Get Karen to Haiti: Making a Healthy Difference for Mothers and Babies

by flowers on January 15, 2012 · 4 comments

There is nothing that feels better than helping out a good cause and today I want to tell you about an opportunity to help ensure safe births for mothers and babies in Fond Parisien, Haiti.

Last spring I was invited to a brunch to learn about Circle of Health International (COHI), a maternal health organization that provides reproductive, maternal and newborn healthcare in times of crisis and disaster. The event happened to be in my neighborhood so I walked over to learn about the work they were doing in post-earthquake Haiti.

I listened to COHI’s director, Leilani Johnson, present their work in Haiti and I was absolutely blown away. We’ve seen the pictures and imagined how terribly difficult it is for the people of Haiti, but imagine being pregnant? Or having a newborn? Imagine having a postpartum hemorrhage without a skilled attendant or trying to recover without clean water.

But COHI shows up in the most difficult of times. They are a small, tightly run, grassroots NGO with the mission of working with women and their communities in times of crisis and disaster to ensure access to quality reproductive, maternal and newborn care. COHI works to address the issues of access and availability of life saving measures such as trained birth attendants and access to Emergency Obstetric Care (EOC) in areas of war and disaster.

Yes, they are AWESOME and doing incredibly important work!

What I learned was that in times of crisis and disaster women’s health falls to the back of the line. Women themselves are busy caring for family members and access to healthcare for themselves is hard to come by. COHI is a unique organization that arrives and works with women and their communities to support women’s reproductive and maternal health. COHI also ensures that they are building a sustainable model. Instead of bringing in foreign practitioners to provide direct care they focus on training and supporting local practitioners so that when COHI leaves the women still have health care.

This is where I first met Karen Feltham — a certified nurse midwife and COHI volunteer. She also happens to be my neighbor! Karen volunteered in Haiti just weeks after the earthquake to help begin the process of providing supportive care for the women and babies in Fond Parisien and she is returning two years later to provide peer-to-peer support and training for the local Haitian midwives.

In the US, midwives rely on their support systems, but the two midwives at the Fond Parisien birth center work long hours and do not have access to peer support. Karen has three goals for her 10 day trip to Haiti:

One - Review existing protocols for managing emergencies and deciding when to transfer to the local hospital.  Provide clinical support and skill building where it could improve outcomes for Haitian women and their babies.

Two - Run emergency drills using improved protocol for complications most likely to be seen at the clinic, including shoulder dystocia and postpartum hemorrhage.

Three - Improve monitoring processes so that the clinic can evaluate their existing protocols and make improvements based on evidence, not just anecdotal understanding.

This is where we can help! Karen needs help covering the cost of travel and room and board — about $1000. I’ve pledged to help Karen get to Haiti so she can help provide the life saving support to the midwives serving the local women and I hope you’ll help too!

Little by little we’re making it happen! We’re almost half-way to raising our goal of $1000 and I hope you’ll help us get there.

As you know I rarely ask anything of my readers, but after meeting Karen and hearing about the important work she is doing with COHI I wanted to share the story because I thought we could help make a real difference!

We’ve set up an indiegogo campaign to raise the funds and there are tons of great perks including a COHI messenger bag and authentic Haitian metalwork. And if you only have $10 to spare that’s just the perfect amount!

So please head over and make a donation and leave a comment of encouragement! Also, please share the indiegogo campaign on your facebook page and on twitter! I would be so thankful.

I want to leave you with a quote from Karen’s Q&A over at Our Bodies Our Blog last week so you can get a feeling for who she is:

“I absolutely believe in the power of kindness and how it can be transformative, even revolutionary. Think of what women bear, here and elsewhere — assault, abuse, submission. I can’t change a country’s infrastructure, health care and education policies. But I can listen. I can provide the most gentle pelvic exam and the most respectful atmosphere.

If my touch is the first that a newborn feels, then I promise to make it a gentle one. If my voice is the first that she hears, then let it be welcoming. This is what I can bring, a reminder that excellent clinical skills are essential, but that kindness is life-changing. At least that’s what I think, and it’s the best that I can offer.” –Karen Feltham, CNM & COHI Volunteer

 P.S. There is an amazing group of bloggers supporting this cause! You can see everyone who is participating over at BirthSwell. And if you want to blog about this cause leave a comment and I’ll get you set up!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

amandaginn January 18, 2012 at 11:25 am

Oh, I’ve missed your voice on this blog. So good to “see” you again.

Please keep putting these needs and issues in front of us. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own world. Thank you for your advocacy and passion!


flowers January 18, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thanks so much for your kind words. We’ve gone through some big changes and I look forward to figuring out how to work blogging into it because I miss this space too!


Katie Martin March 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

This is such an amazing group doing heroic work! I was glad to read about COHI and what they are working to do in needy countries. A good friend of mine recently was in Senegal for 9 months working on programs to help deal with obstetric fistula in West Africa- I’ve been helping her with fundraising for organizations dealing with obstetric fistula for 5 years now. These NGOs are doing astounding work; it is such a shame that funding is so hard to come by. Did Karen meet her goal of $1000 to fund her trip yet? I surely hope so; she sounds like a stellar woman dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of other women.


flowers March 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

Yes! We exceeded our goal! We are super grateful for all the bloggers whonpitched in to spread the word and all of our generous donors. Karen had a successful trip! We’re going to post more about the fundraising efforts and what we learned through the process over at

So glad to hear about your work. I believe I follow someone on twitter who does a lot of work building awareness for obstetric fistula. keep in touch!


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