Be the Change…

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As an artist, I make things. My boys made fun of me while they were growing up for using the phrase, “well, I can make that,” because, I usually could. It was usually because there was no money to buy the same item and after careful examination, I would make my own item. They made fun until, they too, became makers themselves. Frugal has its rewards sometimes. But, the things I made are just things. They really have no impact on the world, just things that have helped to add to our family budget in small ways or to give as a gift to someone I care deeply about. Artists make, I suppose, to someday be recognized but I gave up on that a long time ago and make things out of my own need and just the enjoyment of seeing others enjoy handmade things.

But to make something that will become a legacy is different. As a woman and mother, I gave birth to two fine men, who will, and have impacted the planet in however ways they decide is important but I can’t really claim them as a legacy or their legacies as my own. My son John died in 2014. He was 30. A forester and an environmentalist. He planted 70 acres of trees before he died in the 7 months that he lived in the state of Oregon. Those trees are his legacy. They will, hopefully, without threat of fires on the west coast, live for many many years to come and benefit the planet that this current administration is trying to destroy.  I will go see the trees my son planted next year before they are destroyed and before I, myself, leave planet earth. But, in the meantime, I can try to be the change that I want to see in the world. Real change of real significance. So, when my friend Jeff Carithers asked me to help with a project he was working on, I saw a way to use my artistic skills to help make big changes in the lives of people in a country that I may never get to see because of my lack of funds to travel the world. My drawings will travel for me, with Jeff’s work, in the form of technology that will make change on the other side of the world. That will be my legacy.

Dr. Jeff Carithers is part of the stateside team at Empower Tanzania and his title is Improving Women’s Health, Community Hospital Alliance, & Beyond Gender-Based Violence Program Manager. I know that in the past he has taken iPads to the village health care associates, to teach them, along with their villagers about taking vital signs to improve their health and well being. He also loaded these iPads with information to help educate them about water health and the importance of healthy clean water, something that we take for granted in this country.

Jeff contacted me back in September when he was looking for help with a program he was assembling on reproductive health. It is an educational program on reproduction and sexual health to be taught to the school students, which will include videos, class discussions, and other approaches. He told me that in Tanzania, there is a big problem with pregnancies in the primary and secondary schools and associated sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In fact, 67 girls have become pregnant so far this year in a district with 25,000 students. You can read about this issue on their blog here.

So, in late February and all through March and April, Jeff and I have been emailing back and forth the drawings that he needed to illustrate the script he was putting together in an amazing training video to take to Tanzania to begin the process of demystifying the process of reproduction and to educate both children and adults what really happens when humans reproduce. We both feel that we have put together drawings that are clinical and yet simple enough that the process is understandable. Even though I have given birth twice I learned a lot in the process. Thank you Jeff!

March 9th is the anniversary of John’s death. I have had a harder time with my grief this year than in the previous three. Jeff knew this and shared several stories with me to  show me the impact my drawings could have. It gave me the strength to get through some rough days of my own grief.  One of the stories is below taken from Jeff’s email to me on March 2nd…

The Maasai told that if a baby has a lot of vernix on it (vernix is the cheesy covering on some newborns, but not all) that this means that the husband had sex with his wife during the last 6 months of the pregnancy, a time when sex is prohibited by them because of the risk. They think the vernix is the semen. The villagers beat the couple if their baby is born with visible vernix on it. They told me of a couple who had a stillborn child and it had vernix in the mouth and nose, again normal. They blamed the man or other men in the village for having sex with the wife and the semen prevented the baby from breathing. They severely beat the couple and every male of that age group in the village for 4 days, nearly killing some of them. 
I told the Maasai men that sex is safe until the last week or so of pregnancy if all is progressing well. I explained that the closed cervix seals the uterus from the vagina and semen cannot get into the uterus during pregnancy because of a plug in the cervix. I also explained the amniotic sac, which would prevent semen from reaching the baby. I reminded them about the water breaking just before birth and they knew about that. I said that if water cannot get out until the very end of pregnancy, how could semen get in? They were very attentive and said they would educate their fellow villagers on this subject. 
This is just an example of how these drawings will help people understand and change lives. It is one thing to explain something, but another to see it clearly in one of your beautiful drawings. 
Another story was of a woman who now helps with the program…
unnamed-3Hilpa, one of the community health educators who does the public health presentations to the community. Hilpa is about 50, has a warm smile and is very friendly. Here is her photo. She is also one of our most engaging presenters. I asked her one time why she was involved in the program. She told me that 25 years ago she gave birth to twin girls and she and her husband were very excited about them.  However, they both died from congenital malaria within two weeks of birth. She uses this tragedy as motivation for her involvement in the program so she can prevent the same thing from needlessly happening to other parents and children. 
This is only one example of the many stories of people who participate in the programs. The programs have huge impacts on the recipients, but those who contribute also gain incalculable benefit. Knowing that tens of thousands of people will see your videos each month, I hope you are one of those, Susie.
I feel very passionate about women’s health issues, women’s rights and the right to choose in this country. But, my impact in this country can be made by donating money to Planned Parenthood and supporting candidates that share my views. Sometimes I feel that we are going back in time in this country and not being critical thinkers about women’s health and reproductive rights. We seem to be pro birth and nothing else. But doing this project feels like we (I) will not just help empower women but also men and children, giving them the knowledge to learn about how their body works and how to be healthy and to empower their government to create positive results to save lives, avoid disease and to have healthy families. And not be ashamed or embarrassed about the topic but to approach it full on and with an open mind and heart.
Jeff had a team of about 40-50 people helping him to put the videos together and my part in the process was to do drawings of the body parts and the sequences of how the reproduction works. After 100s of emails back and forth we are both pleased with the results and hope that the videos can be used by as many people as needed to bring the change that we want to see in the world.
The videos are broken into three topics because there will be different age groups that will view them and depending on the maturity levels needed.
The first one is on Puberty and this one will be show to kids, starting around the age of 7. It is to help them understand how their bodies are changing as they grow and develop hormonal changes. Things like body hair, the need for deodorants and physical changes that are occurring and to help them understand why this happens.
The second is on Periods. This video will show young adults how a woman’s period/menstrual cycle works and why. It answers the many questions surrounding this natural part of life. Jeff said that many young women are never told about this and when it finally happens that it can be a scary thing for them. Hopefully, this video will take some of the fear out of a natural process that women deal with. It also shows them the processes of caring for their body during this time of the month.
And the last video is about Relationships .  This talk is about reproduction, what happens during sex and that it is important to know when is the appropriate time to have a sexual relationship. Important issues like contraception and STDs are discussed in this one and how making a decision to have sexual relations can have consequences for both participants but doesn’t have to if you are prepared with the appropriate contraception device. And how making a baby is a big commitment, as we all know.
So, I am sharing these videos as a way of documenting my legacy because I can’t travel there in person. But, Jeff will teach them what is in the videos and my legacy will be the illustrations that are embedded in the videos to help him do that. Thank you Jeff and Empower Tanzania for being the change and letting me be a small part of that.
So, if you want to read more about Empower Tanzania and see what they do check out this link. There are many programs that they are doing that are having large impacts on the villages and if you have extra income, perhaps you might feel moved to contribute to their programs and help out.