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Teaching in Multiple Languages

I was really curious how the teaching would go, knowing the women who were coming would be from at least three different countries. As it turned out we had women speaking four languages attend, but most of them knew at least Swahili. The funniest day was Sunday, when Flory hosted a church service for the women. Flory was speaking Swahili, and one of the women was translating for us. But five minutes into his teaching a woman from Rwanda jumped up and complained that the other Rwandans could not understand him. So he taught in Swahili, she stood next to him and translated it to Rwandeze and our dear friend Akyasu translated that into English for us.

Even trying to give them forms to use to keep track of information proved a challenge. I had to write it out in English, explain the meanings to Flory and Georgette, and they had to translate it into two languages so the women understood what was being asked of them. We used a makeshift chalk board to write things out so they could see it.

We learned very quickly that question and answer sessions would be more difficult than anticipated too. Georgette was fantastic in trying to translate questions for us, but the cultural differences made many of the solutions we knew to be impracticable for the women or offensive to their husbands. It was a very slow learning process, which we hope ended with the women feeling equipped to find their own solutions to their problems.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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