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Published: Sunday, April 28, 2013
By Jean Cherni, email@example.com
Every once in awhile, I meet someone whose life is so dedicated to helping others, I am left in awe of their unselfish determination to make a difference. Almost four years ago, I met and wrote about Madison resident Martha Hoffman who started Call to Care Uganda that to date, through her fundraising efforts, has provided money and resources for much-needed wells and schools in several villages.
Recently, it was a special privilege to meet and get to know a similarly unique woman, Kristyn Zalota who is passionate about preventing the needless deaths of mothers and babies in Laos by training village nurses and providing simple, inexpensive birthing supplies as well as educating pregnant women.
Kristyn grew up in Cromwell and graduated from Yale with a master’s in international relations and a focus on Russia. Fluent in Russian, she traveled to foreign centers doing analysis of the political and economic climate. With her expertise, she could have had high-paying positions with the government or industry. Instead, while in Russia, she met her husband to be, Maxim, a computer scientist who had attended college in Michigan, and they both decided to volunteer to serve as teachers in Thailand.
During their teaching contract, they also were able to travel to Laos and were devastated by the poverty and the many orphaned children they saw there. Settling in England where her husband received his MBA at Oxford and Kristyn had a baby, they then came back to Connecticut where Maxim started a small software company.
However, Kristyn could not forget the many orphaned children she had seen in Laos. They were left motherless because so many women were needlessly dying in childbirth. In fact, infant and maternal mortality rates in Laos are among the world’s highest. From 2008 to 2011, Kristyn worked with Burmese, Cambodian and Ugandan women, and then, in 2012, she partnered with Our Village Association.
In some remote areas of Laos, women even give birth alone in the forest. The simple clean birth kits and training provided has been recommended by the United Nations. The sterile kits contain a padded sheet for comfort and easy clean-up, a clean cord-cutting implement for clean cord-tying, medicated soap and a sterile surgical blade and cord clips, a biodegradable bag as well as pictorial instruction.
In training, the six cleans are stressed: clean hands, clean perineum, clean delivery surface, clean cord-cutting implement, clean cord-tying and clean cord care. CleanBirth.org recognizes the critical importance that the nurses they train, who share the same culture and religion as their patients, take ownership of the project.
When you learn that worldwide, one mother dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy and birth-related complications, and that 80 percent of those deaths are preventable, you realize how essential this work is. A donation of only $5 buys one of the birthing kits. A $10 donation makes a perfect gift for Mother’s Day or a baby shower. The recipient is gifted with a beautiful card showing a photograph of a Laotian mother and child and is inscribed with these words, “You have been given a gift that saves lives and makes birth safe for mothers and babies in Laos.” Cards may be ordered on line from CleanBirth.org.
LEND A HAND Meet Kristyn Zalota at a CleanBirth.org fundraiser from 6-9 p.m. May 4 in the Eli Whitney Museum Barn, 915 Whitney Ave., Hamden. Appetizers and wine will be served, and there is a silent auction. Zalota says the goal is to raise enough to train 16 nurses, and a 2½-minute film, “$5 Saves 2 Lives in Laos,” will illustrate CleanBirth.org’s work. Suggested donation is $20. Info at 860-391-9159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Jean Cherni, certified senior adviser for Senior Living Solutions and Pearce Plus, a helpful, full-service program for seniors contemplating a move, at email@example.com