During the final year of my Midwifery degree I was fortunate enough to travel to Kenya with UCLan and the charity Maachild, with the purpose of exploring different aspects of life in Kenya; with particular focus on learning about the Maasai population and their cultural traditions and practices. After a long flight to Nairobi and a quick overnight stop to catch our breath we forged on, by road, to our ultimate destination of Kibo Safari Lodge, located five hours south of the capital in Amboseli national park, close to the border of Tanzania and the spectacle that is Mount Kilimanjaro.
Our itinerary for the trip was varied with each day spent exploring a different aspect of Maasai life in rural Kenya. While the primary focus of our trip was to learn more about the maternity practices with the Maasai we were also given the opportunity to explore other aspects of Maasai life including one day dedicated to exploring the surrounding countryside and learning about agricultural practices with a walking tour through local farmland and a visit to a cattle market. Additionally, we were also able to visit a traditional Maasai village (Boma), which offered a unique insight in to daily village life, and meet some of the children who are currently completing their secondary education thanks to important sponsorship from the Maachild charity.
As a student midwife, my main interest was learning about the maternity care available in the area and the practice of FGM that has been so historically prevalent in Maasai culture. During our trip were lucky enough to visit a local health centre and meet with some of the midwives who work there and learn about the maternity provisions available for women in the town and surrounding villages. Routine antenatal care is infrequent with only four official antenatal check-ups available to women throughout the course of their pregnancy, some of which may be missed depending on how far the women have to travel to the clinic. Those that do come in to town to have their babies give birth in the maternity unit at the clinic which consists of two rooms, the first a four bed ‘labour and postnatal’ ward that operates as a multifunctional waiting area for both women in labour and those who have recently delivered. The second room is specifically for women in the active second stage of labour and consisted of two beds and some equipment, which the midwives explained was cleaned and then reused frequently as dictated by the lack of resources available at the clinic.
While free maternity care is available to women who are able to travel to the clinic, for those women who stay in their village to have their babies, their accoucher is usually a local female elder who has not received any formal training but who has been taught different midwifery practices and skills by other female elders. We were fortunate enough to meet with two Maasai midwives in their own homes and speak to them about their experiences of delivering maternity care in the remote villages and how they manage the different situations that may present in childbirth.
Meeting these midwives was an incredible and eye opening experience that although provided a stark contrast to the modern technologically driven care I was used to in the UK, also revealed the similarities in the basic principles and practices that are applicable to caring for labouring women in any country, and in any setting, whether it is a remote village with no electricity in rural Africa or a freestanding birthing centre in a major UK city.
My week in Kenya was an experience I will never forget and something that will remain with me throughout my career as a midwife, wherever that may take me.
Rebecca Warburton, BSc (Hons) Midwifery