Making the World a Better Place: Jane E. Drichta

by Elizabeth Gracen:

In our continuing series Making the World a Better Place, we highlight the amazing work being done by hard-working people all over the world who have made a choice to step out of their comfort zones and help those in need. These people serve as inspiring examples of who we can become and how we can make the world a better place.

We are thrilled to tell you about an amazing woman named Jane E. Drichta who works through her organization, Global Motherhood Initiative, to help the Yezidi women in Iraq recover and thrive after incredible hardships.

It all started with a post I shared on Facebook about Nadia Murad—a fierce, courageous Yezidi young woman who escaped the horrors of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS to become a champion of girls and women around the world affected by violence. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of 2018 for her outstanding work and dedication to the cause.

Her sad story, amazing escape, and subsequent mission to help other females in the world is more than inspiring. Little did I know that because of that simple FB post, I would soon be in contact with another extraordinary woman who gives me hope and inspiration to move forward to do good in the world.

When Jane Drichta sent me a message thanking me for posting about Ms. Murad's prize, I was taken aback. You just never know when something you do—seemingly small—will actually open your eyes and change your world view. Jane's message did that for me. In a matter of twenty-four hours, we were connected: me on the West Coast of the good 'ole USA, Jane in Iraq.

I am thrilled that Jane has agreed to share her story with Flapper Press and to write monthly posts about her life in Iraq and the amazing work she is doing with the Global Motherhood Initiative.

Please meet Jane E. Drichta!

EG: Your website is incredibly informative, but I’d like you to restate what the Global Motherhood Initiative is and the organization’s mission regarding maternity care for the women of the Yezidi in Iraq.

JD: On August 3, 2014, ISIS attacked the Yezidi region of Shingal with the expressed intent of wiping this culture from the Earth. Thousands of women and children were captured and taken into sexual slavery, some sold multiple times and many trafficked out of the country. Approximately 3,500 Yezidi remain in captivity.

Young men were taken and forced to fight for ISIS or killed outright.

It is estimated that 10,000 Yezidi were captured or killed during the first 28 days of August, 2014. Every single person who survived has lost family, friends, and community.

The Global Motherhood Initiative (GMI) is a teensy-tiny grassroots organization started to provide dignified, compassionate, evidence-based care for these women who now reside in Khanke Camp, Kurdistan, Iraq. We combine top-notch midwifery care with trauma therapy, provided by our partner, the Free Yezidi Foundation. We are the only clinic in Iraq which combines these two vital aspects of healthcare, and we embrace the philosophy that every single life we touch is vital to the community and to the world.

The Yezidi are incredibly resilient people. Midwifery care is based on family centered care; decisions are made cooperatively, and the midwife functions as a guide and as support rather than as an authority figure with the power. It is absolutely vital to assist women who have experienced such extreme trauma in reclaiming their own power. Our approach is to provide a supported space for healing and allowing the woman to guide her own journey to motherhood.

Our home, Khanke Camp. 16,408 people live here, and it is rated for 10,000. Approximately 12,000 more live outside and cannot officially access services inside the camp. (I cheat. Everyone can come to us.)

EG: Tell me a little bit about who you are, your history, and the journey you’ve taken to where you are now.

JD: Oh my, I’m not that interesting, I promise. I have an undergraduate degree in English and political science, so naturally, I trained as a midwife. /sarcasm font off (When I wrote a book in 2013, my mother was thrilled I was finally putting that degree to use!) I have always been interested in the global political landscape and how social determinants of health impact health systems on an international level.

But what really lights me up is individualized care. I am passionate about providing the opportunity for women to explore themselves as they transition into motherhood. How does this fundamental shift affect them mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How can medical providers support every aspect of a woman so that she feels so seen, so loved, that she is launched into early parenthood from the highest possible position of strength?

My goodness, can you imagine how much the world could shift if we could actually pull that off? But how do we do that with all of the systemic obstacles that characterize 21st century life? I still don’t have the answer to this question, for sure, but I’m super interested in exploring possibilities.

I combined these two interests by doing global health work. I’ve delivered babies on four continents, practicing clinically in Uganda, the Philippines, Greece, and several other places before transitioning to health programming and consulting for large and small non-governmental organizations. Finally, I returned to school, receiving a Masters in Global Public Health and Policy from Queen Mary University of London. I also hold a Diploma in Tropical Nursing from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

As everyone with eyes to see and an internet connection knows, one of the greatest crises of our time has been forced migration, whether due to war, disease, economic catastrophe, or natural disasters, particularly those exacerbated by climate change. Talk about systemic obstacles! And with apologies to Liam Neeson, I have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career, and they all seemed to be leading me to work with refuges and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

So . . . I did.

