Mother to us all
The Birthing Project goes global
Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, the midwife who founded the Sacramento-based Birthing Project USA nearly two decades ago, is going where few activists have gone before: into remote Honduran villages, where the men still fish for food and the women still travel miles to cut and haul firewood for cooking.
Hall-Trujillo consistently has been expanding her efforts to improve health care in hard-to-reach places. Not even threats from the federal government can stop her. In the summer of 2005, after Hall-Trujillo carried medical supplies to Cuba in defiance of a U.S. trade embargo, she received a scary letter from the Department of the Treasury threatening her with a five-figure fine and prison time (See “To Cuba with love,” SN&R News, August 18, 2005).
“My attorney sent a letter to the treasury department within the required 30 days, stating that I had broken no laws,” she said. “I haven’t heard from them since.”
The Birthing Project is expanding partly due to an almost miraculous stroke of luck. One may have a better chance of getting struck by lightening, but Sacramento poet and storyteller Tchaka Muhammad, called the “founding father of the Birthing Project,” recently won the California lottery. His windfall was the Birthing Project’s gain. Muhammad donated two years of Hall-Trujillo’s salary, freeing her to leave the local Birthing Project clinic, where volunteers mentor pregnant women, and move to Las Vegas, NM, to spend more time on international programs. In no way, however, has her change of residence changed her commitment to civil rights, which was evident as early as high school, when she was jailed for protesting bigotry against African-Americans in her home state of Arkansas.
Hall-Trujillo originally founded the Birthing Project to improve infant-survival rates among African-American families in Sacramento. When she realized that even the small island of Cuba had a higher percentage of healthy babies than the United States, she began partnering with their medical professionals.
Around three years ago, Hall-Trujillo met Dr. Luther Castillo Harry, a 30-year-old student at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. Reared in a Garifuna community in Honduras, Castillo-Harry explained how little access rural Hondurans had to health care. Fascinated by a community of 12,000 Garifuna living in the remote community of Ciriboya, along the Caribbean coast, Hall-Trujillo became the volunteer health administrator for the Honduras medical project.
According to the CIA’s 2007 World Factbook, Honduras’ infant-mortality rate is 25.21 deaths per 1,000 births. Cuba and the Unites States have rates of 6.04 and 6.37 deaths per 1,000 births, respectively.
Hall-Trujillo and seven other volunteers from various backgrounds planned to leave Sacramento in late May for their fourth trip to rural Honduras. Upon arriving, Hall-Trujillo planned to continue her training of 56 midwives from seven Honduran villages.
One of the volunteers, Joel Carr, is majoring in nursing and business management at Sacramento City College. He said he’s looking forward to using his Spanish and English language skills to translate, and expects to be busy distributing donated supplies of aspirin, condoms, pre-natal vitamins, saline solution, slings and syringes.
Volunteers also will teach the Garifuna women to use 30 solar cookers (cocina solars) donated by Sacramento developer Sotiris Kolokotronis. The cookers can simplify meals and water purification significantly.
The Birthing Project isn’t alone in its efforts. They join the California Honduras Institute for Medical Education Support, founded by Bill Camp, Sacramento Central Labor Council’s executive secretary, and Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer.
The crown jewel of the medical project is a new, two-story health clinic with exam rooms being built in Ciriboya—its first ever. The project could be completed as early as November 2007.
“We are strengthening our sense of extended family with these people with whom we have so much in common,” Hall-Trujillo said.