An American Midwife in Haiti

Nadene S. Brunk

I traveled to Haiti for the first time in 2003.  I left there a different woman than I came. Women in Haiti are 70 times more likely than women in the U.S. to suffer and die from preventable conditions during pregnancy and childbirth.

This post is one in a series of pieces Rewire is publishing to highlight National Midwifery Week 2010 (Oct 3- 9).

When I traveled to Haiti for the first time in 2003, I left there a different woman than I came. As a certified nurse midwife working for a well-appointed women’s medical practice in the United States, I regularly provided prenatal care and accompanied women during births that, by and large, went smoothly. (And when they didn’t go smoothly, a physician and back-up medical intervention were readily available.) It’s easy to take such services for granted in the comfort and wealth of the United States, where maternal and infant mortality are relatively low.

Women in Haiti don’t know this privilege, though. Haitian women are 70 times more likely than women in the U.S. to suffer and die from conditions that are largely preventable in developed countries: hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, eclampsia and obstructed labor. This reality was unconscionable to me on my first trip to Haiti, and the feeling of injustice has never left me. Educated midwives have the very skills needed to prevent these morbidities!  And therein lay the purpose of Midwives For Haiti: to help Haitian women become educated midwives, themselves.

Midwives For Haiti formalized its work in 2006, developing a mission statement, curriculum and volunteer precepting schedule. Four years later, hundreds of midwives and numerous volunteers and other supporters along with the thousands of women we have met in Haiti have embraced this simple mission of teaching prenatal and birth-assistance skills – and been transformed by it.

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The January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince changed the course of our work, adding a dimension and immediacy Midwives For Haiti could neither predict nor fathom. Today, instead of a handful of volunteer resources, networking contacts and supporters, we have a continent full.

Shortly after the quake, we received phone calls and emails from people familiar with our organization who wanted to help. In a matter of days, thanks to a very dedicated board and other volunteers, we had scheduled midwives from the United States and Canada (and eventually Europe) through spring to travel to Hinche, our home base just 60 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.

The immediacy of the situation meant that the role of our volunteers needed to expand from preceptors to the current class of eight Haitian women to dispatchers of our graduates from the previous classes. Our former students traveled to disaster-affected areas, including Carrefour and Cite Soleil, to care for mothers and babies.

Midwives For Haiti has not achieved its mission and goals unless the midwives we have educated are employed. So far, our previous two graduating classes of 16 women are employed in Haiti. Our third class of 11 students is about to graduate, and we will begin enrollment for our fourth class shortly.

In French, the word “midwife” translates as “sage femme,” which literally means “wise woman.” Midwives For Haiti is humbled to be grooming wise women in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere to have a baby.

Our friend and volunteer, Cara Osborne, Ph.D, with the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing, captures the experience in a blog post following her trip to Haiti:

There’s a lot of life happening in Haiti. The everyday joys and heartbreaks of human existence are happening, quite literally, right there in the streets. As an action-oriented girl, I tend to participate. I jump in to the waves and try my best to ride the through the highs and lows as if I’ve been there all along. I focus intently on the specific child that I’m playing with or adult that I’m speaking to– but rarely take notice of the interactions and conversations happening around me. This time around it was different. In order to make sure that my charges were safe and had what they needed, I had to be acutely aware of my surroundings and was able to see the whole ocean. I watched each member of the group lifted and dropped by waves of emotion as they took in the realities of people who had been living in tents for months, young earthquake victims struggling to adapt to missing limbs, starving children being fed by nuns because they were too weak to hold their own cups, and a laboring woman enduring hours of seizures that would have been an “emergency” in the U.S.  It was immense, and frightening, and beautiful, and almost more than I could bear. Had I gone on doing my little bit, I might have missed the gift of seeing the change that happens when lots of little bits are being done all at once in one great big sea of humanity. 

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.