“Om, shanti shanti…”

It was one of those days that just gets under your skin. Where every subtle detail of the world around you, the world you have come to accept as your home, is bombarding your senses in an assault from which you just can’t seem to guard your normally positive demeanor. Wrong side of the bed, or wrong side of the Nile?

For me, it was the bone-rattling boda ride along the neglected washboard bumps in the road on the way to town. It was the matatu drivers trying to charge me more for the drive from Jinja to Kampala because of the color of my skin. It was the blistering heat burning into my sun-exposed leg through the window, and the insistence of the man crammed in next to me that that window stay closed, snuffing out my only chance at fresh air through the traffic jams of Uganda’s one main east-to-west road. It was the temper in the boda driver who refused to let me negotiate my fare from one crowded taxi park to the other, and the rank odor of petrol that infested my lungs as we feebly attempted to crawl through immovable seas of traffic.

And then we reached our destination, Shanti Uganda, a small NGO based in sleepy Luwero District just an hour north of the bustling capital city. We sauntered in through the dense vegetation that adorned the gate to the complex, and entered into a world that truly lived up to its name. Shanti. Peace. And on this day the peace was interrupted only by the faint sound of laughter from mothers resting on the veranda of Shanti’s birthing center. It was like a secret garden, a private repose dedicated to soothing the woes of mothers and offering them respite from the tribulations of pregnancy, of motherhood, of poverty, of life. We felt somehow honored to be allowed in, like a beautiful secret was about to be whispered into our ears…

The staff and midwives showed us around the grounds. They showed us the herbal gardens where medicinal herbs are grown for women who prefer to compliment modern medicine with the herbs that their mothers and grandmothers used. They showed us the learning hut with sewing machines for the women to learn skills to provide a supplemental income. They showed us the maternity ward decorated and designed to look like a clean, comfortable living room. We heard about the prenatal yoga classes, about how well the local staff members are treated, and about how traditional birthing attendants (TBAs) are welcomed with open arms to train to become certified doulas. We learned about how all these factors coalesce into a complete experience that makes mothers feel so welcomed and so loved and genuinely cared for that they will come for as many as ten antenatal care visits while pregnant, numbers that are almost unheard of here in Uganda.

Our research on this side of the Nile showed us that in our community, the number one complaint that mothers have about health center visits is the attitude of the health workers. Women want to feel loved and appreciated when going through the immense challenges of pregnancy and childbirth. At Shanti Uganda, we found this being practiced, and in turn, we found what the hundreds of mothers that pass through those lush green gates find every day: peace.

The 4-hour journey back was utterly free of worry, of annoyance, of complaints. The frustrations of the morning melted away completely and I was once again head over heels in love with the world around me. I basked in the comfort of knowing that in at least one community here in Uganda, mothers are being treated like the heroes that they are. They are being loved, and in the end, isn’t that what the creation of life is all about?

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