Education relies on communication. When working with non-literate people whose native language differs from the teacher’s, quality communication is challenging. In our matrone training project, we have two groups of trainees who speak two entirely different languages – Wodaabe who speak Fulfulde and Tuareg who speak Tamasheq. In school, Nigerien children learn French from a young age, while in the market and cities, many people learn Hausa. None of our matrones speaks French; many of the Wodaabe speak fair Hausa. No one has attended school or speaks English. Enter Leslie, who speaks French and some Fulfulde, then Pat and me. Pat and I both have a good grasp of English and a smattering of obstetrical Spanish. The crater between us and our trainees is immediately obvious and enormous! We are always at least two languages away.
On past missions, we have relied on simulations, pictorial guides, films in French and Hausa (that could be paused for interpretation by educated nomads), and laborious translations from our English to Leslie’s French to an educated Nigerien’s Tamasheq and/or Hausa. (Very few of our interpreters speak Fulfulde.) This is inefficient and surely fraught with many details lost in translation. We have never had to opportunity to simply sit and chat with our trainees, given we need at least two other people to assist with any conversation. Despite these limitations, our messages have gotten through and we have developed strong bonds with the matrones who have gone out to do important and incredible work.
This year’s mission was our most successful to date and a major difference was in our ability to communicate. We finally found interpreters who spoke English and the nomad languages. This was an enormous advance allowing in-depth communication and vastly improved efficiency and quality of information transfer. Two other major leaps were the introduction of a comprehensive pictorial guide developed and produced by Pat. We used this in reviewing antenatal care, normal labor & birth, newborn care, and complications. Each matrone received a copy of the laminated folding guide to care and a laminated check list of the supplies she needs for her bag to provide antenatal care or to deliver a baby. We already have ideas for refining and expanding the guide based on its reception but it was enormously helpful. When we presented it, one of the trainers reported that she had been asked for such a document – voila! There it was.
Another improvement in communication remains a work in progress but was met with immense success. This is dubbing the educational films we use into Tamasheq and Fulfulde. We use around 10 short films from the libraries of Global Health Media and Medical Aid Films. Global Health Media has enthusiastically assisted us in our efforts to translate their scripts and rerecord the soundtracks in nomadic languages. This work has been undertaken by John Massey, Leslie, and Pat with the help of several Nigeriens (see Leslie’s earlier blog). Our hope is to create a library that to be used by our trainers and potentially other speakers of these dialects. It is a huge step towards giving nomads the tools they need to continue the project independently.
The last improvement is in the relationships between our matrones and the birth centers where they transfer their patients. There are primary birth centers in Ingall and Iferouane where matrones may take patients who are unsafe for home birth or for whom complications arise. The midwives and staff at these centers communicated well with us and conveyed a sense of trust and collaboration with the matrones. This is key to saving lives at birth and another step towards the establishment of a locally-managed safe motherhood project.