I worked with OBAT Helpers, an NGO in Bangladesh, conducting ethnographic research on maternal care in Urdu-speaking minority camps in Bangladesh. I explored how women in these camps accessed and used maternal care and whether their status as minorities affected their access to care. I informally interviewed several pregnant women and mothers across the various camps located in the cities of Dhaka, Mirpur, and Chittagong. I observed the interactions between dais (traditional birth attendants), ayahs (nursemaids) and biomedical physicians with their patients. Also, I observed births in clinics and in homes. I will share the data I collected over the summer with OBAT Helpers in order to help them build a maternal care program.
My trip has completely altered how I look at the growing presence of biomedicine in developing nations and how that has affected maternal care access and use. The ubiquitous advertisements advising against the use of traditional birth attendants has majorly affected women in the camps. There is a stark difference in how women give birth within the last fifteen years in Bangladesh due to the growing emphasis that has been put on maternal care. This was evident in how women who had recently given birth talked about pregnancy and birth and how their mothers talked about it. However, the larger use of biomedical clinics brought its own set of problems and discrimination. Due to the poverty these women faced, it was difficult for them to find clinics they could afford and often had impending loans from deliveries. Prenatal appointments were few and far between and due to the unhealthy environment, there were often more complications in the birth which would entail a (expensive) cesarean section.
Sitting down with women, allowing them to relay their stories, struggles and joy was an awe-inspiring experience. It was something I truly enjoyed and felt fortunate to be given a chance to relay their stories. However, the reality of the world of research and nonprofits became quickly apparent to me. The conditions and struggles of the women were incredibly difficult to hear especially without actively being able to alleviate those struggles. It required me to keep my emotions in check so I would not startle the women or move the attention away from them. The workers of OBAT Helpers would often echo my feelings and made me realize that patience and compassion required to work in their fields. They helped me understand that even when everything seems bleak, you have to take it one step at a time. They taught me what true leadership meant. In the face of complex problems, leaders relied on their passion, optimism, and dedication to eventually reach their goals. This experience gave me even more respect for the workers of non-governmental organizations. I hope I can continue to work for the benefit of others and to take my lessons with me on my future endeavors.