There are some Vancouver moms who do incredibly inspiring things. Natalie Angell-Besseling, Executive Director of Shanti Uganda, is one of them. In fact, she’s so inspiring that we’ve invited her to speak at our upcoming Leading Moms event. The non-profit society that she helped to found improves infant and maternal health, provides safe women-centered care and supports the well-being of birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. They run a Birth House and a Women’s Income Generating Group, as well as a number of other programs. With a toddler of her own, Natalie is really redefining motherhood on her own terms.
Building a Charity From the Ground Up
So how did Natalie embark on this journey of building Shanti Uganda, which is a registered Canadian Charity and a registered Ugandan NGO? She says, “My background is in international development, and along the way I began to question some of the top down development practices that were being carried out.” Then, a twist of fate changed the course of Natalie’s life. “I ended up becoming a yoga teacher and a doula, and I went to Uganda to volunteer with birthing mothers in a local hospital. I was really deeply impacted on my first trip, and just sort of kept going back. Within a year I turned away from my yoga and doula work to focus one hundred percent of my time on Shanti Uganda.”
Natalie deliberately chose to focus on empowering and supporting women. She explains, saying, “We’ve seen a lot of information and statistics that really show us that women are extremely resourceful. If we work to empower women and give them the tools to support themselves and their families, they take those tools and change their entire community. The very first thing that they do is put their children into school, improve their business opportunities and the nutrition of their family.” As mothers ourselves, we find that pretty powerful.
14 mothers die every day in Uganda, many of them from preventable complications. 150 Ugandan babies are born dead, or die in the first week after birth. The Shanti Uganda Society is working on the ground to improve this situation. Their solar-powered Birth House opened in 2010. Through the Birth House, they are redefining the statistics on birth in Uganda. Natalie shares, “Of the over 100 women who have given birth at our centre in our almost two years of operation, 100% have left healthy, happy and supported by our dedicated team of midwives.”
One of the biggest challenges in Uganda is the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. Many smaller clinics don’t have the resources to handle births when the mother is HIV positive. We asked Natalie what was required and she said, “It’s quite simple, really. It just is a matter of having the drugs to prevent mother to child transmission.” But even simple things are not always so simple when there just isn’t any money. Fortunately, Shanti Uganda is redefining the way birth is handled at their Birth House.
Women’s Income Generating Group
Shanti Uganda doesn’t only support birthing mothers, they also operate a Women’s Income Generating Group. Natalie says, “This was our first program in Uganda, and it’s really dear to my heart. Our initial 25 member were selected from over 600 HIV positive women in the community. They all completed a really comprehensive beading training, and the next year we began a textiles training. They also receive ongoing workshops in financial management, small business startup, they have access to free health services at the Birth House, and they all participate in our savings program.” Through their involvement with Shanti Uganda, the women are redefining what is possible for themselves.
Like all non-profit societies, Shanti Uganda can always use your support. “We have a really thriving support base. We’re always looking for new volunteers here in Vancouver. You can host a home party, to sell the bags and jewellery made by our women’s group. We’re looking for people to serve on our board of directors. We have midwives and doulas who volunteer in Uganda. And you can offer financial support. Our Birth Partners program is a really meaningful way to make a monthly donation, and to contribute to the financial sustainability of our organization.”
Natalie Angell-Besseling isn’t only redefining motherhood for herself, she’s redefining it for women in Uganda. Like we said, she’s very inspiring. If you’d like to hear more from her, come out to Leading Moms on October 3, 2012. Or attend Shanti Uganda’s upcoming event, An Evening of Art, on September 25, 2012.