“The Journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
— Lau Tzu, Chinese Philosopher
That inspirational quote has never rang more true than when considering the journey of thousands of successful women entrepreneurs around the world who started out with little more than a desire to provide the basic fundamental needs for their families.
Although female entrepreneurship has been steadily increasing over the last 10 or 15 years, there are still many hurdles to overcome. This is especially true for women in underprivileged communities here in the U.S. and abroad. While starting a new business is an uphill challenge for most budding entrepreneurs, for women living in poverty, it is often considered an impossible dream.
But seemingly insurmountable odds are no match for a woman with a burning passion to succeed.
It is in that gap, between the audacity of hope and the fulfilling of needs, that the Coca-Cola Company saw an opportunity to be of service.
I met Jabulile Tlhabane, 57, in a small woman-owned restaurant on a busy road in Alexandra Township located about 60 minutes outside Johannesburg depending on the time of day and traffic. Alexandra, or Alex as the locals call it, is home to over a million people even though its resident capacity is intended to be capped at 100,000. That means stresses are rife on Alexandra’s overcrowded citizens from a lack of adequate health facilities, increasing teenage pregnancies, largely unreported violence against women, drug abuse, and a general absence of jobs and opportunities.
Tlhabane is a longtime member of Rebecca’s Well, a small nonprofit that provides help and healing for women and girls in need as well as microfinance and enterprising skills. I met with Tlhabane to learn more about their work. Rebecca’s Well was started by a Boston woman, Sheila Wise Rowe, who now calls South Africa home with her family.
In the western hemisphere Haiti has the highest maternal mortality ratio at 380 deaths per 100,000 live births. While Jamaica only has 80 deaths per 100,000 live births in comparison, the number of maternal deaths is still too high for the small island nation.
Last week Jamaica’s Ministry of Health announced that it would train 1000 health workers within six months to drastically bring down the number of maternal deaths. The training — which is slated to begin in June — is also aimed at saving the lives of more newborns and children. The training program is a part of a four-year $2.8 billion European Union-funded Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC). In order to reach MDG 5, Jamaica would need to improve its MMR to 25 deaths per 100,000 live births.
At most hospitals in low-resource settings it is very unlikely that women would receive pain medication during labor. This is a problem, however, when women must receive emergency C-sections. While some administer general (inhaled) anesthesia, the spinal anesthesia poses more risks when there is no adequate training. However, doctors and researchers have shown that spinal anesthesia can be successfully given in low -resource settings with proper training.
Doctors and researchers from the non-profit, Kybele, Inc, have worked at Ridge Regional Hospital in Accra, Ghana, a regional referral hospital that has an estimated 8,000 births per year, many high-risk deliveries. Kybele, Inc began the MOMS (Making Obstetric Management Safer) program at Ridge Regional Hospital where they teach nurses practical skills for spinal or epidural anesthesia.