Book bid to raise funds for Malawi midwife’s mission to give women and babies a chance of survival

Scottish midwife Linda McDonald pictured in Malawi

Scottish midwife Linda McDonald pictured in Malawi

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THE story is a familiar one to Linda McDonald. A story of death and disease, of poverty and orphans, of the generosity of spirit of caring relatives and strangers, and ultimately of love.

It’s the kind of story she’s seen and heard for seven years, since she first travelled from Edinburgh to Malawi to witness the appalling conditions in which babies were being born and in which they died.

Now it’s a story which will be shared with thousands of children, as Linda’s brother-in-law, the award-winning author and poet Tom Pow, has captured the essence of life in a Malawi village and turned it into a beautiful, wistful book, When The Rains Came, to raise money for the MUMs charity.

The paperback tells the story of three orphaned children, twins Oscar and Jennifer and baby Grace, who are taken to live with grandmother Rose by Beatrice the midwife, and how they are comforted by the animal fables she tells at bedtime.

It is aimed at making children in the UK more aware of how tough life can be for their counterparts in ­Africa, and how a little kindness can go a long way.

“It’s a lovely book, a lovely story, but sadly all too true,” says Linda. “The children are based on children who I have met, and there are incidents like the rain coming through the thatched roof which I had to help deal with. And Beatrice is very real and is still working very hard. I used to drive her around taking milk to mothers as she had to do it all on bike. I can’t wait to give her a copy of the book.”

Linda adds: “These are stories which I told to my sister Julie and her husband Tom, and they decided to come out to Malawi to see first-hand the work of the charity, and for Tom it was a trip which inspired him to write the book.”

Certainly it’s been Linda’s 
inspiration, which has changed the lives of Malawian women and their children for the better. Ever since the 52-year-old midwife, who works at the Simpson Maternity Unit at Edinbugh’s Royal Infirmary, first heard about the plight of the poverty-stricken country, she’s been determined to help.

That was back in 2005 when working a nightshift, colleagues who’d been out to Malawi showed her photographs of what they’d seen and gave first-hand accounts of the poverty and distress suffered by pregnant women in a country where one woman every week dies through childbirth, four or five babies die every day and one in eight don’t make it to a year.

Linda knew she had to go to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe and see for herself. And at Bwaila, known locally as the maternity hospital from hell, she was shocked at the reek of death and disease at the most ill-equipped, dirty and under-staffed maternity unit she had ever seen. It was coping with 12,000 deliveries per year with only two qualified obstetricians on hand.

“It’s one thing being told about the problems and another thing being there,” says Linda. “What I saw the first time I was there will never leave me. I remember the smell was the first thing to hit and then the number of people. Women were being put on black bin bags on a bed with a piece of cloth, giving birth and then having a cold shower afterwards.”

She adds: “You would see the babies dying, see them lying dead in the nursery. It’s very raw. They die every day, or struggle and you know they’re going to die. It’s just accepted, and the mothers are so vulnerable and quiet. They don’t question, there is no screaming or shouting. There is a complete acceptance of their raw deal.”

On her return to her South Gyle home, she and her husband Iain launched the charity Malawi Underprivileged Mums (MUMs), putting together the first of three recipe books and a calendar, as well as printing tea towels, which have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds. Out of that, £100,000 went to the building of a new high-risk maternity unit which opened last year; £25,000 to the building of a Wellness Centre for health workers with HIV; £30,000 towards a health programme to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child; and thousands more to provide a permanent shelter where children can be fed with high-nutrition food, and an emergency ambulance.

One of the first changes Linda made, though, was just to donate a fridge to the hospital, where dead babies could be stored before being buried. Before, they were discarded in the hospital sluice.

“The contrast between here and there... there is just no way to compare,” she says.

The Bwaila hospital no longer exists thanks in part to Linda’s work – as well as the work done through the Scottish Malawi Co-operation Agreement signed by the two countries’ governments and the Tom Hunter/Bill Clinton Foundation – but she continues to go back to check up on the work being funded by MUMs.

