Get to know...Liza Cuoco and Jenny Loomis, working to improve maternal health in Uganda
DARIEN — In Fairfield County, most teenagers are worried about grades, their social life and getting into their top choice college.
Kamuli, Uganda, is worlds away, both in physical distance and in how its residents live their lives. There, young women worry about poor maternal health care, infant mortality rates and questionable hospital conditions. According to the 2012-13 State of Uganda Children Report, the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
Addressing these problems, however distant they may seem, was still a priority for Liza Cuoco and Jenny Loomis, both juniors at New Canaan High School. The 16-year-olds are both in the process of raising $15,000 to send health care professionals to Kamuli as part of a four-prong plan to improve maternal health and help create a leadership education program for the young adults there.
“The mortality rates are so high,” Loomis said. “It’s hard to think about. We both wanted to take our vision wherever it was needed.”
Cuoco and Loomis’ project is part of their participation in LEAP4Change, a Darien-based student leadership program that encourages students to collaborate with different communities to create local and global change. Founded by Darien resident Lauren Calahan, the program teaches students leadership skills before they team up to identify an issue in a global community that they want to tackle.
To donate and for more information, visit gofundme.com/maternal-health-kamuli-uganda
Loomis decided she wanted to address health care, while Cuoco wanted to tackle world peace. The two began working together to create a common vision for their project.
Looking for an idea, they turned to the founder of HOLD Uganda, an organization founded with help from LEAP that supports community efforts to become self-reliant. After speaking with Charles Mudhumba, the New Canaan teens decided to focus on addressing maternal health care in Kamuli.
“I wanted a more peaceful world,” Cuoco said. “When I think of a perfect world, I think of everyone getting along.”
The two girls have teamed up with Saving Mothers, a nonprofit dedicated to ending maternal death. The Saving Mothers team will go over to Uganda to learn more about the community and help identify its needs. They hope to raise the necessary funds to send over a team in March.
“The goal for now is getting resources for the health center there,” Cuoco said. “They don’t have lights, beds, electricity or running water.”
There’s also no transportation to the health center, leaving many mothers to give birth at home.
“There’s a lot of problems with the health facility,” Loomis said. “The whole facility is really rundown.”
Once the team from Saving Mothers is able to visit and assess the situation, the girls will move forward with their project.
In addition to raising funds to improve facilities, the girls also want to help improve maternal health and child care knowledge through educational videos played at the health care center. They hope to create a leadership education program to get the men in the community more involved in maternal and child health services. Over the summer, the girls will visit Kamuli to better understand how they can impact its residents.
“One of the main reasons to go is to learn about the culture,” Loomis said. “So we won’t force anything on them they won’t accept.”
So far, the girls have raised about $2,200 through GoFundMe from donations given by friends and family. They’re planning on creating a larger fundraising event and are continuing to network with professionals who can help with their plan. Once they send supplies and a leadership program to Kamuli, they hope to begin the second phase of their project which is to do something more locally, helping young mothers in the United States.
“We’re just getting everything rolling,” Loomis said. “We’ve been brainstorming for awhile.”