Friday, November 16, 2012

The Women of Bainbridge

     My long absences from writing reflects the busyness of my journey at this point.  I am traveling 2-3 days per week to be with my preceptor in another city.  My studies and baby catching continues and I am learning much as I progress through the process. 
      Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting a program on reproductive health along with my cohort, Mariah, to the women of Bainbridge.  The Bainbridge is a monolithic apartment complex filled with single mothers and their children.  The building has a social worker that helps connect the families to resources.  It is an impossible task- one new graduate social worker for 165 families.  The women are like myself (or as I once was), young mothers with small children trying to scratch out a life in mean circumstances.  The reproductive health class was a great success.  Over a dozen women attended and the class was loud and raucous, there was much laughter and joking, and the women asked their questions, and had them answered by Mariah and myself in as plain spoken and as straightforward a way as possible.  What we had done was not so difficult.  Meeting women, in their own space, on their own terms, and answering their questions about their bodies and their health.  Yet as we did it, I knew that we were doing something radical, something key, something vital to the mission of Uzazi Village: connecting outcast women to the power that comes from knowing and understanding their own bodies.  The conversation was perfect in its inclusiveness.  We told the women, no question or topic was off limits.  And the questions came.  They poured out like a long awaited rain to a dry, parched land.  They asked about HIV prevention, the use of dental dams, men having sex with men, blue waffles (new one for me), how the morning after pill works, why inductions are a problem,  and the all important issue of DOUCHING.
     We are planning to return to The Bainbridge on a monthly basis with a different topic.  The social worker shyly inquired about our availability to other such buildings.  There are over a dozen such buildings employing other social workers.  The opportunity is vast, our capacity limited.  My desire is to build empowerment groups at each building where the women meet regularly to inspire one another toward their personal goals.  Uzazi Village would provide facilitators to keep the groups focused until we could train leaders from each group to take over the task, so that eventually they are all self run.  Uzazi Village would invest in those homegrown leaders providing ongoing support.  The Bainbridge is the largest of the buildings and the residents the most resistant to standard 'programing', and so seemed like the best place to start. (If we could prove ourselves there, they might just throw open the doors to the other locations.)  At any rate, the vision evolves.  Some suggested topics: menstruation: the start of all things reproductive, the dangers of labor induction, dancing for fitness, eating for a healthy pregnancy, saying no to unwanted sex, gentle parenting, everything you ever wanted to know about breastfeeding, planning for pregnancy and birth, cooking class: Soul Food for the Body, common STDs and how to avoid them, choosing the right birth control method for YOU.  I'm starting at the base of Maslow's hierarchy with topics related to safety and biological needs and hope to move the topics up the pyramid over time, to tackle subjects like education, employment, and relationship building. 
     I started our conversation rolling by gesturing to the table full of gift bags next to me.  "Be honest. Who came today just for the gift bag?" I asked.  One woman stated, "I did."  I told her, "Here, take it and go.  I want everyone here to be here of their own free will and not by compulsion.  The bag is yours to take and go with my blessing."  I asked the other women and they all answered the same, "I'm here to get the information."  The woman who took the gift bag, never left the room and was a great participant in the discussion, which went 30 minutes over its appointed  90 minute time slot.  I'm already loving the women of Bainbridge.