'I have so many babies named after me, I've lost track'
Meet three remarkable SA women who work for Doctors Without Borders
There are scores of children in war-torn countries sporting the name Zani, in tribute to the Johannesburg-based midwife who introduced them to the world.
Working as a midwife for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has taken Zani Prinsloo to countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Kenya and Greece, where she has delivered about 1,500 babies in six years.“I have so many babies named after me, I’ve lost track. I believe most of them are now in school. I think it’s basically the mothers’ way of thanking me, especially those with have been ill or had difficult births.
“For me, it’s a huge honour.”She’s been able to track their progress through pictures that her Doctors Without Borders colleagues, still working in those countries, send to her.Over the years Prinsloo has learnt to deliver healthy babies with limited resources, especially in conflict-ridden areas.
“In Afghanistan especially, the women have between seven to eight children. They don’t have access to proper family planning and don’t have much say over their sexual reproductive health.
“They often say because of the war, they need to replace the family members they lost, so they have more children. But they also love big families; to them children are wealth.”
Prinsloo said she trusted her organisation when it came to safety.
“I’m keeping my mother on her knees when I travel to conflict-ridden countries. But she knows I’m living my dream,” said Prinsloo.She is among the many women fieldworkers who have worked in some of the 65 countries that Doctors Without Borders operates in and whom the medical humanitarian organisation celebratedg on Women’s Day.
For emergency room doctor Carissa Saunderson, her time spent in Mayom, South Sudan, left an indelible mark.“With minimal facilities MSF is able to provide extraordinary healthcare in Mayom. My time here has taught me that you don’t need to rely on fancy technology, that you can learn so much by just talking to others and that you can alleviate suffering just by sharing yourself and being compassionate.”
Saunderson remembered one particular patient – a feverish, malnourished baby.
“His mother had been struggling, alone, for a week before bringing him into the facility.”
Within a few days, with Saunderson and her team’s care, the baby improved, to the mother’s relief.
“Without me being able to speak her language not her being able to speak mine, she took her necklace and insisted I have it.
“My knee-jerk reaction was to decline ... but something stopped me when I realised that it was her most prized possession and she wanted to show me gratitude.
“Should my house burn down, I’d grab my dog, chocolate and that necklace.”Another celebrated MSF worker is Zanele Dhludhlu – who runs the finances of MSF’s southern African operation.
She quit her secure job and took up a volunteer position at MSF in 2006, a year after her brother died from an Aids-related illness.Motivated by her family tragedy and a desire to help people in need, Dhludhlu made her presence felt at MSF by working in a pioneering HIV/Aids project in Khayelitsha, to setting up MSF’s first office in Africa in 2006 along with four others, to eventually being responsible for an annual multi-million-rand budget as the finance director.
“Humanitarianism has always been part of our lives in South Africa; we just call it ubuntu. When you are inside MSF and you see what we are doing, you see that it is also ubuntu.
“I think in all of us there’s an activist, something I didn’t realise was in me before. We think we need to do something huge to feel like we’ve made a difference in the world.
“But every day I wake up and come to the office, and there is some activism in that,” said Dhludhlu.