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Join Marianne and her team in the battle to save lives today

Georgie Scott

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A little bit about me

VSO volunteer Marianne

Marianne Bontenbal

Nurse, Gulu Uganda

I’ve worked for 18 years as a nurse in Rotterdam serving different hospital wards, but my main job is working as a midwife.

I’m mostly based at the hospital, but occasionally I do home deliveries. Even then, if anything goes wrong - we have all the necessary equipment, and an ambulance can be there within 10 minutes if need be.

I have also trained as a paramedic. This means responding to emergency calls for medical assistance with an ambulance team, so I’m used to working under pressure in stressful situations.

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About Gulu

I’ll be based in Gulu, a small city in northern Uganda. It sits within the Gulu district, which has a population of over 400,000 people.

The region experiences dry and wet seasons, with dry seasons bringing temperatures of up to fifty degrees centigrade between November and March. I’m not quite sure how I’ll react to the heat!

The healthcare system has been left poorly equipped and under resourced following decades of civil war. In the 1990’s the Lord’s Resistance Army became increasing violent in Gulu and surrounding communities. In 1996, the Ugandan government ordered all civilians in northern Uganda to relocate to Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. At one time, an estimated two million people lived in these camps.

In April 2009, all the IDP camps were closed and the people were allowed to return to their villages. By July 2009, an estimated 1,452,000 people had voluntarily left the camps to return home. Since the spring of 2007, there has been relative peace in the region.

In the Gulu district, the rate of mum's dying during childbirth is 38 times higher than the UK. These figures are shocking, it simply breaks my heart. Their deaths are needless, because with the right skills and equipment most of them could be saved.

This is why my work training midwives is so essential. I will be sharing my skills and knowledge with midwives, midwifery interns and students at the Gulu Regional Referral Hospital and in healthcare facilities throughout the region.

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The impact

If it wasn’t for this hospital I think he [my son] would have died.

Janet Lawino, 17 years.

Janet, 17, at home with her husband Jacob Maxwell Okellakwo, 18, feeding their son extracted breast milk. VSO / Peter Caton

Janet was in her village in Northern Uganda when she went into labour early at 7 months.

She was just 17 years old and the pain and prospect of giving birth alone was terrifying.

She was taken to Gulu hospital. The birth was complicated and her son had be resuscitated.

But the midwives attending Janet had been trained by a VSO volunteer on how to help newborns breathe and thankfully, because of their new skills, Janet’s tiny premature son took his first breath.

Marianne Bontenbal, VSO volunteer midwife, with newborn twin she has just delivered. Georgie Scott

He was moved to the intensive care unit where they helped him gain weight and breathe independently. A month later, Janet was relieved to finally be able to take him home.

But every year, a million babies die on the day they are born. And what’s even more heart breaking is that most of these deaths are completely preventable.

In poor countries like Uganda, there’s a shortage of the skills and equipment that we take for granted here in the UK, which could stop these deaths from happening.

With your help, VSO can provide more volunteers to give the expert training and equipment needed to keep more babies alive.

Can you join Marianne and her team in the battle to save babies lives by joining Volunteer View today

Too often the lives of newborns are snatched away by illness or complications, and what should be have been the best day of a mother's life becomes the worst.