Midwives take to the road thanks to Emily

Emily Hills is making a difference to the lives of mums to be and midwives in Africa. Catherine Scott meets her.

Midwives and mums with babies strapped to their backs cycling along dirt tracks in a remote part of Uganda are now a regular sight thank to a Yorkshire midwife.

The Mobilise a Midwife initiative is all down to 31-year-old Bradford midwife Emily Hills.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Emily first travelled to Atiak in Uganda as a volunteer with the charity Mother Health International who run a birthing centre in the village.

Before she went she launched the Mobilise a Midwife charity to raise money to buy bicycles for the midwives and their patients.

“The pregnant women might only be as far as 20kms from the birthing centre but the roads, if there are any are rough and the temperatures can be brutal so it really helps if the women and the midwives have a way of getting around,” says Emily who works in the birth centre at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

With the help of her mum Emily raised £6,000 which, among other things, enabled her to buy 41 bikes once she got to Africa.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is important that they take responsibilty for the bicycles, they also need to be able to maintain them. It was an amazing moment when I handed them over,” she recalls.

Emily, who has been a midwife for eight years, always knew she wanted to volunteer overseas, but it wasn’t until she moved to Yorkshire from the south that she was able to afford the three month trip.

“I worked in London for five years and it was at a Royal College of Midwives’ conference when I heard Consultant Midwife Alison Brown speak about the Birth Centre that I decided to make the move. She was inspirational.

She had worked in Bradford for 18 months when she eventually came across the opportunity she was looking for.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I came across the charity by chance and then I found myself following it and its work before I decided that I really wanted to get involved. This is an area of Africa that was hugely affected by the terrors of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group led by Joseph Kony back in the 1990s, which was responsible for abducting children and forcing them to become child soldiers or into the sex trade. It was only in 2008 again that it became safe for the people to return to their villages.

“I was so impressed by the work that goes on that I set about going out there. The birth centres are eco-friendly and have a low impact on the environment. They are solar-powered and produce is grown on site and run by two midwives which makes them really sustainable which is very important to me.

“The mothers who come to give birth can travel from up to 20 km away and they have a driver who can collect them and take them home after the birth, saving them from walking huge distances.

“The midwives work on a rota basis so the centres are staffed seven days a week throughout the day and night but there is also an outreach programme where community midwives visit the local villages.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Emily thought she would just be on standby in case anything went wrong, but in the end she was much more hands on.

“ I was working many hours a day seven days a week often grabbing just three hours sleep. It was much more intense than I thought, but that was great for me as I love to give 110 per cent.”

Emily lived in very basic accommodation in the village while she was there with no electricity or running water, a compost toilet and pretty much open to the elements.

“I don’t mind sleeping rough and I’m not bothered about things such as hairdryers, but there was one day it had been raining and I looked down and there was snake in my sandals. I managed to shout for the security guard who looked after our women-only compound and he came and disposed of it.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

During her time there Emily helped to deliver 140 babies and is now in the process of planning another trip to Uganda in November.

This time she wants to expand her support to all women, not just those expecting a baby. She is now fund-raising once again ahead of her second trip, this time taking out supplies such as cloth nappies, hats and clothing for the newborns, and ‘Moon’ (menstrual) cups for the mums.

“All of these basics are important and much needed, and I have been really fortunate in that a local business has provided me with free freight so I now have a large container I am able to fill. I am also hoping to replace the birth centre’s fridge too when I get out there.

“I am really looking forward to returning to Uganda and the birth centre there as it is a wonderful environment.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The women really trust their bodies to give birth and they are mobile right up to the point of birth. It is a very gentle kind of labouring and is something that we have lost touch with over the years with all the advances in technology.”

She doesn’t know whether this will be her last trip to Uganda, but she is determined to keep in touch with the people she has helped and continue her support.

“My main concern is that whatever I do is helping the local population to help themselves,” says Emily, whose next trip this November is being taken as annual leave.

“There is no point just flying in doing something and then flying out. Whatever you do has to sustainable once you’ve left.”

Related topics: