Aberdeen Photographers: As part of my visit to Malawi to document maternal health for IMMPACT, a charity based in Aberdeen University (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/iahs/research/immpact-92.php ) a visit to Khuwi maternity clinic was organised. I was joined by two midwives/lecturers from the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. We were driven out to the clinic which was about an hour out of the capital of Lilongwe, as we approached i was surprised at what a solid building it was in a lovely rural setting. Our contact Ellen from the Ministry of Health and a local midwife gave us a tour. As i approached the women in the first room and introduced myself i quickly realised that they didn’t speak English. Chichewa is the national language in Malawi but most people speak English in urban areas. It’s always difficult to know how to photograph people in different countries, especially when they are in a vulnerable position, you have to be very understanding, calm and not too intrusive. These women had just given birth so probably did not want their photograph taken by a total stranger. When i photographed their newborn babies and showed them the images their faces lit up, they were so delighted to see their baby on a wee screen. What surprised me most about this room were the beds consisting of a bare springs with an old straw mat on top, it’s crazy to think that this is what women get to sleep on straight after labour. The room with one bed is the labour room, the midwife said that they have had women give birth on the floor when is it busy.
The clinic was really busy with people waiting for medication and babies getting their immunisations. It was difficult to go unnoticed as i stood there with my massive camera. I took one photo and showed some people and got a great reaction, everyone wanted to get a photo taken taken and to see what they looked like. I don’t want too off track but it got me thinking ‘why are they so keen to see themselves’? I watched a documentary a couple of weeks before my trip about a photographer who photographed four girls from a tribe in Africa 25 years ago, his documentary was about finding these girls as women by using the images to trace them. What interested me was that when he did find the women they didn’t recognise themselves, it was their friends and family who confirmed it was them by looking at the 25 year old photo. We are so used to looking in mirrors every day and getting photographs taken at every occasion possible that we know exactly how we look, these women did not.
Although the building looked adequate from the outside, you could see straight away the conditions were not great. I spoke to one midwife from England who has been working at a clinic in Lilongwe for six years, she explained that there was no funding for the upkeep of these clinics, they are left to rot as there is just no money. IMMPACT will use my images in reports/posters/lectures etc, hopefully they help in some way to get awareness and funding for the conditions of these clinics.
Overall it was an amazing opportunity to visit Khuwi Maternity clinic. In truth, i was so overwhelmed when i arrived i was worried i would forget how to take a photograph! I think the women look proud and beautiful and the babies were gorgeous. It was a very positive experience even though the poverty was clear.
I also visited a city clinic, my experience was rather different to the rural clinic- blog to come!