After a fun morning with the kids, I headed over to visit our maternal and newborn health program in Assiut, which was a great opportunity to see how much our programs depend on partnerships with the local community and government. Local community groups helped provide a simple space, volunteers, and matching funds to ensure that pregnant moms and newborns receive critical pre-natal services from health staff trained by Save the Children. And the local government helps by ensuring that these health workers are part of the broader health system training as well.
I sat in on a class with moms and their new babies in a spare concrete room, where they learned valuable lessons like the importance of breastfeeding for at least the first six months of the baby’s life and how to recognize the danger signs for basic diseases that can kill children in poor communities, like pneumonia and dehydration from diarrhea. Most of the women were first-time moms and the “instructor” was another mother from the community, trained by Save the Children.
One of the most entertaining things I saw at the center was a role-play exercise demonstrating the dangers of smoking in the home of a pregnant woman. The “mother” asked the “father” not to smoke his hookah in the house, but the father refused. There was then a fast-forward to the birth of the baby (who was small and premature) and the doctor scolding the husband for smoking in the house while the mother was pregnant. During the discussion that followed, I asked the women if they would have been able to ask their husbands not to smoke in the house as the woman in the play did. They laughed shyly and many admitted that no, probably not. There is still a long way to go to bring greater equality for women in Egypt, but programs like these are going part of the way to give women the confidence to stand up for their own rights and the rights of their children.
We left the small crowded village and, after a very quick change of clothes, ended the afternoon with a visit to the governor—the highest government official in this area of Upper Egypt—to discuss our programs in the region. It would be hard to imagine a bigger contrast between the classrooms in Assuit and his large, spacious office of tufted chairs and plush carpets where we were served strong, thick, Turkish coffee. The governor listened carefully as we spoke about our work and asked about results. His own ministers were able to point to the reductions in newborn and child mortality in the areas where we work and the increased success in primary school by graduates of our Early Childhood Development programs. We ended the visit with a request for the governor to come visit our work soon. With the imminent changes in the national and local governments, this may or may not come to pass.
After a “snack” of pizza (which I later discovered was actually lunch, although at 5 pm!) with the team at our local office, we left to check into our lodgings—an old ferry boat docked on the Nile that had been turned into a hotel. As darkness started to fall, I was looking forward to watching the river come alive in the morning. But my day wasn’t quite over yet, and that night I would visit one of the most unusual programs I’ve ever seen….