Julia Kelley served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar from April 2019 to March 2020 as a community health worker. Although all of the Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated due to the coronavirus pandemic, Julia spent nearly one full year on the beautiful red island, Iarintsena, the community where she lived and worked, and employed two certified midwives who served the surrounding 20,000 people.
While the midwives made frequent trips to the surrounding rural villages, many women walked half a day to the health center in order to receive care. Julia’s work was to support these incredible midwives, teaching prenatal classes, tracking the weight of newborns, and transporting vaccines. Specifically, Julia and one of the midwives planned and implemented a pregnancy care group, following small groups of women throughout their pregnancy. They met every month and discussed danger signs during pregnancy, nutrition, and postpartum care. When Julia was evacuated from Madagascar, she and a local middle school teacher were in the middle of designing a youth reproductive health curriculum. Her counterpart continued their work after Julia left, and is currently teaching reproductive health classes in the Iarintsena middle school.
Julia’s experience in Madagascar made her feel ready to take on any challenge, including the challenge of nursing school. The work of the medical staff at the health clinic in Iarintsena inspired her journey in choosing specifically to become a nurse-midwife. In Madagascar, she saw that the work of a nurse-midwife is more than just the glory of birth. It is a commitment to caring for women across their lifespan, promoting an individual’s right to self-determination, and providing cost-effective healthcare. Madagascar has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, mostly due to lack of resources and access to healthcare. Midwives do the hard work to change this statistic and in the process, form the backbone of communities in Madagascar.