Who wants to be a volunteer?
The RCM has enabled more than 90 UK midwives to take part in twinning projects across the globe. Here four volunteers explain why it’s been so beneficial.
The international confederation of Midwives (ICM) promotes twinning partnerships between professional midwives’ associations for mutual strengthening (ICM, 2014). Since 2012, the RCM has led or participated in externally funded midwifery twinning projects in five low-resource countries and has facilitated 113 volunteer placements for 93 UK midwives. Twinning brings benefits to partner associations but is also reciprocal with benefits to volunteers, to the RCM and to the wider NHS. Participating midwife volunteers have reported personal and professional growth, deeper engagement with the RCM and greater political activism. This year sees the RCM undergoing a systematic review and refresh of its volunteer management systems. Here are testimonies from four UK midwives who have volunteered with the RCM’s current Bangladesh Twinning Project.
RCM steward, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
I have worked as a research and clinical midwife for four years. In April I volunteered for one month with the RCM’s twinning project in Bangladesh, working alongside the Bangladesh Midwifery Society (BMS), particularly with the society’s president and the office manager, supporting their activities and also conducting an outreach visit to a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar. As I travelled alone, the RCM arranged in-country accommodation, safeguarding and security with VSO. The RCM’s global team also visited Bangladesh to provide support during my placement. The placement built my knowledge and skills, while challenging my perceptions of midwifery. It reinforced for me how important it is to be a midwife, what an impact midwives can have in women’s lives, not just medically but emotionally too.
The midwives I met in the refugee camp support women fleeing unspeakable atrocities, reminding us that humanitarian aid is more than food, water and shelter. These valiant midwives are delivering life-saving healthcare to many thousands of women in extremely challenging circumstances. Among so much tragedy this offers a safe haven for mothers to come and birth their babies in a supported and empowering way. This will have a profound impact on their lives and has the potential to shape them as mothers and change their stories.
All of us want to know our work will make a difference. In the end, it will be the BMS team who will have the biggest impact themselves; we can but help. I hope to go back to Bangladesh with the RCM later in the twinning project and would recommend other members to apply if other opportunities are advertised. I’m so grateful to the RCM for their support and giving me this opportunity and most importantly to the fantastic BMS who welcomed me with open arms and shared their wisdom and strength.
Elizabeth Bannon OBE
PhD student, Queen’s University Belfast
My midwifery journey began in 1979 and throughout my career I have valued the advice of Dame Mary Uprichard that ‘those who dare to practise must never cease to learn’. I continued to study completing a diploma, a degree, supervision of midwifery course, a master’s and a part-time doctoral study on midwifery leadership and management development. This work evolved out of a desire to understand what needs to be done to support midwives to secure management and leadership roles as an integral step to ensuring that women receive safe and effective care.
In 2015, having retired as co-director for maternity and women’s service in Belfast, I volunteered to join the RCM’s MOMENTUM project in Uganda. Then in May 2018 I joined an RCM team travelling to Bangladesh to work with a small team of NQMs to develop their leadership skills and to introduce the concept of coaching.
I was struck by the similarities between NQMs in Bangladesh and the UK who share the same enthusiasm, energy and commitment to women and a desire to make a difference. The opportunity to travel abroad and experience diverse cultures, to work in partnership with like-minded people while assisting local communities is a privilege. For me, the involvement is not only about having an impact on the midwives and the care women receive but it also re-enforces the importance of the role of midwives and the consequence for women, their safety and families when it is undervalued or misunderstood.
PhD student, Middlesex University
A midwife since 1982, I have also specialised in teaching child development, health and social care and work- based learning. My PhD research is a narrative study about how international midwifery teaching teams can move from lecture-led to work-based learning. It was inspired by my international work with the RCM but was undertaken independently in Pakistan.
In 2012, I applied for a placement in Nepal with the RCM’s Global Midwifery Twinning Project, but instead was placed in Uganda. Visiting Africa was not on my life plan but I am so glad I went; working with Ugandan midwives prepared me for subsequent international work and opened my eyes and enabled me to question the quality of care given in the UK and Ireland. I later volunteered again in Uganda with the RCM’s MOMENTUM project and was privileged to work with an inspiring group of UK midwives and twinned Ugandan midwives. Twinning becomes a catalyst for change, both for the project’s aims but also for each of us professionally and personally.
I then volunteered with the RCM’s Bangladesh Twinning Project in 2017 and I was moved by the sheer determination of the BMS. I was invited into the Dhaka Nursing College Midwifery Department to help with teaching student midwives and senior midwife teachers. My approach is to find out what my hosts want of me and how we can work together. It’s important to respect indigenous ways of learning, for example in Bangladesh I quickly realised that it is a tactile, oral and auditory culture. Written documents were rarely read, but sharing of stories in narrative form over snacks and tea was endless and collectively informative. Poems, songs, dress and dance brought stories of struggle and through those forms much knowledge and practice experience was shared. We role-played, danced and sang many important midwifery practices for safe and dignified maternity care.
RCM professional advisor, education
Singly qualified midwives are a relatively new concept in Bangladesh with only two cohorts of midwives graduating in the preceding five years. I was invited as one of two consultants to help increase the BMS’s capacity to understand their role as a professional association in developing midwifery and leadership within the profession; and to undertake some introductory leadership workshops with a small group of midwives who had qualified in the previous two years.
The aim was to help those midwives understand what leadership is for their personal and professional development. To achieve this, in addition to participating in the workshops, we required them to identify a small area of practice where they could undertake an initiative that would develop themselves and the BMS. Additionally, we wanted to leave them with a legacy of a peer support network and a model of coaching provided by senior midwives within the BMS to help them develop themselves, their practice and professionalism.
Highlights of my time in Bangladesh included working with new and old colleagues – the personal and professional relationship we established helped to make the trip a very positive experience. I travelled with a super organised RCM colleague from the global team and a volunteer who had undertaken other twinning work with the RCM. Although I have been a midwife for 33 years, I was the novice in the mix. Another highlight was meeting and working with the NQMs, who quickly formed strong supportive relationships and their enthusiasm for what we had to share was prodigious.
While we didn’t undertake any clinical visits, BMS is located within a hospital site and conditions were clearly extremely poor. I’ve learnt how fortunate UK women and midwives are to have equality and professionalism and how lucky we are to have the RCM.