The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age making her the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world. A woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria is 1 in 13. Although many of these deaths are preventable, the coverage and quality of health care services in Nigeria continue to fail women and children.
Airen Foundation was set up to provide solutions to these issues and more within the reach of the NGO. In this interview with YNaija’s Impact365. founder of the NGO, Adaeze Nwadike shares its vision, past projects and campaign plans for 2017.
Can you tell us more about Airen Foundation?
Airen Foundation is a registered non-profit organization dedicated to holistic solutions for the empowerment and development of African women. We aim to address issues related to African womanhood through our programs designed to educate, empower, and advocate for African women.
What informed the decision to set up the foundation?
Our organization was set up based on a deep desire to impact Nigeria and Africa positively from the grassroots, to elevate the status of women in our communities, and to be a source of hope to young girls and women. Originally, we planned to create an organization focused on skills acquisition and entrepreneurial development as a means for women to escape poverty. However, the issues faced by African women, much like the issues we face in our countries as a whole, are multifaceted and interconnected. To create sustainable impact, we had to have a complete approach. We also realized that we would have to start with the most widespread issue that women face, and that is access to quality health care, especially while pregnant (According to the UN, Nigeria is the second largest contributor to the maternal mortality rate in the world). Eventually, we hope to have a network of interconnected community-based projects that work together to uplift women and girls, and empower them.
How has the journey been so far and how much impact can you say you’ve made?
So far the journey has been amazing. We have been inspired by the support that we have received from people, especially young people who make up 90% of our donors. We have also enjoyed educating and interacting with women through our programs. There is so much that women do not know about self care during pregnancy, and so many myths and misconceptions about pregnancy as a whole. For example, we came across a lady who told us her grandmother told her to drink ‘ogogoro’ or alcohol, to make sure that her baby would be small and the delivery would be easy. We were also told by some women at our last healthy pregnancy seminar that they used engine oil to soothe their babies genitals after circumcision, and that it was common practice. Some women even believed that they shouldn’t eat bananas while pregnant! We make sure that we debunk myths, and that women are taught what they need to know. It has been very fulfilling to see women learning things that may be the difference between life and death for them or their child. Since our launch in September, we have reached over 100 women through our healthy pregnancy seminars and outreaches, so while we are proud of our progress, there is a lot more work to be done.
What does your Ene Project entail?
Ene Project aims to reduce Nigeria’s maternal and infant mortality rates by improving the wellbeing of mothers and empowering them with the tools they need to have a successful pregnancy and take care of their infants.
What sort of support does your NGO provide in this regard?
Through Ene Project we:
a. Equip expecting mothers with the information and tools they need to have a successful pregnancy and birthing experience
b. Distribute care packages filled with maternal essentials to mums in need, to ensure they have all the necessary supplies and information to take care of their babies. These packages do not only have essentials such as diapers, wipes and baby clothes, but also contain educational pamphlets and handouts about safe pregnancy and delivery and infant health care, as approved by doctors. The packages serve as an incentive for mums to participate in our programs, and to get the medical attention they need throughout pregnancy and delivery.
c. Partner with clinics, hospitals and other relevant organizations to reach as many women as possible through our programs.
How can women manage their health during and after pregnancy?
Women should endeavour to maintain a healthy lifestyle by cutting out habits like smoking or drinking and eating well balanced meals, especially folate rich foods. This is because, folic acid is essential for the rapid cell growth of the placenta, development of the baby and in prevention of pre-eclampsia. Most women don’t find out they are pregnant early enough and it is during this period that serious birth defects like neural tube defect, brain and spinal cord defects could occur in the baby of these folate deficient women before they realize they are pregnant. Health professionals even advise on taking folic acid for up to a month before conception, and this, along with other vitamins prescribed by the doctor during antenatal visits should be continued throughout pregnancy.
We encourage light exercises during pregnancy as well, as this helps to prevent or treat gestational diabetes, reduce backaches, constipation and swelling, to sleep better, helps to cope with labor and getting back in shape after giving birth.
After pregnancy, the new mum owes it to herself to rest when she can as her whole routine will be changed by the baby, and she might not get as much sleep as she is used to. Maintain healthy eating habits still, because for mothers that choose to breastfeed [which we strongly encourage], the baby’s nutrient intake will be made up of what the mother eats. Taking it one step at a time, because mothering experience is not the same for everyone and that all the answers cannot be known at once. A support system is vital to helping the new mum adjust well to motherhood.
Have you come across underage girls who have gotten pregnant and how have you handled them?
We have not yet come across underage girls who are pregnant, but we are very much aware that this demographic is there and their needs are unique. Our longterm goal is to set up a home for women, where women – including pregnant girls – can come and get the help they need including antenatal care, learn skills and to be reintegrated as self sustaining and productive members of society.
What are the challenges your NGO has faced and how have you dealt with them?
One issue we have faced is getting the word out about our events. While social media is a great tool for us, many of the women that we aim to reach are not online. We have discovered that giving out fliers is not enough, and we now work with people in communities that have access to women, so that we can meet with women in their communities and talk to them before our seminars, to let them know why they should attend.
Another issue is fund-raising. While we are very lucky to be able to rely on the donations of kind individuals, it has been difficult getting corporate sponsorship on a larger scale. We are working hard to prove ourselves with the funds we get, so that organizations can see the value in what we do and how many women we are able to reach.
What plans do you have for 2017?
2017 is going to be a busy year for us. We will be having a Mother’s Day outreach at the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital this month, and we hope to host a least 2 more healthy pregnancy seminars under the Ene Project. We want to conduct more visits to maternity hospitals, and to set up a partnership with a local non-profit maternity clinic to encourage women to attend all their antenatal visits. We also hope to launch Free To Rise, our reproductive health and hygiene awareness campaign for girls, later this year. Our goal is to make our projects more sustainable through community partnerships, and corporate sponsorships.