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Onize Ohikere

Florence Pwana at a Traffina event in Abuja (Onize Ohikere)


Nurses on the fly

Some rural women in Nigeria get training to aid mothers in labor

Florence Pwana saw a disturbing but unsurprising sight when she walked into an empty makeshift tent at the Shuwai 2 camp for internally displaced people. The camp rests along the outskirts of Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria’s Borno state. Hours earlier, a resident at the camp helped to deliver a baby in the tent, and some of the camp’s residents showed Pwana the exact location where the woman lay on the floor, traces of blood still visible.

Shuwai 2, which is not registered under the state government, has no health dispensary: The nearest health facility is about 60 miles away. Pwana, a volunteer project officer with the Traffina Foundation for Community Health, said the birth attendant had no prior experience besides handling her own births.

In the town of Bwari along the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, Traffina volunteer Janet Yunana witnessed similar events. Yunana said local birth attendants sometimes lay expectant mothers on the floor or on plastic bags during delivery. “We’ve seen a woman who gave birth on her own, and she was using a broken bottle to separate the cord from her and the child.”

According to the World Health Organization and the UN, Nigeria has the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate and the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world. At least 50 percent of the country’s estimated 190 million people live in rural areas. In many of these regions, many women give birth either alone or with the aid of attendants whose qualifications are their own home deliveries.

Health workers trying to tackle the crisis realized blocking off these traditional birth attendants (TBAs) would only leave more women without assistance. Some are opting instead to train the TBAs as a midpoint solution until Nigeria’s healthcare system becomes efficient.

Lois Ahmed, one of the traditional birth attendants in Bwari, became the go-to birth attendant in her community after she delivered five of her six children herself. Ahmed said she began to offer her services long before her Kogo village received a government-run primary health center.

Most times, her method is simple: Once she receives a call, Ahmed checks if the cervix is “open” and begins the delivery. When the baby emerges, she cuts the placenta, then cleans and feeds the baby. Ahmed urges mothers to go to the clinic by morning. If a woman who calls her still has some time before labor, Ahmed sends her to the hospital.

The details of the TBA process vary. Jumai Solomon, another TBA, said she uses a razor blade to cut umbilical cords. Pwana said she has seen other TBAs use a piece of thread, which could either get contaminated or loosen, in place of a cord clamp.

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Zion Church

Zion Church in Beijing (Zion Church)


House hunters

A government campaign against house churches hits Christians in Beijing

At the 10th anniversary of the founding of Beijing’s Zion Church in 2017, the church’s multimedia team edited together clips from the church’s first Sunday with 50 members, its recent megachurch-style worship service, views of Beijing skyscrapers, and scenes from Jesus movies all set to a dramatic soundtrack. The video told the story of how a modest house church grew to one of the largest unregistered churches in the country: Each Sunday about 1,600 worshippers attend one of 14 services spread across Zion’s eight locations, the video’s deep-voiced narrator announced.

Zion’s size and openness is extraordinary in a country where only churches under the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement are legally recognized. Zion’s address is searchable online, and its pastor readily gives interviews to foreign media. When I asked for photos of the church, he sent me to a multimedia room with computers and a small video studio set up. It boggled my mind that I was inside a “house church.”

Yet the freedom Zion has enjoyed for the past decade is coming to an end. Since the government implemented new religious regulations in February, authorities have targeted Zion, pressuring its leaders and church members to stop meeting. And Zion isn’t alone: Other prominent churches as well as areas with large numbers of Christians like Henan province are also feeling the squeeze.

With salt-and-pepper hair and eyes that disappeared into crinkles each time he laughed, Pastor Ezra Jin offered me a cup of iced coffee from the church’s coffee shop before sitting down on his office couch to describe the recent government attacks on his church. On his crowded bookshelves and desk sat theology books in English, Chinese, and Korean, as Jin is one of 2 million ethnic Koreans in China.

‘If we search for a new place, it’ll be the same: The Party is in control of it all. We will be homeless.’ —Ezra Jin

Since its humble beginnings in May 2007, Zion has met little resistance from the government and grew in relative freedom. Five years ago, church leaders rented the 25,800-square-foot space they currently meet in and invested $608,000 into renovating the church.

The trouble began on April 10, when the building’s landlord, the Beijing Property Management Company, informed the church that it would install surveillance cameras in the church’s two auditoriums and its corridors to ensure fire safety and prevent overcrowding. The church agreed to have the cameras installed in the hallways, but refused to put cameras in the sanctuary.

“We can’t allow this because it is disrespectful to religion and violates individual privacy,” Jin said. Chinese church leaders fear the government will use the surveillance cameras to monitor who attends the church and what the pastor preaches, which it could later use as evidence against them. Last year, Wenzhou Christians were in an uproar when local officials forced churches to install cameras inside the churches: Some blocked police from entering the church, and others installed the cameras but either pointed them toward the ceiling or cut the power lines.

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Jennifer Smith/Unearthed Photography

Clean Slate employees at work (Jennifer Smith/Unearthed Photography)


Let’s clean up this town!

Homeless residents pick up trash—and life skills—in Texas city

The sun is rising over south Fort Worth. The tinny “clink” of soda cans hitting the pavement, jettisoned from trash in a dumpster, and the thundering sound of trash bins rolling across asphalt make it hard to hear Nicole, the litter crew supervisor for Clean Slate. Nicole is quiet, serious, and reserved—no nonsense.

She’s easy to spot in her day-glow yellow work vest; I follow her through the humid streets surrounding Presbyterian Night Shelter, picking up fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts, discarded grocery sacks, and the like. Unopened boxes of raisins, sleeves of crackers, and feminine hygiene products pepper the median, castoffs from well-intentioned care packages for the homeless.

“Don’t mess with Texas” isn’t just a catchy slogan. Wide open spaces that collect debris and wind that blows trash out of dumpsters and trash cans—not to mention people who throw trash out of cars as they drive down interstates that crisscross the city—make litter a real problem in this area near downtown Fort Worth. And litter is a lot like graffiti; if it’s not addressed quickly, the problem will grow.

“Every day we’re picking up tons—literally tons—of litter that is illegally dumped. Like 4,000 tons of miscellaneous litter, so if you weigh out a potato chip bag, and you equate out how much a potato chip bag weighs to make 4,000 tons, that’s a lot of litter,” said Brandon Bennett, director of Fort Worth Code Compliance, who manages the contract with Clean Slate.

Besides Nicole, my co-workers for the morning are Alan and Donny, ex-cons who are dealing with homelessness and serve on litter duty three days a week, four hours a day, to earn meals and a bunk at the shelter. Unlike Alan and Donny, who are part of the vocational program of Presbyterian Night Shelter, Nicole and other employees of the shelter’s Clean Slate program earn cash for their work. Nicole has been with the program for a year and a half and has moved into her own housing, but many employees stay at the shelter for a period of four to six months, until they’ve saved enough to find an apartment of their own.

Clean Slate is a for-profit business operating within the nonprofit Presbyterian Night Shelter. It falls under the umbrella of “social enterprise,” a growing segment of businesses that donate a portion of revenue into charitable efforts. In the case of Clean Slate, the company bids on contracts, offering litter, janitorial, or other staffing services—primarily hotel maids—and is able to reinvest some of its profits into its parent organization, the homeless shelter. In 2017, Clean Slate donated 7.5 percent of its revenue to Presbyterian Night Shelter; the remainder went to paying employees and covering operating expenses.

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