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Lighting the way to safer births in Mozambique

The solar suitcases were loaded into a shipping container in July 2021, but due to COVID-related shipping delays, reached their final desination of Mozambique at the end of December.

January 10, 2022

By Janice Biehn

Moms and babies in rural Mozambique will get a better chance at a healthy birth, thanks to a PWRDF campaign that ran last year from May 1 until October 31, 2021. The Light For Every Birth project reunited PWRDF with the Mozambican health organization EHALE, and We Care Solar in California to bring solar electricity to 50 healthcare clinics. After several months aboard a container ship from California due to COVID-related delays, across the Pacific to Mozambique, the suitcases finally arrived in Nampula at the end of December. They are being distributed and installed.

The success of this project started in 2016. PWRDF was embarking on a historic four-year maternal, newborn and child health program funded by donors and the Government of Canada with a 6:1 match. One of the successes in year one of the program, known as All Mothers and Children Count, was the installation of 30 “solar suitcases” in rural health clinics in Mozambique. The hard plastic boxes open like a suitcase, are installed on the wall of a clinic, then connected to a solar panel mounted to the roof. Bright, plentiful sunshine flows into the panel and the suitcase, powering a headlamp, a ceiling light, phone charging ports and a fetal Doppler.

Over the years since these suitcases were installed, PWRDF’s Mozambique partners saw a dramatic increase in
healthy births during the night, and greater acceptance of going to the clinics to have a trained birth attendant. The suitcases are still in perfect working condition. Any repairs that were required were easily made by those who had been trained in 2016.

“People, after they see what the solar suitcases have done to other communities and their impact, they call me and say ‘you have to protect us, you have to bring a solar suitcase to us,” said Olinda Magaia, Executive Director at EHALE. Magaia joined PWRDF for a Zoom celebration of the program’s success, and with former Director of Development Partnerships Zaida Bastos translating, she spoke about the excitement for the new suitcases to be installed.

The video supporting our campaign was viewed on YouTube and Facebook more than 2,500 times.

As there was no government match for this program, PWRDF had to be more creative in its approach to fundraising. The cost of each solar suitcase, including shipping and taxes, was roughly $5,800, for a total project budget of $290,000. The fact that it was the middle of the pandemic even added to the challenge.

Many supporters took advantage of a new crowd funding feature offered by PWRDF. On the occasion of her 70th birthday, the president of the Board,Valerie Maier, raised more than enough for one suitcase. A couple from Hamilton, John and Deborah Bowen, marked their 50th wedding anniversary by encouraging friends and family to donate to the cause.They raised enough to buy two solar suitcases.

A matching grant of $100,000 from an anonymous donor encouraged many others to support the campaign knowing that their contributions would be doubled. The Diocese of Toronto, a big supporter for the original All Mothers and Children Count program, came to the table again, this time with a grant from FaithWorks for $10,000.

Support from churches

Many churches took up the cause as well. PWRDF Parish Representative Dianne Lambert, from St. Thomas Anglican Church in Morden, Man., suggested to Vestry that the parish focus on a specific PWRDF need. Vestry agreed and St. Thomas donated $1,100. St. John’s East Orangeville, a small but mighty parish in Caledon, raised $11,600, enough for two suitcases. Warden Mark Hauck, also a PWRDF board member, credits clergy leadership and having a campaign with a beginning, middle and end.

“We started in late June by deciding at the parish leadership to undertake this,” says Hauck. “We provided information on a Bristol board display in the church and answered any questions from the parish.” Near the middle, they invited PWRDF Executive Director Will Postma to speak. “We were able to gather outside and he answered even more questions.” Toward the end, the local newspaper picked up the story. “They published a Q&A with our priest, Archdeacon Elizabeth Hardy, and also invited people outside the church to give.”

PWRDF also designated its funds from this year’s Ride for Refuge to the Light for Every Birth project, bringing in just over $50,000. Out of the 75 charities that participated across Canada, PWRDF was ranked 10th, with 66 participants spread across 15 teams coast to coast.

Some participants did the classic 25 km bike ride through wet weather conditions. Others hiked, walked and crocheted baby blankets. Primate Linda Nicholls returned with her ever popular Hymn Sing, raising more than $3,800. PWRDF’s Volunteer Coordinator, Kim Umbach, ran all 42.2 kilometres of the virtual Boston Marathon in support of this year’s ride, after training all summer.