Over the years I have travelled the world as a tour leader on Jon Baines Tours midwifery tours. I’ve visited Cuba, Vietnam, India, South Africa, Nepal, Brazil and Sri Lanka, with Peru and Japan coming up. What a privilege and an opportunity it has been and what adventures I’ve had, travelling with wonderful groups of midwives from the UK and Australia.
We’ve had a lot of fun together whilst getting great insights into the culture of countries, as well as their health care systems and specifically maternity services. Something about these trips and their professional content sets them apart from a more traditional tourist experience. We get to see and hear from local people and see the lived reality for the people they serve, and everywhere we go the worldwide sisterhood of midwifery means that we are welcomed with open arms by people who not only want to tell us about their work, but to hear about ours.
I guess the key reflection of many of the midwives on the tours would be, “Wow, now I realise what a wonderful maternity service we have in our own country”.
Or, “We didn’t realise how unusual it is to be part of a regulated, well educated, highly respected professional group”.
Followed closely by, “I’m overwhelmed by how much people do achieve in very difficult circumstances”.
These thoughts might emerge after seeing how maternity services in Nepal have kept women safe, despite the devastation to their infrastructure that continues after the earthquake of 2015; or after seeing the sterling efforts of charity hospitals in India, where little is available to women other than thin plastic mattresses on the ground, and the only food they get is that brought in by relatives; or visiting one of the very, very few midwifery-led units in Brazil.
Of course, there is more to learn than just how people cope in adversity. In many countries we see extremely high quality services. The public health work in Cuba and Sri Lanka is exemplary. It’s also quite incredible how the private health system operates outside of the UK and Australia. We have seen hospitals which are totally state of the art but of course only available to a small segment of the population. That, of course, causes reflection amongst midwives as to the value of a system that is free to all at the point of access.
And I mentioned fun. The professional visits are always interesting, but can be fun too. I will never forget an afternoon in South Africa when, after a fairly formal beginning to a talk, we ended up demonstrating birth positions to each other on top of the large lecture room table; or the visits to charities where we were all up singing along with the kids and the maternity units where midwives sing in greeting.
But we have great fun as a group, too. This ranges from mojito sampling in Cuba, to washing elephants in Africa, to shops, shops and yet more shops in India, to viewing people’s wonderful photos of exotic birds in Brazil, to sleepless nights on overnight trains in Vietnam.
Perhaps the best thing I can say is, when we can travel again, ‘give one of the trips a try’. I can guarantee you will have fun and come back to work full of optimism.
And in the meantime, a special thank you to all the wonderful midwives and NHS staff for their dedication and commitment at this incredibly difficult time. We are all clapping for you.
Photo credits : Dru and Janeille Hodges