ICEA in Kyrgyzstan

by Bonita Katz, BA RN ICCE ICBD IAT CLC

In November 2021, I was part of a team that traveled to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Shanna Bradley (ICCE candidate), Mary Swartzendruber, and I were invited by Crosslink Development International to teach community health workers about pregnancy, birth, and newborn care. Kyrgyzstan is a fascinating country located west of China, south of Russia, and north of India. It was on the historical Silk Road that linked the great eastern and western civilizations for centuries. After years as part of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan gained its independence in 1991. It is the second-poorest country in Central Asia today.

Throughout Central Asia, evidence-based care often takes second place to tradition and physician preferences. (And I’m sure we can all think of a few other places where that is the case!) We offered a dual workshop for both childbirth educators and birth doulas. The five-day training also included information on the menstrual cycle and fertility as well as bereavement, mental health, and breastfeeding. The women in the workshop were kind, generous, and eager to learn.

Teaching

As a person who is familiar with several European languages, it was challenging to be in a place where nothing sounded familiar, but there is always that universal language of smiles and hand-gestures. Demonstrating positions on the birth ball and ways to use a rebozo was a great icebreaker.

Listening

These women had received very little teaching on maternal mental health. Covering that topic opened up a whole new way of understanding for them. We took time to hear one another’s stories. So the Kyrgyz women were not the only ones who had something to learn. As we listened we gained new insights into how difficulties and grief are handled in another culture.

There are women everywhere on this planet that want to help other women – and to be especially helpful during their childbearing years. Cultural differences may seem to divide us, but the underlying care and concern for our families is one of those universal considerations that draws us together. I spent some time going over the International Childbirth Initiative (ICI). Because this comes from an international body and reflects international standards, it is respected. Sharing tools and information like this will help them improve the standards of care in their country.

I will be returning to Kyrgyzstan next month to teach another group. I am glad to represent an organization whose values are compassion, collaboration, and choice. ICEA is opening the doors for family-centered care all around the world.