SHE is not a gynaecologist, a midwife or a health worker, yet she is a household name when it comes to maternal health and motherhood.
By Gilbert Kidimu
She is not a gynaecologist, a midwife or a health worker, yet she is a household name when it comes to maternal health and motherhood.
For over 10 years, Catherine Ruhweza (fondly known as Mama Tendo) has taught fellow mothers and others-to-be about reproductive health and child upbringing. As a wife and mother, Ruhweza draws a lot of her insight from her own experiences to help other women.
Her passion dates back to 2001 when she started a column about her new born son.
The popularity of her column and the interaction it sparked off between parents led to the birth of the Mama Tendo Foundation.
â€œI realised there were issues that needed to be addressed, a need to educate women about pregnancy and motherhood because there was a huge gap in these areas. This eventually culminated into reproductive health,â€ says the mother of three.
According to Ruhweza, the foundation is a charity, locally founded and supported by donations and gifts.
The foundation operates under four areas: training, research, advocacy and counselling, its strongest area being the advocacy for better childbirth services.
On the Mama Tendo Foundation website, you can find information on parenting, maternal and child health, womenâ€™s health and pregnancy. The site is interactive and is a common place for women to share and solve maternal and parenting challenges.
Ruhweza underscores the need to improve the relationship between expectant mothers and medical personnel.
â€œExpectant mothers, especially those carrying twins, those who have suffered miscarriages before, or are advanced in age, are very much at risk,â€ Ruhweza says.
To accomplish this, she organises retreats and workshops for expectant mothers.
Harriet Ekude, a mother and the Human Resource Manager of Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited, has been to several Mama Tendo workshops and has even sent her domestic help for the house helpsâ€™ workshops. She talks highly of mama Tendoâ€™s role in maternal health.
â€œHer passion to help the most vulnerable people, the women and children, is simply incredible,â€ she says.
â€œWe have learnt a lot from her through her workshops, where she trains women about maternal and child health, safety and nutrition,â€ says Ekude
Maternal health starts from pre-conception and goes all the way to post-natal care says Ruhweza.
â€œWe teach the women what to do before and during pregnancy and also, educate them on related issues like cervical cancer,â€ she says.
She adds: â€œMaternal health starts with young women who have not had children and encompasses their attitude towards contraception, age at which to have children and their lifestyle.â€
â€œSince women, especially those in rural areas, lack enough information about maternal health, very risky situations are often taken lightly. Almost 65% of Ugandan women give birth at home.
This means their blood pressure levels are not monitored and their babies are not scanned before birth. Such women are at a great risk of losing their lives and their babies,â€ Ruhweza says.
Through her workshops, Ruhweza has reached over 5,000 mothers and many more through her Mumâ€™s Heart column which runs every Tuesday in the New Vision.
The Mama Tendo Foundationâ€™s sensitisation campaign has reached as far as Mbale, Kayunga and Luweero.
The foundation has done projects in places such as Katanga where they teach women about childbirth, immunisation and other related subjects.
Prisca Kasibante from Katanga is one of the beneficiaries of the activities of the foundation.
â€œMama Tendo has helped us in so many areas. She has taught us practical ways of bringing up children, caring for them and also how to feed them with proper nutrition,â€ Kasibante says.
She adds: â€œShe takes it further with charity. The foundation donated beddings to a woman in the neighbourhood who had so many children and didnâ€™t have beds or mattresses for them. We are proud to have met Mama Tendo in Katanga and are truly grateful for her amazing heart, especially towards the underprivileged women,â€ says Kasibante.
Ruhweza says women need to learn more about maternal health and there is a colossal need for emergency obstetric care.
â€œWhen a woman needs emergency care, she should be able to get it. We are also advocating breast feeding, especially among working mothers.â€
â€œWe are what we are because of what we have gone through while growing up as children, the first seven years being the most critical in a personâ€™s life.
That is when you instill values that build esteem and confidence,â€ Ruhweza stresses. The foundationâ€™s motto is â€˜making the early years count.â€™
Dr. Daniel Tumwine, the general secretary of the Uganda Paediatric Association and a paediatrician at Childrenâ€™s Clinic, Ntinda, worked with Ruhweza in 2008 while promoting awareness on breast cancer.
He says she is filling a need that ideally should be filled by paediatricians.
â€œShe had just organised a conference on cervical and breast cancer and she championed early screening of both breast and cervical cancer,â€ he says.
â€œIt is always assumed the elite know child health but actually, they too need to be educated on the basics of child health and Mama Tendo has entered that niche. Hopefully she will continue this crusade,â€ says Tumwine.
Her passion also translates into philanthropy as the foundation raises money for the same causes. Last year, her foundation fundraised for incubators for Arua Hospital. Currently, the foundation is working with partners to develop a maternal and newborn communication strategy on how to bring out the issues in the most strategic way to all sectors of the public.
It will also push for affordable medical services, especially for the C-section procedure. In spite of a very busy schedule, which includes travelling abroad, Ruhweza makes it a point to spare ample time for her family, in a way practising what she preaches.
â€œI set up office near home to be close to the children. I am always home by the time the children return from school and over the weekend, I am with them all day long. It is a lot of work, but I have a supportive husband who is always there for the children when I am unable to be,â€ says Ruhweza.
â€œIn the future, I want to see maternal health take a leap to another level where women who need emergency obstetric care get it whenever they need. And that we have more skilled health workers, especially in rural areas and better budget allocation.â€
Name: Catherine Ruhweza
Motivation statement: â€œI realised there was a need to educate women about pregnancy and motherhood as there was a huge gap in these areas.â€
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Ruhwezaâ€™s drive is to make a childâ€™s early years count