EG: How and why did you decide to form the Global Motherhood Initiative?

JD: One thing you must understand is that I always swore I would never start an NGO (Non Governmental Organization). NEVER. EVER. I swore in every way possible . . . on my father’s grave, in several languages, loudly, softly . . . that this was not going to happen. It's too hard, trust me. I’ve been doing this work for over ten years, and I know the ins and outs of the development/emergency response world pretty well. Seriously, never do this. You don’t want to, trust me. But . . .

I was in Kurdistan for a few months in 2017 doing some consulting work for a small NGO that was considering opening a project in Khanke Camp. Part of my job was to do needs assessments with some focus groups, and it became just so clear that there was a huge gap here. Nobody was using the midwifery model of care here, nobody was doing doctoral-level therapy, and certainly nobody was doing them together.

I tried so hard to ignore my brain. I really did. I tried to distract myself at night with bad reality TV and ordering shoes from Amazon, and this utterly and completely failed to work (although, I did get a couple of groovy pairs of boots out of it). My brain just wouldn’t shut up.

Finally, I gave up and started planning out how this could all fit together. I went back to the camp and met with an established NGO, the Free Yezidi Foundation. They had a trauma therapy program with two psychologists on site, and after a series of fantastically productive meetings that gave me at least a sliver of hope for humanity, we decided to partner up. And GMI was officially born!

Our little clinic being delivered. (Midwife humor!)

EG: In the current world climate with so many women and children in distress, why did you specifically decide to work with the Yezidi?

JD: This organization was founded on the premise that every mother and every child matter, and not just in an airy-fairy pie in the sky, internet meme way. Each person we work with is a vital part of the community here, and if they are not encouraged to reach their highest potential, the community is diminished. In a culture as small and as persecuted as the Yezidi, well, we just cannot allow that to happen.

The genocide of 2014 just . . . offended me. Trying to wipe out an entire culture just because you don’t like the way they dig God? Um, no. And this is the 73rd genocide that the Yezidi have endured. Over 23 million Yezidi have been killed over the past 700 years. The intergenerational trauma is so strong; and one of the ways that we can interrupt that is to bring the next generation into the world as gently and humanely as possible.

Midwifery care is designed to do exactly that. So, this was a situation in which the ancient, women-centered traditions of midwifery could combine with cutting-edge knowledge of how the brain reacts to trauma, and really do some good.

Such fierce women. They are from another project I did here, but dang. They had to represent.

EG: What do the day-to-day operations of your organization look like? How many team members are on the ground with you? Please tell me more about your team in general.

JD: We are the smallest NGO ever. I am onsite all the time, overseeing general operations of the clinic. Remember the Free Yezidi Foundation, our partners in not-so-crime over here? Well, they recruited me to be their Country Director a year ago. This is outstanding because not only do I love them and their mission, but I can get paid! And eat! And take care of GMI right here on the ground all the time!

So, I am here dealing with the ever-present bureaucracy, writing grants, fighting tooth and nail for funding, and generally running around like a headless chicken trying to get people to understand the Yezidi’s situation. My Clinical Director is a lovely midwife from the UK who has volunteered her time here through September of 2019. I’m not sure what I did in a past life to deserve her, but I must have been pretty spectacular because she is absolutely amazing. She does all our clinic visits, goes to see women in their tents when needed, does health information work, and generally is a huge-hearted, energetic badass. Our Clinic Manager does all our translation work, organizes our appoints, and generally keeps the logistics of a clinic running smoothly. She is a Yezidi from Shingal and is our only paid staff member.

We generally see between 6–9 clients a day in the clinic. Unless it rains. When it rains, the camp floods and our fence actually is electrified. This is something I wish would stop, as it is annoying to have to push it open with a stick every time it sprinkles. I mean, really?

Our mothers are required by law to birth in the maternity hospital downtown (Don’t get me started on THAT. It is an hour away and these women have a lot of babies. You can do the math on that one. Many don’t make it to the hospital.) However, we do all of their prenatal and postpartum care. We also end up doing a lot of primary care inadvertently, as people just show up with health needs.

Our beneficiaries are screened for perinatal mood disorders three times during their care: twice before birth, and once after. If they show signs of needing mental health assistance, they are sent to one of our psychologists, provided by the Free Yezidi Foundation, conveniently located about 50 feet away. Our clinical director and the psychologists are in constant contact about the needs of our mutual clients. It works very well.

Our babies get frequent weight checks. Diarrhea is a terrible problem in the camp for children and is one of the leading causes of death globally for children under 5.