Kalpana’s story — saving lives in rural Nepal
Words by Melissa Morris, Senior PR & Communications Manager, Thankyou Photos by Jessie Brinkman Evans
Learning about the Skilled Birth Attendants in the One Heart programs before making the trip to Nepal, I felt a little like a child hearing stories about heroes in storybooks. I was in awe, and had a nervous excitement about meeting them.
They’re on the frontline, saving the lives of mothers and children in rural communities. Every. Day. Many have to relocate their families or spend weeks away from home to do this.
I was travelling with Pete, our Chief Impact Officer, Surya Bhatta, Program Director at One Heart, Dr. Nastu Sharma, Country Representative at One Heart, The One Heart field team and a media team to evaluate the type of child and maternal health programs the Thankyou baby range will help to fund.
We organised to meet with Kalpana, one of One Heart’s longest-standing Skilled Birth Attendants while we were there.This is Kalpana’s story.
If you’re looking for Kalpana, you’ll find her at one of two places: the birthing centre at the top of a mountain where she works as a Skilled Birth Attendant, or at her general practice at the bottom of the mountain, where she works as a doctor. If she’s not at either of these two spots, it means she’s running up or down the mountain between them.
It was 3pm when we arrived at the bottom of a mountain in Gawlichaur, western Nepal, parked our 4WD and started the steep walk to the top to get to the Birthing Centre.
20 minutes and one just-look-down-and-keep-walking climb later, we reached the top.
We saw Kalpana, gracefully waiting for us out the front of the Birthing Centre.
Being in her presence was like being around a motherly figure — she’s warm, reassuring, safe, comforting and five steps ahead of every situation.
We grabbed some chairs and sat on the porch for a chat.
“I have lived here for 12 years. I have two children, a son and a daughter.”
She told us about the high death rate of mothers and children giving birth in their homes or while travelling for up to two-days by foot to get to a hospital — which is the current situation for any community without access to a Birthing Centre in rural Nepal.
“There are many complications in home delivery. If they come here [to the Birthing Centre] after home delivery, there is much tearing and bleeding.”
“At home, older people say that they delivered at home and question why women should go to a Birthing Centre.”
Like all medical professionals, the work that Skilled Birth Attendants do is both mentally and physically tough. I asked her why she decided to go into this profession.
“I wished to enter into this profession because…in this village…my own friend died in delivery.”
Kalpana began to cry as she spoke.
“My friend was studying in class nine and only 15 years old at the time of her marriage.”
Kalpana’s friend fell pregnant at a young age, and when it was time for her to have her baby, Kalpana and her friend found themselves alone together in a field.
“There was no staff nurse or anyone.”
Their remoteness compounded with their age and inexperience in delivering a baby meant that the situation turned critical for Kalpana’s friend.
“My friend [was giving birth] and had a retained placenta and heavy bleeding, and she died.”
When Kalpana told me this story we were talking through Surya from One Heart as our translator, so it wasn’t until a few moments later that I knew the reason for her tears. We stopped talking. Her tears brought me to tears.
I extended my hand to her, and we spent the next few moments there, holding hands and sharing the load.
“After that, my teacher suggested that we study nursing. I wished to enter into this profession.”
She put herself through school to become a Skilled Birth Attendant.
“The [One Heart] training is very good. It gives encouragement to improve. I got trained. We were successful to save many women and many children. They have provided training in many places, that’s why the programs are so successful.”
At school, she met Surya. She told him her heart to help people in her community. Together they championed to build a Birthing Centre in Gawlichaur, and when Kalpana graduated, she was appointed as the center’s first Skilled Birth Attendant.
When the Birthing Centre was built, there was a change in the community, but also a lot of work to be done to change mindsets and break down cultural barriers. More than helping families who walk through her door, Kalpana also championed for education and communication to reach people who were wary of the Birthing Centre.
“There was a difference. People had to go far for delivery. Some mothers and babies would die on the way, but now after the establishment of Birthing Centres, they come here for the delivery.”
“I tell a mother she should come to the Birthing Centre when she knows she is pregnant.”
“I tell pregnant women that they should eat greens, not do heavy work at home, consume iron and calcium. Then I say to visit the Birthing Centre for check-ups in four months, six months, eight and nine months. Come here anytime they face a problem. Come for delivery, don’t do it at home. If in-laws tell you negative things, call them here, and I will convince them. I’ll counsel them.”
“She should give birth at the Birthing Centre. After the delivery, she will have postnatal care and check-ups within 24 hours, then again after seven days. The check-ups should be done three times in 29 days.”
It’s clear to see that it’s her passion and knowing her ‘why’ that drives her to keep going in the face of adversity. We start to walk around the community. As we did, women came up to Kalpana to give her a hug. With excitement and joy she introduced us to mothers and babies in the community that she had delivered.
“We have to look after mothers and children. We have to provide them with whatever support we can give.”
Listening to and seeing Kalpana talk to every person with care, love and detail, I’m reminded of a quote on the wall of the Thankyou offices by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it says:
“All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be done with painstaking excellence.”
Painstaking excellence. A beautiful and easy thing to say, but an action and way of life that is far from easy, especially when popular opinion and ‘the way things are done’ are blocking you at every turn. But what’s the alternative and cost? For Kalpana, the team at One Heart and Thankyou, it’s a matter of life or death.
We left that meeting with Kalpana in awe of the magnitude of the mountain she has dedicated her life to climbing. And pumped to keep bringing our painstaking excellence and passion to the mountain we have to climb to get the baby range off the ground to fund training, education and equipment for people like Kalpana.