A song to increase health awareness and social issues in Mkushi, Zambia

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Bumping our way down a dirt track, we glimpsed a gathering of orange t-shirts through the trees and as we stepped out of the car the air was filled with song.

‘SMAG forward twibwelela numa,
SMAG forward cacine ee,
Twalisalile fwebene,
Twalisalile nokubomba,
Twalisalile nokwenda,
twalisalile nokubomela community’

‘SMAG it forward and don’t turn back,
SMAG it forward its true,
We chose ourselves,
we chose to work,
we chose to walk,
and we chose to work for the community.’

I was with the MORE MaMaZ team on a fieldwork trip to rural villages in Mkushi, Zambia and I was helping out with data gathering. ‘Data’… ‘fieldwork’… ‘maternal and newborn health’… and so on, are words that emphasise the serious, evidence-based nature of the MORE MaMaZ programme. And indeed it is rigorous, lifesaving work, which aims to increase the use of maternal and newborn health services among rural communities across five Zambian districts. However, during my visits to these villages that MORE MaMaZ has been working in, I saw a side to the programme that logframes, reports and statistics struggle to capture; I saw the joy and the passion involved in work that is about saving lives and bringing new life.

We walked towards the group of Safe Motherhood Action Group volunteer villagers in their vibrant orange T-shirts and I was touched by their warm greeting as their singing grew louder. The men and women’s welcoming smiles and beautiful voices demonstrated the strong relationship they have with the MORE MaMaZ team, emphasised further as the MORE MaMaZ team joined in with the songs and dancing.

zambia-corner-pic-newsletterAnd as I watched, despite my lack of Bemba language comprehension, their singing took on further poignant significance. They danced around the circle, now holding their heads, now gesturing to their backs and making other coordinated actions and I realised that these were the maternal danger signs – we had moved seamlessly from a traditional welcome into an element of MORE MaMaZ itself and I was seeing the programme’s ‘communication body tools’ (key messages are represented by a gesture or ‘pose’ that helps participants remember the associated message) and the words were set to a beautiful, local song.

Yes, the MORE MaMaZ programme is absolutely about increasing health awareness and addressing health service access as well as underlying social issues, but in that moment of watching the singing, dancing and actions, it felt like more than that; it seemed to be a celebration of health, of women and of a community working together.

‘SMAG forward twibwelela numa, SMAG forward cacine ee, twalisalile fwebene,
Twalisalile nokumba, twalisalile nokwenda, twalisalile nokubombela community
Iyo yalila yaba SMAGs’

‘SMAG its forward and don’t turn back, SMAG it’s forward it’s true, we chose ourselves,
We chose to work , We chose to walk and we chose to work for the community
That one is playing for the SMAGs’

(All translations by Ernest Chanda, MORE MAMaZ District Programme Officer)

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte Mitchell is a trained public health researcher and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist with wide ranging UK and international experience in qualitative and mixed methods approaches. She has an MSc in Public Health Research from the University of Edinburgh, UK and has experience of working with a range of NGOs/CSOs and public sector bodies. Charlotte currently works as a Technical Coordinator and Health Specialist for Health Partners International.

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