After providing midwifery care for over 25 years here in Encinitas, Catharine decided to realize her dream and seek out humanitarian work with under served populations abroad.

With Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) Catharine worked for 7 months in Monrovia, Liberia as the supervising midwife in their free hospital. The medical team consisted of 9 doctors and nurses from all over the world –Germany, Argentina, Greece, China, Spain,New Zealand, South Africa…..

This is Catharine’s story about her experience in Liberia:

Working in the most dire conditions, with a traumatized population was a challenging and heart wrenching experience. Liberia is recovering from a 14-year brutal war where woman were beaten, raped, and used as pawns in the power struggles between the warring factions.

There was still a strong UN presence, with check points all over the city.  The compound we lived in had barbed wire around it and guards night and day.

Many women traveled for miles on foot to get to the hospital.  Unfortunately many of them had no access to prenatal care, so there was much sickness, and many fatalities for both mothers and babies.  Malnourishment, malaria, and pre-eclampsia were the most common.  I had never witnessed a mother or baby dying before, and it was heartbreaking to see so many deaths.  It was difficult to accept the conditions we had to work in – the dirt, the heat, the limited access to what we know as basic medical options. Some days we had no water in the hospital to wash our hands.  Seeing a woman in need of a transfusion die because there was no blood to give them leaves such a helpless feeling.

#4 Birth

Birth

#5 Dancing Midwives at Work

Dancing Midwives at Work

Perhaps the most difficult of all were the Liberian doctors themselves.  Many of them had left the country to practice in places where they could make more money.  Of the ones that were still in Monrovia, they would often not show up for work in the hospital at all.

In the face of such horrific conditions seeing the resilience and the indomitable spirit of the women in Liberia was ‘life changing’. In spite of the fact that they lived in an environment of human rights violations the women were able to find joy and laughter in their daily life!

The team of 25 Liberian midwives that I was supervising would even sing as they worked – unbelievable!  That was perhaps the most incredible learning experience of all. I looked forward to seeing their smiling faces every single morning, and treasured the time I spent with them.  I learned so much from them.

I just loved one of their names for midwives – ‘DIAMOND DIGGERS’.  The babies are the diamonds, and we, the midwives, are the ones digging for the diamonds!  Of course we always hoped that we wouldn’t have to actually ‘dig’ to deep for these diamonds, but it was such a sweet and lovely way to describe what we do.

After this life-changing experience volunteering as a midwife in Africa, Catharine was inspired to continue doing humanitarian work abroad in underprivileged countries. She traveled to Haiti next…

 

Read The Haiti Story