How she started
In Kasozi Village, Masaka district she is a Godsend, where medical facilities are hard to come by. In a radius of more than seven kilometres, women walk and others are carried on bicycles to give birth at Nanyonjo’s home.
As a traditional birth attendant (TBA), Nanyonjo has saved hundreds of women who might have died due to lack of medical attention.
Nanyonjo says she went to school for only four years and at the age of nine, she went to live with her grandmother, who was a popular traditional birth attendant.
Here, she tilled the land and helped her grandmother to collect different herbs from the bush and prepare them to treat expectant mothers. Slowly, she learnt the different herbs that expectant women use, including those that reduce the pain of labour before childbirth.
One evening when her grandmother was away, a woman came to their home in the throes of labour. Nanyonjo recognised the emergency and applied her knowledge in the absence of the master. She was only 20 when she performed her first delivery. She is now 67 and there has been no turning back.
In her 47 years as a TBA, she has gained both respect and popularity within her community. Harriet Karungi and Brigitte Daley from Tekera Resource Centre, both trained and registered nurses with almost 40 years of experience, say the babies they have attended to, who were delivered at Nanyonjo’s place show that the attendant is skilled.
A few years after she started delivering babies on her own, Nanyonjo spent time with midwives from Masaka Hospital, who were carrying out field outreach visits in her village. She also learnt more skills and knowledge from the trained nurses. She got a certificate as a TBA that recognises that she got the appropriate skills from these midwives.
When I visited her home recently, a 23-year-old first time mother had brought back her three-day-old child for a post-natal check. Hajara had suffered through two hours of labour pain before being taken to Nanyonjo.
“On arrival I was made to feel safe and comfortable and monitored every five minutes and examined every 30 minutes or so. During this time, I was given hot drinks with local herbs, which eased the labour pain. When the time came to deliver the baby, everything was done right. I had a positive birth experience with no complications or tears.”
Though the community adores her for her work, Nanyonjo is quick to confess that sometimes she gets a case that is too complicated.
“When a case is out of my scope I have to be responsible, knowing the importance of other official healthcare providers.” Because of illiteracy and poor record keeping, she only started taking note of how many deliveries she has performed.
A year ago, she started putting a stone in a bucket for each delivery she made as a way of keeping records. Unfortunately, Nanyonjo has not been able to pass on her knowledge to someone else the way her grandmother passed the skills on to her.
However, with the little savings she has made from the small charge of about sh15,000 to sh20,000, she has managed to send her daughter to school in Masaka town. She is optimistic that her daughter, who is an aspiring midwife, will one day carry on with the family trade and the record keeping will be more up-to-date.
Nanyonjo is a humble, gentle woman, who also works a small garden to feed the three grandchildren that have been left in her care. She has overcome lack of formal education and takes great pride in her work, valuing the trust that has been given to her by the many women who seek her services.