A Midwife with Heart and Soul

Indie McDowell (2008) is a remarkable woman who has dedicated her life to improving maternal and neonatal health in remote villages in Ethiopia. Her journey began during her midwifery training, where she was inspired by a medical anthropologist’s lecture series that focused on childbirth, particularly in the developing world.

In a bid to improve public health outcomes, Indie saw the need to refocus on pregnancy and childbirth education and funding. She believed that such a move would have far-reaching effects on every aspect of health, from personal hygiene to nutrition, exercise, and even family relationships—ultimately empowering individuals to take charge of their health decisions.

In 2018, Indie established Atsede Clinic with her Ethiopian friend Atsede, with whom she lives along with Atsede’s husband and their four children in Gurage Zone, Ethiopia. There, they offer a safe haven for mothers and their babies. Atsede Clinic faces multiple challenges, including poverty, conflict, and inadequate medical resources, but Indie remains determined to make a real difference in the lives of thousands.

Every day presents a diverse range of challenges, revealing the constantly evolving needs of her community. Indie explains that most mornings start with a staff meeting where they set up for the day, do a quick equipment check, and deal with any issues from the previous day. Indie sees women in all stages of pregnancy in the antenatal clinic and offers HIV and syphilis testing, checks Hb levels to screen for anaemia, and blood typing. Atsede oversees the urgent care, which deals with cases of malaria, giardiasis, leprosy, pneumonia and dog bites.

The day I spoke with Indie, one of her patients, Konjonesh, arrived in late stages of labour, just as they were finishing up for the day. She and Atsede took turns being with Konjonesh and carrying on with the antenatal clinic. Towards early evening, Konjonesh gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. They stayed with her for a couple of hours to establish her breastfeeding and ensure there were no complications post-birth, did a handover to the night staff, and then got soaked by a thunderstorm on the way home, much to the amusement of the children when they arrived home.

Atsede Clinic also has an outreach program that offers mental health appointments and a food bank. However, the most important element it offers, according to Indie, is the scholarship and studentship program. Through generous donations and grants, they support girls in going to school and young women to university.

Indie is passionate about education, and when asked how her time at Ascham influenced her personal growth, she said, ‘Where better to start than the School motto? With heart and soul. That to me summarises the epitome of how to approach one’s experience of life and the choices made. Everything we undertake should be done with heart and soul, especially learning.’

Another key project of Indie’s is fundraising for a midwives’ ambulance. With few cars and inadequate public transport systems coupled with damaged roads in Ethiopia, a four-wheel-drive ambulance would bridge the vast gap in service for pre-hospital care. A midwives’ ambulance would provide life-sustaining treatment.

Indie’s incredible contribution to her community can be seen through her dedication to improving the health of women and children. This has a positive impact on the entire population, enhancing their wellbeing and quality of life. Indie sums it up beautifully when she says, ‘Finding a way to lift others is as important as finding a way to fly yourself.’

24 May 2023

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