Be Strong and Courageous

September 25, 2014

by Carolyn Howarth, Samaritan’s Purse projects development manager

Vietnamese traditional-birth-attendants-in-training display a quiet confidence in their newfound knowledge and skills.

As they crowded into the mint green hospital room with me, I thought the 15 young, ethnic-minority women seemed timid. They shyly hid their smiles behind their hands or clustered in twos and threes, giggling nervously.

The members of this group were chosen by Samaritan’s Purse and the local government to be trained as traditional birth attendants to serve their villages scattered throughout the steep and remote mountains of northern Vietnam.

Their dark eyes sparkled, and only moments later, as I sat perched on a vinyl-covered folding chair, they began to confidently share their inspiring stories, beginning with May Su Cheo.

“About five years ago, a woman was in labor in her field along the side of the road. She cried out to me for help and I stopped,” the 29-year-old good Samaritan recalled. “We only had a piece of sharpened bamboo to cut the umbilical cord,” May said, cringing at the memory. “I’ve learned so much more since then!” she continued self-assuredly.

Motivated by this roadside encounter and her experience of delivering her own two babies at home without any assistance, May is making the most of the six-month training program. Three months of classroom training and the first two weeks of the clinical practicum have already been completed. Their instructors say the students are very dedicated and that “they jumped into learning right away.”

When the traditional birth attendants complete the program in September, these amazing young women will return to their communities to help increase knowledge and change unhealthy practices around pregnancy and childbirth. Fewer than half the babies in this region are currently born at a health facility and infants are three to four times more likely to die within the first month than a baby born in Canada.

“The traditional birth attendants are a key channel linking families at the grassroots level with services at the commune clinic,” affirmed Mai Trinh, Samaritan’s Purse’s Health and Nutrition Program Officer. She has ten years of experience helping improve the health of families in Vietnam and has a particular heart for the highlands where “families in poor and remote areas suffer a lot.”

“Women have faced many risks and difficulties in the past,” said one of the other students, “now we want to go back to serve them. It is my responsibility now to help women and children to be safe and healthy.”

Although these new traditional birth attendants will face challenges in their new roles, their dedication and quiet confidence inspire hope in me for their futures and that of their communities. As the Lord commanded Joshua, I pray that they will “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).