Changemaker:Philomena Okello

Location:Uganda

I’m playing my part for reproductive and maternal healthcare by providing information to all the women, girls, and whoever is interested in listening, because we all need information about reproductive health to make a better world to live in.

Because of these actions by White Ribbon Alliance, I have seen more change happen in the last two years than I have seen in the previous 40 years of my career.

My name is Okello Mary Philomena, I come from Northern Uganda, and worked as a midwife for many years before my retirement in Lira in a referral hospital.

I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a health worker, and I live in the community. When I first learned about White Ribbon Alliance, I realized that I had found what I was looking for – a way to bridge the gap between the women and girls I helped every day as a midwife, and the decision-makers and policymakers who were really concerned about the health issues of women and wanted to make change.

My fight for mothers will continue until I depart from this world.

It has been incredible seeing the work done locally, right here in Lira District, by White Ribbon Alliance. Before White Ribbon Alliance’s advocacy efforts, the health center IV’s had operating rooms and theaters that were nonfunctional. But, because of what White Ribbon Alliance did, these health centers were made functional. Maternity wards that were incomplete for more than 10 years were completed. The emergency vehicle which was not working was made functional. Health workers were recruited and were working, where before we had a shortage. And, women were empowered to demand for their rights.  Of course, White Ribbon Alliance also involved the community. We created monitoring teams, the villagers themselves, who monitor the hospitals and health centers and they give feedback to make sure these facilities stay functional and operational.

Because of White Ribbon Alliance, politicians and leaders were able to sit and listen to what citizens had to say about their reproductive and maternal healthcare demands, and they acted on them. We have asked for and received these improvements because we have learned of our rights through Citizens’ Hearings. We realized our power and demanded accountability. Because of these actions by White Ribbon Alliance, I have seen more change happen in the last two years than I have seen in the previous 40 years of my career. This is just the beginning – because we know that it is not just our right to be heard, but involving us, listening to us, is the only answer for long term, rapid and sustainable change.

Globally, White Ribbon Alliance’s greatest achievement was breaking the usual protocol of the United Nations General Assembly and letting citizens go and speak for their fellow citizens. I was one of those blessed to go to New York to speak during the United Nations General Assembly, and to have those leaders, those policy makers, sit and listen to my voice, and then act on it, has been something that I cannot forget in life, and I forever more remember it.

When at the United Nations, I requested they bring the next United Nations General Assembly to Uganda, and I would be the one to choose where to take them, to show them what it is really like in Uganda for midwives. And I would take them to Karamoja, where the midwives climb uphill, come from uphill, come down and go carrying midwifery supply boxes on their heads to reach the health centers there, going for miles to help mothers in need.

In those countries where the White Ribbon Alliance is not yet functional, it should be made functional because I have seen it work in Uganda. Uganda is not so special – other countries also have the problems Uganda has in connection to women – and they need the same kind of intervention that White Ribbon Alliance provides. I have seen that this movement is the only way to make lasting change for women and girls. Together, we will make a better place for us all to live in and leave a legacy so that when we are gone, people will have something to remember what we have done in the world.

Thank youPhilomena Okello

for playing your part.

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