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How it all started

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My name is Maggie Cullinane.  I work at Cardiff School of Art and Design and am also involved on a voluntary basis with Cardiff based medical education charity Mothers of Africa, who provide training for nurses, caring for pregnant women in sub Saharan Africa

Back in March 2012, Mothers of Africa organised a 33mile sponsored walk, a distance equal to the 7026121475_d8d95efb7f_m[1]average journey a woman in Africa would make on foot, to get to medical help when pregnant.  I didn’t take part in the walk, although I did provide a baton in the form of a couple of hoodies for the relay team entered by Cardiff School of Art and Design.  At the time I barely knew anything about the charity, but throughout the day, regular emails updated us on the progress of the walkers.  After about the fourth or fifth of these, I decided to see what this charity was all about and took a look at their website, where I read the following horrific statistics.

In Africa:

·         each day, three Boeing 747s of mothers die in childbirth

·         a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 6 (in developed regions, the risk is 1 in 7,300)

·         some countries, like Benin, have 1 anaesthetist per million people of the population (in Cardiff alone, there are 140)

And that was enough.

Doing nothing more than lending a hoody was no longer an option, because I’ve only ever had the need for an anaesthetist once in my life, and when I did it was one of the Cardiff team who was there within minutes.

The  (Other) Boy Who Lived

Back Camera

People often say that having children is the most natural thing in the world, but all too often Mother Nature needs a helping hand.  We take it for granted in the developed world that we will have doctors and midwives available to make sure our babies are brought safely into the world, and that if things go wrong, something will be done to put it right.  We forget so easily how lucky we are.  The night my son was born was the luckiest night of my life.

Signs of pre-eclampsia from fairly early in my pregnancy had meant that my wedding ring came off before the maternity clothes went on. Pre-eclampsia is a fairly common complication of pregnancy, particularly in first time mothers.  It causes high blood pressure in the mother and reduces the amount of oxygen in the placenta, the main result of which is a baby that grows much more slowly.  In rare cases it can develop into eclampsia which can be fatal for mother or baby or both.  There is no treatment and if the disease progresses to its dangerous stage, the only cure is to deliver the baby.  The main strategy for dealing with pre-eclampsia is merely a matter of watching and waiting, balancing the needs of the developing baby against the potential risk to the mother’s life.

By the time I reached eight months I was being checked in hospital every two days.  I managed to get within a week of my due date but by then it was decided that there was just no point in my staying pregnant.  My baby was hardly growing and I was starting to show signs of kidney problems.  Labour was induced and  although nothing much happened at first, when it did it happened fast.  My son’s heart-rate dropped dramatically and a call was made to alert theatre that we were on the way.  All of a sudden, the brake was taken off my bed and we were running down the corridor.  I lost the next hour of my life, the hour in which I became a Mum.  My son wasn’t exactly born kicking and screaming.  His first taste of oxygen came from a bag, (the phrase “making no respiratory effort” on his notes still sends a chill through me) but he had a beating heart, and after a few minutes he was able to breathe on his own.  Had we had to wait for a theatre and a surgical team to become available, it could have been a lot worse.  The first month of his life wasn’t easy, but today you would never know he came so close to not making it into the world at all.  Even in the UK, not every woman needing a caesarean as desperately as I did is that lucky, and I’ve been acutely aware of that fact ever since.  In Africa we wouldn’t have even had a chance.

So when I read those figures about the dangers of bringing life into the world, just because you live on the wrong continent, straight away I wanted to do something.  I got thinking and decided to resurrect a past fundraising project which had involved students and friends being sponsored to create fabric squares, which I then made up into a quilt.  Having previously raised £700, I set myself a target of £1000.

Fifty Shades of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Brown, Black, Pink, Blue, Purple, Cream, White………

Back Camera

So, over the summer of 2012, when every other woman in Great Britain seemed to be reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I was coordinating the Mothers of Africa Sponsored Quilt Project.  It was difficult at first, but then the squares started to come in thick and fast, and eventually we got there, with contributions coming not just from the UK, but also from mainland Europe, USA, Kuwait and Japan.  The finished quilt was exhibited at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay, and the final total raised reached nearly £1300.  I felt totally elated at reaching the target and very proud of what we had achieved as a group.  However I also felt quite sad that it was all over.

Within a few weeks, I had decided to start all over again, but this time on a much bigger scale.  Frustrated by the fact that it had never occurred to me to use a blog to create publicity for the project, I started thinking about how online forms of communication could reach a wider audience.  All those other people I could reach who love sewing, the textile groups, and also schools and colleges might like to get involved in a classroom project that could help to save the lives of the women of Africa and their babies.  The original quilt was donated to the charity, for use in publicity, but with more quilts, we can send them out to Africa to be distributed in the hospitals and communities.  Eventually, we would like to be able to send packs of squares out to Africa for the women to make up and sell themselves.  That’s a little way off yet, but one day we’ll get there.  So what initially started as a one-off summer project is now a permanent initiative.  Whether you work in a primary school or a university, are a member of a Textiles group or just an individual with a love of fabric, you are all welcome to join us.  Even if you have no artistic flair, or creative skills, you can still donate a plain or patterned piece of fabric.  Everything will be gratefully received, we just ask for a small contribution to the charity, and we will include your creation in our next exhibition. All you need, to be able to help save a live, is to care enough to want to.
 
I thought long and hard about sharing some of this in such a public way, and only do so now with the full agreement of a very special boy.  (The Harry Potter reference, if you spotted it, helped*)  Thank You for reading our story.

Best Wishes
Maggie
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For more details go to How to Help above, or visit Latest News for updates on the project

* “The Boy Who Lived” is the title of the opening chapter of the first Harry Potter book.

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