JourneyMaa is the flagship project run by Maa; every August, healthcare professionals and students travel to rural Bangladesh to provide medical aid, health checks, and education to pregnant women and young girls – for free. The volunteers all experience unique moments, and here, Yasmin, the JourneyMaa 2018 Summer lead, talks about the mothers and her stories from the experience.

Female empowerment and education are the strongest tools we have to make change. JourneyMaa is an opportunity to realise this, saving the isolated, young mothers of Bangladesh.

Yasmin Abedin

JourneyMaa 2018 Summer Lead, Maa

I initially read about the amazing work that JourneyMaa is doing via a friend’s social media page in August 2017. I loved what I was reading, and I was in awe that students in the U.K. had been able to fly across the world to help pregnant women and girls – I attended Maa events, heard about Maa’s vision of implementing sustainable maternal healthcare in resource-poor settings, and became inspired to join Maa. Thus, I applied for JourneyMaa, and was incredibly grateful to act as the JourneyMaa 2018 Summer lead.

My role as the lead involved coordinating the U.K. JourneyMaa team and liaising with the brilliant Bangladeshi JourneyMaa team, ensuring our JourneyMaa health camps were running smoothly in the villages of Balagonj and Ramsiri, in Sylhet, Bangladesh. My primary aim was to make sure all attending mothers had a positive and successful experience with Maa, and we also collected evaluation forms of their experience. On the first day in Balagonj, I was staggered at how many women made the journey to visit the health camps – many had to queue a long time for basic health checks, highlighting the lack of opportunity these mothers have in Bangladesh to receive medication and doctor consultations. In the U.K., this is definitely something we take for granted – how quickly would we complain if we had to wait just 1 hour for a blood pressure check? These mothers queued hours.

At the end of it all, the mothers, who had received their doctor consultations and were informed about their pregnancy, were immensely grateful for Maa’s work. We were enormously humbled by their appreciation, making the experience even more worthwhile. We truly felt like we had changed lives.

Nonetheless, in the midst of the countless mothers I spoke to, the story of a 19-year-old girl, Tasneem, I met during the health camps sticks with me the most. Tasneem got married 2 years ago and had fallen pregnant soon after. It ended in heartbreak – a miscarriage 3 months into the pregnancy. During her first pregnancy, Tasneem experienced stomach cramps. Now, on her second pregnancy, during a consultation at the JourneyMaa health camp, Tasneem told me she is feeling these stomach cramps again, and the painful memories resurfaced. I could see the visible fear on her face while she described the discomfort, and it was clear she was fearful of another miscarriage. With no support at home, all I could do was reassure Tasneem. An isolated, vulnerable, young, 19-year-old girl with no one else to turn to, the JourneyMaa maternal health camp was the only place where she could come for help. On another occasion, I had spoken with women about their medical histories – many of these women experienced still births, and I could not help but wonder how many of these deaths were completely preventable with proper antenatal care.

JourneyMaa also highlighted the lack of basic education in some areas of the world, which is particularly relevant when speaking to young girls in Bangladesh about women’s health. Meeting these young girls in Ramsiri, Sylhet underlined just how incredibly important it is to maintain an open discussion with young girls about women’s health, increase their awareness of potential issues they may face, and help them understand how to maintain good menstrual health. Maa has an amazing opportunity to empower these girls, break pregnancy myths, and teach these future leaders and mothers of Bangladesh how to better the wellbeing of themselves and their children.

This summer, I have a wonderful opportunity as JourneyMaa 2019 manager, and I am incredibly excited to meet and work with individuals passionate about delivering vital healthcare and education to women in the rural villages of Bangladesh. To all thinking of applying to JourneyMaa 2019: we’d love to have people enthusiastic, driven, and motivated to be on the front line and deliver life-changing care and education to mothers. It’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.