A “House of Mothers” for those in extreme poverty: a sure start in life

In the vicinity of San Dionisio, Nicaragua, the deprived women live with no water, electricity or healthcare provision. If they’re pregnant, they can spend their final days before giving birth in the “House of Mothers” in safe proximity of the outpatient’s clinic. That’s if they manage the exhausting journey here.

The cries of a newborn baby echo through the “House of Mothers”. The young mother is helpless. Is the baby hungry or upset because of its wet nappy? The baby’s face is bright red and cradled in her mother’s arms she suckles almost indignantly at the breast she is offered. She repeatedly chokes. A midwife looks at them both and gives advice about how to calm the little one down.

Other women are resting in small adjacent rooms. Almost all of them are farmers from nearby. They’ve come to the “House of Mothers” in San Dionisio to live here during the few days before and after giving birth. Some have their newborn babies with them, while others are still waiting to give birth.

Vital knowledge

In the “House of Mothers” women can attend daily courses. From the two employed midwives they learn everything they need to know about the birth, breast-feeding, caring for newborns, dealing with infant illnesses – and family planning. This knowledge can be vitally important when a few days or weeks later the mothers return to their villages a long way away from the healthcare centre and pharmacy. “The midwives have explained to us that after giving birth we have to register the baby with the local community. We should also go to the health clinic for the vaccinations and have the baby weighed regularly to keep an eye on its growth”, says Maritza Loáisiga Orellano, who is waiting to give birth. She is enthusiastic about her stay in the mothers’ house. “The staff take very good care of us; they really look after us women. If there’s a medical problem, the doctors come at once. And the food is good.” Working together with the authorities is also a success: the local government provides the food and the health ministry provides the sanitary items, bed linen and basic equipment for the babies.

Remote villages, malnourished population

San Dionisio is a rural community with a small town and 19 villages. It is 37 kilometres away from the department’s capital, Matagalpa. 57 per cent of the population live on the poverty line (less than 2 US dollars per day), and a quarter of them live in extreme poverty (less than 1 US dollar per day).

The women in these remote villages have plenty to worry about: their harvest is not enough to feed the family the whole year round. Many of them suffer from malnourishment. There is no drinking water, electricity, healthcare or schools in the villages. Many women are repressed by their husbands and beaten: decades of macho behaviour, plus the climate during the civil war with a propensity for violence have left their mark.

Pregnancy multiplies the worries

When the women become pregnant, their worries multiply. Their daily lives are tough anyway but they become more difficult and added to this are the fears for the future and uncertainty surrounding the birth. “Will somebody stay with me and support me when labour starts?” “What happens to me and my baby, if there are problems during the birth?” “How will I be able to look after another child when I can hardly make ends meet myself?” These are the kinds of questions spinning around in their heads while they pull out weeds or harvest beans with their bulging waists.

Walking for two hours and heavily pregnant

Some of these worries can be taken away from them in the “House of Mothers” – if they make it here in time. For example, Meyveling Sevilla Herrera had to walk for two hours whilst heavily pregnant. “I came here to San Dionisio to protect my life and that of my child. In my village there is no healthcare centre. If you stay there until you go into labour, you can no longer get away.” The women from the “House of Mothers” normally go into the nearby outpatient’s clinic to give birth. But due to complications, Meyveling had to be transferred to the hospital in Matagalpa. It’s unthinkable what would have happened if the young woman had stayed in her village for the birth.

Things are looking up, thanks to the cooperative

The women are used to being self-reliant. Many men and young people leave the villages and try their luck in the cities or abroad. To improve their lives, a few years ago the 96 female farmers founded the cooperative “Cooperativa Tierra Fructífera”. The cooperative helps the women to introduce sustainable production techniques on the fields and awards small loans so the women can attend a training course or start a small business. Besides, it organises medical consultations and health checks for the local population and runs a pharmacy, as well as the “House of Mothers”. Timotea Palacio Martínez is just coming to the end of her stay here. Wrapped up in a towel, the young mother holds baby Francisca in her arms. Soon, she will return to the finca, to the farm, the herd and her three other children. Then, she can forget about her rest.

Project code: NC 02/16/04

Project costs: 61'554 Swiss francs

Duration: 18 months

Number of beneficiaries: 450 women