At first glance, Daw Ja Ring’s hands are unremarkable. Yet these hands have ushered into the world hundreds of the babies born in Shwe Gyin village, Kachin State, in the last twenty-five years. Daw Ja Ring is Shwe Gyin village’s trained birth attendant, a role she undertook when she was just 18 years old. Now, at 43, she has lost count of the exact number of births she has attended but estimates that it must be at least 300.
Holding court in her modest wooden house perched on stilts at the edge of the village, DawJa Ring is surrounded by mothers and babies whose births she has attended in the preceding months. She exudes kindness and gentle authority – a person used to helping others and confident in her own skills and status.
“I am proud of the work I have done here,” she says. “When I walk down the street, mothers tell their children that I helped bring them into the world. That is a good feeling.” Daw Ja Ring’s role as a village birth attendant is a common one in a country where at least 75% of births continue to take place in the home. The reality for the great majority of mothers-to-be in Myanmar is that health facility-based births continue to remain out of reach.
In 1992, at the age of 18, Daw Ja Ring was called to her first birth. She wasn’t nervous because she had just completed a short training with the Myanmar Red Cross and thought she was fully prepared.
When she arrived at the house, she discovered that the baby was in the breach position and her confidence evaporated. With the mother in the late stages of labor, and without referral options available, Daw Ja Ring had to do what she could. The baby’s hand emerged and she pushed it back in. A short time later, the baby’s foot appeared and she was able to bring the baby out carefully and safely. Both mother and baby came through the ordeal in full health but it was a tough start for Shwe Gyin village’s new birth attendant.
Trained and equipped with the support of Community Partners International (CPI), Daw Ja Ring uses Clean Delivery Kits for the births that she attends. The kits contain essential items that help keep the mother and baby free from infection during the birth. These include sterile gloves, soap, a sterile plastic sheet and swaddling cloth, and a sterile blade to cut the umbilical cord.
With her established status and reputation in the community, Daw Ja Ring’s home has become an unofficial community clinic, with village residents coming to her with many different health needs. She is happy to help when she can.
CPI has trained and equipped village-based birth attendants across Myanmar for almost two decades. Trusted by mothers, embedded in their communities, and an affordable and accessible option for families for whom facility-based care has traditionally been out of reach, Daw Ja Ring and her colleagues are a crucial link in the chain of health.