Kathryn Hall-Trujillo is not a woman satisfied with the status quo.While working for the state of California in public health in 1988, she routinely heard the words “infant mortality.” But when she held the small, lifeless body of 10-day old DeAndre in her hands, she realized the term should actually be “counting dead babies,” and she vowed to try something to stop the tide that results in mortality rates that are more than twice as high for African-American babies.
The Birthing Project is Hall-Trujillo’s inspired response. Realizing that funds for health care would be hard to come by (sound familiar?) her idea was to pair 10 vulnerable young black women at the beginning of their pregnancy with 10 black volunteer SisterFriends who would commit 18 months to helping their Little Sister on the path to stable motherhood. Kathryn developed a series of activities and encounters to encourage empathy and openness between sisters – and to help SisterFriends do whatever it might take – from drug rehabilitation and regular doctor visits, to encouraging breast-feeding and figuring out a way to continue an education – to help mother and baby thrive.
For Little Sisters who have had plenty of experience with failure, the advocacy and unconditional acceptance of their SisterFriends gives them confidence, direction and support when they need it most, and when they are most open to change. The moment of birth then becomes a time of hope and pride, while for SisterFriends, this is an opportunity to speak for their sisters, create a healthier community, and powerfully impact a mother and child’s life.
Over the years, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo’s simple, powerful idea has grown into a nationally recognized model that has been replicated in over 96 active chapters in the United States, Malawi, Cuba, and Honduras. The sisterhood of Birthing Projects, operating from homes, churches, service groups, clinics, health departments and hospitals, has come to be known as the Underground Railroad for New Life and has achieved impressive results. Birthing Project babies weigh an average of 7.5 pounds, versus a 6.5 pound average for African-American infants, and BP moms attend 80% of their prenatal appointments and 70% of their postpartum appointments, as compared to 35% and 40% in the general population.
As an Ashoka Fellow since 2007, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo is also now partner/mentor of two young women with similar big dreams of developing programs to reduce the deaths of mothers and babies in their countries. Egwaoje Ifeyinwa Madu of Nigeria and Martha Fikre Adenew of Ethiopia were chosen as Young Champions of Maternal Health and are currently working with “Mama Kat” in Birthing Projects in New Orleans, Anguilla and Mississippi to refine their ideas and gain support for their passion to end the cycle of maternal death and disability globally.
As somebody who firmly believes that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world (or should), I love the Birthing Project and am thrilled to be sending $100 today to support SisterFriends wherever they may be. To join me, click here!