“When you go to Malawi, it’s something you can’t do once. I’m in it for the long term. I never thought seven years ago I would get to this point. What you have got to do is work with them, suggest things. You can’t do it all for them, but you have to keep going back so they know that you haven’t forgotten about them.

“The new hospital has been tremendous. It’s much bigger, there are three theatres, individual rooms, and women feel more worthy just walking through the door.

“But we had a ten-year plan. The first five years were focused on the care of the mothers, now we’re 
focused on infant care. I’m going back out in October to see how things are progressing in terms of the feeding stations out in the villages, which are feeding 300 malnourished children under the age of six every week with phala, a special porridge.

“All it costs is £80 to feed 100 children phala three times a week.”

Which is where the new book comes in. “Something to sell for Christmas,” laughs Linda. “We didn’t do a recipe book last year, and this is something different. It’s wonderful, and I’m glad Tom wrote it.”

Tom, who worked with illustrator Malika Favre (she also drew the opening titles to the televised series of McCall Smith’s books) on the book, adds: “I had travelled through Africa before so I had a feel for the place already, but going out with Linda and Julie refreshed that for me. It was a wonderful trip. I wasn’t shocked by the poverty, but you see people in very difficult circumstances but at the same time finding pleasure in such simple things and a genuine feeling of making the most of what you have.

“I hope that comes across in the story. The children obviously have a complex story where parents have died, but I didn’t go into that, as I wanted the story to be about what happens after that, how these children are taken in and nourished and allowed to grow.”

n When The Rains Came by Tom Pow is published by Polygon, priced £6.99. It will be out on September 6 and available in all good book shops and through {http:// THE story is a familiar one to Linda McDonald. A story of death and disease, of poverty and orphans, of the generosity of spirit of caring relatives and strangers, and ultimately of love.

It’s the kind of story she’s seen and heard for seven years, since she first travelled from Edinburgh to Malawi to witness the appalling conditions in which babies were being born and in which they died.

Now it’s a story which will be shared with thousands of children, as Linda’s brother-in-law, the award-winning author and poet Tom Pow, has captured the essence of life in a Malawi village and turned it into a beautiful, wistful book, When The Rains Came, to raise money for the MUMs charity.

The paperback tells the story of three orphaned children, twins Oscar and Jennifer and baby Grace, who are taken to live with grandmother Rose by Beatrice the midwife, and how they are comforted by the animal fables she tells at bedtime.

It is aimed at making children in the UK more aware of how tough life can be for their counterparts in ­Africa, and how a little kindness can go a long way.

“It’s a lovely book, a lovely story, but sadly all too true,” says Linda. “The children are based on children who I have met, and there are incidents like the rain coming through the thatched roof which I had to help deal with. And Beatrice is very real and is still working very hard. I used to drive her around taking milk to mothers as she had to do it all on bike. I can’t wait to give her a copy of the book.”

Linda adds: “These are stories which I told to my sister Julie and her husband Tom, and they decided to come out to Malawi to see first-hand the work of the charity, and for Tom it was a trip which inspired him to write the book.”

Certainly it’s been Linda’s 
inspiration, which has changed the lives of Malawian women and their children for the better. Ever since the 52-year-old midwife, who works at the Simpson Maternity Unit at Edinbugh’s Royal Infirmary, first heard about the plight of the poverty-stricken country, she’s been determined to help.

That was back in 2005 when working a nightshift, colleagues who’d been out to Malawi showed her photographs of what they’d seen and gave first-hand accounts of the poverty and distress suffered by pregnant women in a country where one woman every week dies through childbirth, four or five babies die every day and one in eight don’t make it to a year.

Linda knew she had to go to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe and see for herself. And at Bwaila, known locally as the maternity hospital from hell, she was shocked at the reek of death and disease at the most ill-equipped, dirty and under-staffed maternity unit she had ever seen. It was coping with 12,000 deliveries per year with only two qualified obstetricians on hand.

“It’s one thing being told about the problems and another thing being there,” says Linda. “What I saw the first time I was there will never leave me. I remember the smell was the first thing to hit and then the number of people. Women were being put on black bin bags on a bed with a piece of cloth, giving birth and then having a cold shower afterwards.”

