When I first meet Furaha, she is at her home in Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda. She’s surrounded by her six beautiful children. Ranging from newborn to age 12, they appear to be a very tight-knit family. I am immediately struck by how gentle and kindhearted Furaha is as she interacts with and tends to her children. She tells me her name means “happy,” and it seems fitting.
At first impression, Furaha seems young and lighthearted. But as she shares her story, I come to understand she has overcome a great deal of hardship.
At just 29 years old, Furaha is a strong, independent and resourceful woman. She’s also a mother taking care of a large family on her own in the middle of a refugee settlement.
This is the story she told me.
The Pillar of Her Family
Furaha Aline is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was a young woman, married with three small children when rebels came to her home. Her husband was taken and killed during the night. Knowing her family was in extreme danger, she ran from her home and boarded a bus with her children to cross the border into Uganda. She had been told by neighbors it would be safer there. Furaha moves on quickly from this obviously painful part of her story, fast forwarding to her life in Uganda.
In Uganda, Furaha eventually remarried and had two more children. To earn a living, she would go to the lake shore to buy and clean fish to sell. She’d bring some home for her family to eat too. Her small house is next to a dirt road, with little useable space for a garden or farming.
With grief in her eyes, Furaha shares how her husband abandoned her late in her last pregnancy. He left for another woman. She explains how challenging it is to earn a living wage in the settlement. It’s impossible to make the food last all the way through the month for her large family.
“I’m just struggling. It’s a really big challenge. No one helps me. Right now, I don’t have any money. I’m not sure what I’m going to eat.”
As Furaha speaks, she lovingly cradles her newborn baby girl, Salama. The rest of her children stay close by her side. Salama is beautiful – and very tiny – having been born two months prematurely.
Even as Furaha describes the hardship of her current situation, her face lights up when she looks at Salama. She tears up with (what I interpret as) a combination of joy and disbelief that both she and Salama are alive today. Just three weeks earlier, Furaha’s life had been in grave danger,
“It was a real problem, the way I delivered Salama, because I almost lost my life and she also almost lost her life.”
Furaha had believed she would die. She had believed that her baby would also die. And, she had been terrified that her other five children would be left alone.
A Mother’s Greatest Fear
Furaha recounts the harrowing experience of Salama’s birth. “One evening I was having a lot of abdominal pain. Since I was alone, I went to my uncle for help and he took me to the health center. I was bleeding and losing a lot of blood.” At just eight months pregnant, Furaha knew it was too soon to have her baby.
At the Medical Teams health clinic, a midwife examined Furaha and found that she was in premature labor. She was also diagnosed with umbilical cord prolapse – an uncommon but potentially fatal emergency. During labor and delivery, this dangerous condition can result in a loss of oxygen to the baby, and long-term harm or death for the unborn child.
“The nurses tried to give me fluids, but I was just getting worse,” she explains. “It was a very scary moment. I thought I will not survive. I am dying. My biggest worry was my children. The children would suffer greatly. I told the midwife, I am only eight months pregnant, I am already bleeding, my baby has already died. Please help me. The nurse said she would do everything in her power to help me.”
Critically ill and in pain, Furaha was in and out of consciousness. She was rushed by ambulance to the Medical Teams operating room. There, a skilled surgeon quickly performed an emergency C-section.
Furaha remembers feeling certain she was dying. She was terrified her children would not survive being left alone,
“I’m going to die. What will happen to my children, the ones that I’ve left at home?”
Tears come to my own eyes and I realize I am holding my breath. Furaha is voicing a mother’s worst fears. Around the world so many mothers, including myself, share these same fears – of leaving their children parentless. A mother’s love for her children is universal. In Furaha’s words, “My children are my hope. I am living because of my children.”
Peace, Gratitude and Hope for the Future
Thankfully, Furaha’s worst fears were not realized – her surgery was a success. Baby Salama was born safely and both mother and baby recovered in very good condition.
Furaha chose the name Salama, meaning “peace.” She describes the peace and joy she felt the moment she first saw Salama, “When I woke up and saw Salama was alive, I was so happy. I felt very grateful to the health workers. I just said God is really great because I wouldn’t imagine myself being alive with my baby beside me.”
Furaha wasn’t expecting to live, but the surgery saved her and her baby, and ultimately her family.
“After I was discharged, I returned to the health center for removal of my stitches. I met the (first) nurse who had helped me. She was very surprised that I had lived. She said, ‘we thank God for your life.’”
Furaha is incredibly grateful for the care Medical Teams staff provided. She looks forward to telling Salama her story, “I will be telling Salama to love God mostly and that also she should love the medical workers because they are the people who saved her life.” She says she will not stop continuously thanking God and believes Salama is special.
“I love all of my children, but this one is special because I almost lost my life but was restored to life again…I will continue thanking God for saving Salama and the doctors who saved her and me because we almost lost our lives. And I pray that God helps Salama grow up to become a future doctor or midwife, so that she can start saving the lives of future people.”
Together, we peer down at baby Salama and at this exact moment, her perfect heart-shaped lips twitch and she appears to smile. We smile, too, in recognition of this beautiful sign from above.
Jenna Degen Medical Teams Director of Marketing & Communications
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This post was originally published on Medical Teams International.