An Extraordinary Day

by Volunteer Nurse Practitioner Barb Dehn

Nurse Evelyn, Volunteer Nurse Barb and newborn

Nurse Evelyn, Volunteer Nurse Barb and newborn

On my 2nd day, here at FAME, I saw something, extraordinary. I was privileged to be at the right place at the right time and witnessed a jaw dropping display of talent and knowledge in a most unexpected place. Pauline Diaz, the volunteer coordinator was giving me a tour and suggested that we bring the new donated baby hats from the US and the brand new Tanita baby scale to the maternity ward. Sure! Why not?

Here in Africa, many people come to see the Big 5 animals on safari. Yes, I know there are birders out there and plenty of people who love the cheetahs, warthogs, jackals, hyenas, antelopes, giraffes and zebras. Thousands of dollars are spent, and thousands of miles traveled to catch a glimpse, or perhaps get close enough to see the elephant, cape buffalo, lion, rhino, leopard, all of whom belong to the exclusive group of the Big 5.

However on that 2nd day at FAME, within seconds of arriving in the maternity ward and setting up the new baby scale, what I saw was Nurse Evelyn, a 62 year-old experienced midwife, who delivered a baby, kept traction on the cord, and then resuscitated the new infant.

She then moved calmly back and forth between mother and baby to deliver the placenta, examine it carefully, give the mother the medications that prevent hemorrhage, check on baby and then administer glucose via the umbilical cord. Her assistant nurse, Moinan, helped throughout, while they both very graciously invited me to watch, learn and help out.

There’s no rest for the weary here at FAME, and truth be told, it’s energizing to be here. As soon as the new mom and baby were stable and settled, it was time to go check on the other moms and babies, because the Maternity ward here was full with 7 new mothers and their babies, plus a room where 2 growing premies and their moms are staying.

This safe delivery is also a direct result of a very generous donation from Every Mother Counts ( and Christy Turlington Burns’ vision that together, we can make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere.

Thanks to Every Mother Counts, many of the moms here in the maternity ward, received regular prenatal care, ultrasounds, vitamins and malaria prevention from Mama Joyce, who oversees the RCH (Reproductive maternal, Child Health) program here. We call here Mama Nurse Doctor Joyce because like Evelyn, she wears many hats and does whatever it takes to educate, dispel myths and reassure pregnant women who previously would have opted to deliver in a hut on a dirt floor without any clean blankets or even a clean clamp for the umbilical cord.

Nurse Moinan, Volunteer Nurse Barb and newborn

Nurse Moinan, Volunteer Nurse Barb and newborn

Before I can really consider how many lives are saved here, it’s time to tuck the newborn baby’s head into a brand new baby hat to keep him warm and join Nurse Evelyn and Nurse Moinan in the ward to check on the other moms, babies and premies.

I walked behind Evelyn and kept looking at her back, convinced that there would be a small sign of her superhero cape. I asked her where it was and whether she preferred red or blue, she even let me peek under her scrubs to show me that it was just an ordinary day for her and she didn’t have any special super powers. She just laughed and laughed and then started charting, but I’m not convinced.

I didn’t see any of the Big 5 that day, but I did see a hero in action, one that had what she needed to provide the kind of care that most of us in the other parts of the world take for granted. Here at FAME, the level of care is exceptional, and it’s all provided by a dedicated team of Tanzanian nurses and doctors.

I’m learning so much here and am so grateful to all of the staff who have very patiently taken me under their wings and invisible capes.