She adds: “You would see the babies dying, see them lying dead in the nursery. It’s very raw. They die every day, or struggle and you know they’re going to die. It’s just accepted, and the mothers are so vulnerable and quiet. They don’t question, there is no screaming or shouting. There is a complete acceptance of their raw deal.”

On her return to her South Gyle home, she and her husband Iain launched the charity Malawi Underprivileged Mums (MUMs), putting together the first of three recipe books and a calendar, as well as printing tea towels, which have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds. Out of that, £100,000 went to the building of a new high-risk maternity unit which opened last year; £25,000 to the building of a Wellness Centre for health workers with HIV; £30,000 towards a health programme to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child; and thousands more to provide a permanent shelter where children can be fed with high-nutrition food, and an emergency ambulance.

One of the first changes Linda made, though, was just to donate a fridge to the hospital, where dead babies could be stored before being buried. Before, they were discarded in the hospital sluice.

“The contrast between here and there... there is just no way to compare,” she says.

The Bwaila hospital no longer exists thanks in part to Linda’s work – as well as the work done through the Scottish Malawi Co-operation Agreement signed by the two countries’ governments and the Tom Hunter/Bill Clinton Foundation – but she continues to go back to check up on the work being funded by MUMs.

“When you go to Malawi, it’s something you can’t do once. I’m in it for the long term. I never thought seven years ago I would get to this point. What you have got to do is work with them, suggest things. You can’t do it all for them, but you have to keep going back so they know that you haven’t forgotten about them.

“The new hospital has been tremendous. It’s much bigger, there are three theatres, individual rooms, and women feel more worthy just walking through the door.

“But we had a ten-year plan. The first five years were focused on the care of the mothers, now we’re 
focused on infant care. I’m going back out in October to see how things are progressing in terms of the feeding stations out in the villages, which are feeding 300 malnourished children under the age of six every week with phala, a special porridge.

“All it costs is £80 to feed 100 children phala three times a week.”

Which is where the new book comes in. “Something to sell for Christmas,” laughs Linda. “We didn’t do a recipe book last year, and this is something different. It’s wonderful, and I’m glad Tom wrote it.”

Tom, who worked with illustrator Malika Favre (she also drew the opening titles to the televised series of McCall Smith’s books) on the book, adds: “I had travelled through Africa before so I had a feel for the place already, but going out with Linda and Julie refreshed that for me. It was a wonderful trip. I wasn’t shocked by the poverty, but you see people in very difficult circumstances but at the same time finding pleasure in such simple things and a genuine feeling of making the most of what you have.

“I hope that comes across in the story. The children obviously have a complex story where parents have died, but I didn’t go into that, as I wanted the story to be about what happens after that, how these children are taken in and nourished and allowed to grow.”

n When The Rains Came by Tom Pow is published by Polygon, priced £6.99. It will be out on September 6 and available in all good book shops and through www.mumsrecipes.org – as are the MUMs recipe bookswww.mumsrecipes.org – as are the MUMs recipe books

TIES DATE BACK TO LIVINGSTONE

Scotland has long had ties with Malawi dating back to the work of Scottish missionary explorer Dr David Livingstone.

Livingstone went to southern Africa in 1841, exploring many unmapped parts and becoming the first known European to see the Victoria Falls, which he named for the British queen. By 1859 he had discovered Lake Malawi.

Both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland had established missions in Malawi by the mid-1870s and their missionaries persuaded the British Government to declare the area a British Protectorate. Malawi was finally granted full independence on July 6, 1964.

The Scottish Malawi Partnership, launched in 2004 by the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow, now stages conferences in the two cities bringing together representatives of Malawian and Scottish civil societies and governments.

Since the signing of the Scotland Malawi Co-operation Agreement, 58 projects have benefited from Scottish Government funding, including Mary’s Meals, which feeds Malawian pupils, and the Malawi Millennium Project, which delivers equipment to schools for visually impaired children.