Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unseen Faces

From left to right, Julie Warren, a pediatric nurse from the Virginia Annual Conference, explains the contents of the UMCOR clean birthing kit to Nurse Grace and Dr. Tendai Menyeza of Old Mutare Hospital in Zimbabwe. Dr. Menyeza is a General Board of Global Ministries missionary.
Photo: Kathy Kraiza/UMCOR

This morning at UMCOR Sager Brown, about 40 volunteers from all across the United States rolled up their sleeves and loaded 31,584 health kits on a shipping container bound for Ukraine. This was the 18th international shipment of relief kits from an UMCOR depot this year. Volunteers loaded the container by hand and, at the conclusion, laid hands on the loaded boxes and said a prayer of blessing—for the hands that gave the kits, the hands that packed them, and the hands that will receive them. Then, a song of praise was lifted up to the Lord. I still get goose bumps each time we close the doors of a full container, attach the seal, and watch as the truck carrying those boxes of blessings begins its journey to a faraway place and to unseen faces.

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to actually see some of those faces when I traveled to Zimbabwe and received a shipment of 15,000 clean birthing kits that had left UMCOR Sager Brown five months earlier. The kits were delivered to three United Methodist hospitals, in Nyadire, Mutambara, and Old Mutare. I was at Old Mutare when the birthing kits arrived.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 60 million women give birth each year with the help of an untrained traditional birth attendant, a family member, or with no help at all. The UMCOR clean birthing kits follow WHO principles for clean delivery. They are designed to reduce the number of deaths attributed to infection of the mother after childbirth as well as neonatal tetanus of the newborn, which are both caused by unclean deliveries.

One study in Tanzania showed that newborns whose mothers used the kit were 13 times less likely to develop cord infections than those whose mothers did not use a kit. The mothers themselves were three times less likely to develop sepsis or infection after childbirth. When I look at a clean birthing kit, I see the possibility of one, maybe two lives that can be saved directly. But, have you ever thought of how many more lives that kit affects?

At Old Mutare Hospital, I saw the faces of a hospital staff that was struggling to provide essential care for patients; the faces of women who walked several miles to wait at the hospital days and weeks so their babies could be born in a safe environment; and I saw the faces of newborns, who are the hope for the future of Zimbabwe. I was na├»ve to think the clean birthing kits were only for use by expectant mothers who couldn’t or didn’t go to a hospital to deliver. I was shocked to see that the basic items provided in these kits are not always available in the hospitals or clinics where deliveries occur every day. Of the 5,000 clean birthing kits that were delivered to Old Mutare Hospital, some would be distributed to the hospital’s six rural clinics, some would be used in home deliveries by trained birthing attendants, and some would be used right there in the hospital, where clean running water and electricity are considered a rare commodity.

When the boxes of kits arrived at Old Mutare, we once again laid hands on them and said a prayer of thanks for the blessings they contained and the lives they would touch. I thought about the unseen faces of the persons whose hands touch just one kit — the person who purchases or makes the items in a kit, the ones who prepare that kit for shipping, the persons who load that kit and send it on its journey, the ones who receive and distribute that kit, and the ones that ultimately use that kit. And, I thank God for all of our lives that are changed by just one small kit.
To change lives through UMCOR’s kit ministry, please visit:

Kathy Kraiza
Executive Director
UMCOR Relief Supplies

1 comment:

  1. Kathy, great story. I know Julie Warren and its great to see this ministry expanding like this. Marji Bishir