers, township and county doctors, and other health workers holding various governmental positions. It produces well-trained birth attendants who can provide both competent clinical care and quality education on a village level. At the program's completion, participants return to their communities with a new One H.E.A.R.T bicycle to provide services to pregnant women and their newborns.The Physician Training program increases the level of knowledge and skills of county and prefecture doctors in maternal and child health, through lectures and direct hands-on teaching. These skills enable them to address obstetrical emergencies and high-risk referrals.In 2004, One H.E.A.R.T. developed PAVO, a family- and community-based outreach program in Maternal and Newborn Health. PAVO teaching is based on simple life-saving skills that are directly taught to pregnant women, their families, village doctors and women village leaders. Each pregnant community member is also presented with a birth kit that includes vital supplies, such as prenatal vitamins and baby clothes, for a successful delivery. “PAVO is creating a community around birth education that otherwise didn’t exist,” says Toshiko Dignam, Project Manager for One H.E.A.R.T.
In 2004 the maternal death rate decreased in Medrogongkar County, One H.E.A.R.T.'s target county, by 67%, the infant mortality rate by 33%. The results are so impressive, in fact, that the Chinese government has asked One H.E.A.R.T to take on seven more counties, a challenge the small nonprofit is going to take slowly. “We are planning on going into 3 more counties over the next five years,” say Dignam, “but our rate of expansion depends largely on funding.”
The Buddhists teach that we are all connected, what affects one, affects another, and just as the Dalai Lama can come here and bring us new ideas, and inspire us to be better people, we can reach across borders and use our knowledge to help heal the wounds of Tibet. One H.E.A.R.T proves how successful these teachings can be. By aligning themselves with ideas of kindness, compassion, outreach and respect, One H.E.A.R.T has been able to bridge cultural gaps and empower a society to make positive changes for the good of all.
-By Sarah Zook
Sarah Zook is a freelance writer from Bend, Oregon. She is a recent graduate of Women’s Studies from the University of Colorado in Boulder. An adventurer at heart, she seeks to write about women all over the world and the wonderful things they do for one another.
For more information on One H.E.A.R.T., visit their website at: www.onehearttibet.org.