This blog gets a lot of traffic from midwives and doulas who hope to go get some practical experience overseas. This can be a good thing...but not always.
Lets learn some things by examining the mistakes of a couple of North American nurses that came here to help in the labor and delivery ward last week.
They walked in eager for an experience, and a great story to tell. They did not speak the language and are only here for a week. They boasted that they were so excited to be here because they were allowed to do stuff that would be unlawful for them to do in their own country.
They had never worked with laboring mothers, ever, and wanted to waltz in and deliver a "cute little brown baby." One proceeded ..no kidding... to SLAP and SCREAM at a pushing woman I had been gently coaching for 6 hours already. Not only was this white lady being rude and demeaning, she was screaming in English....which was not comprehended by anyone but me. This laboring mother who had been doing awesome, was terrified and scared and shut down...her contractions came to a complete stop. This volunteer then yelled at her for "giving up."
Next, this educated white nurse went on to try to sneak in a baby delivery by not alerting the midwife that the baby was crowning, but just getting ready to do it herself. When I realized after a minute that this nurse had NO IDEA what she was doing, (I was having to tell her what to do...) I alerted the midwife myself, who came and delivered the baby. This adventure seeker was willing to put a mother and baby's lives in danger simply to be able to say she had delivered a baby. At least that is how I see it.
This nurse then kept correcting and pushing the very experienced national midwife out of the way, because "she wasn't doing it right." These midwives are so experienced, (about 1000 births a year for 20 years or more) and could put most western midwives to shame, let alone an ER nurse who had never even seen a birth other than of her own.
You know what? This woman probably is very proud of herself for "helping" these "poor people." She probably feels like she is making a difference! And she is. Just not a good difference.
Here are some the problems I saw in these nurses:
2. A focus on the "experience" for themselves instead of serving the people
3. A failure to see these woman as intelligent and amazing people who are worthy of respect.
4. An excitement to do things "they aren't allowed to do" elsewhere.
5. A lack of respect for the culture and experiences of people different than themselves.
Instead, if you are going to volunteer in a country that is not your own:
1. Go in humility, with the heart of a learner and a willingness to lay down "your ways."
2. Do not go to "get your numbers" or to "have an awesome story to tell." Go to serve. Go to learn.
3. See these beautiful women of another land as strong and someone you can learn from.
4. Know your limits. Do not do what you are not trained to do.
5. Study their language and culture. Respect who they are and how they do things.
6. Be kind and treat people the way you would want to be treated.
None of us will be perfect, but let love be the focus of what you do and I'm sure things will go a lot better.
*I've changed the continent of origin of the offending parties.