A Birth Story in a Bangladesh Slum
In late 2011, Philadelphia-based freelance photographer Sarah Bones, part of the collective Photographers for Hope, went to Bangladesh to photograph the urban delivery centers or “birthing huts” opened by BRAC, a global development organization active in 10 countries, in the crowded slums of the country's capital, Dhaka. She witnessed, and captured on film, a dramatic scene as one 17-year-old Fazila, endured a difficult labor – first in the birthing hut, later on the floor of a stranger's hut.
These birthing huts normally provide access to a safe and hygienic place for women to give birth as an alternatives to home delivery, helped by other local women with a small amount of proper training. When complications occur, the local health workers are able, in most cases, to get qualified help.
Among other interventions to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty in areas like education, healthcare and microfinance, BRAC trains an army of over 80,000 women in the villages and slums of Bangladesh to act as “community health workers” to offer affordable care to their neighbors. BRAC's maternal health program has been massively successful in reducing the number of home births: in urban areas where it operates the birthing huts, the portion of home births drop from 86 percent to 25 percent between 2007 and 2009.
Due in part to innovations such as these, Bangladesh has seen maternal and infant mortality drop by one quarter since 1972.
Our thanks to Scott MacMillan and the BRAC team, and special gratitude to Susan Bones who has shared her talent and time to create these stunning photographs.
The busy Korail slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most “roads” here are impassable by motorcar, and those needing to be rushed to the hospital must be carried through the rutted paths and alleys to the nearest roadway, where they will be lucky to catch a taxi – only to sit in Dhaka's notorious traffic. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
In Khamar Bari delivery center or “birthing hut” operated by BRAC, the global development organization, we find 17-year-old Fazila in the midst of a difficult labor. Ready to give birth to her first child, Fazila is in distress. The labor is not progressing as it should. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
BRAC health volunteers make a decision. Fazila's complications require her to be taken to the hospital – a rarity for Bangladesh's urban poor. Helped by a family member, Fazila and her team of volunteers leave the delivery center to begin the long walk out of the Korail slum to the main road, where they will, if all goes as planned, get a taxi to the hospital. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
But within minutes of beginning the walk to the hospital, Fazilia collapses. She is in an alley, still deep within the slum, far from the main road, further still from a hospital. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
Her team of volunteers lifts her up off the ground and rushes her to the closest doorway – the home of a stranger.
On the cold, damp cement floor of the cramped one-room home of a stranger, Fazila gives birth to a baby girl. Relief fills the room when the group hears the baby's first cries.
Still recovering, 17-year-old Fazila is lifted up to see her first born.
Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
The women help Fazila change her clothes before she and her newborn begin the walk home. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
A curious crowd of onlookers has gathered outside. Ambia, a BRAC health volunteer who assisted with Fazila's birth, brings the baby to the door to show her to the crowd. Ambia, Fazila and the baby will soon begin walking back to Fazila's home. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
The photographer returns to visit Fazila and her baby, not yet named, the next day. The baby has makeup on around her eyes and on her forehead to ward off the evil spirits that are said to prey on newborns and their mothers. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
Anowara, another BRAC health worker, has come to check the health of the mother and the new life she has brought into the world. Despite the conditions of her birth, the small amount of training given to BRAC's health workers means mother and child are both well. Sarah Bones / Photographers for Hope
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