The staff at Suntreso Sub-Metro Hospital, in Kumasi, Ghana, named the newborn Kwame Nyamkye, meaning Gift from God, and there’s little doubt that his survival was some kind of miracle. But his future was quickly secured, due entirely to the swift intervention, compassion, and expertise of Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng, founder and executive director of Women’s Health to Wealth, WomenStrong’s Consortium Member in Ghana.
Kwame’s life began in the bush, where his teenage mother had gone to give birth, intending to abandon her unwanted baby there. A young man passing by noticed what looked like blood off the side of the road and, although late for work, stopped to investigate and found a young woman lying in a pool of blood. Beside her was a tiny baby. Somehow, the brave young man got the woman and baby to the hospital safely.
Hospital staff went to work to save the mother’s life, removing the placenta that was still attached and providing badly needed plasma that the mother could not afford. Abenaa paid for the plasma and turned her attention to the 8-pound newborn, who was handsome and healthy, despite his bleak birth.
Abenaa, a respected public health professional in Ghana with a wide network of contacts, called on a social worker she knew to track down the baby’s grandmother, locating her in a small village 30 miles from Kumasi. At the hospital the following day, Abenaa met with the Kwame’s grandmother to ask her to take the baby into her care. But Abenaa quickly discovered that Kwame was the third baby born to the teen mom and that the grandmother already was caring for the first child, now three years old. No one knew the fate of the second baby, but the grandmother worried that he had been abandoned or sold.
Kwame’s grandmother eked out a small living selling boiled sweet potatoes at the local primary school three days a week and then working as a day laborer for lower pay three more days each week. Although willing to take in Kwame, she did not have the resources to feed another child. So Abenaa arranged a $50 loan, allowing her to increase the amount of potatoes she could buy and to extend her ability to sell them all five schooldays. This enhanced her small income, leaving her time to care for her daughter and new grandson.
Meanwhile, Abenaa was counseling the teen mom, who had dropped out of school at 15, moved to the city in a failed attempt to find work, had no way to earn a living and no regular partner. She also had no access to contraception.
“I told her, ‘This baby has done nothing wrong. Why should it be punished?’” Abenaa said. The girl started crying. “I told her that this is the third time, and that she almost bled to death. Next time, she might not be so lucky.” Abenaa said the girl was genuinely remorseful and jumped at the chance to go home and work with her mother to raise the two young children.
For the next six months, the young mother will breastfeed the baby to help support his healthy growth, while working alongside her mom. Her intentions are good, but both Abenaa and the social worker will be checking in, to make sure all is well.
Kwame’s start in life illustrates what we mean at WomenStrong when we talk about a “multisectoral” approach to addressing the problems faced by impoverished women and girls – recognizing the complex web of education, economic opportunity, and health needs that must be met for any girl or woman hoping to lift herself out of urban poverty. Kwame’s story also highlights the lifesaving work done by our Consortium Members on the ground every day, confronting the daunting challenges that are hard for many of us to imagine. Kwame may be a Gift from God, but he is definitely the lucky recipient of care from Women’s Health to Wealth and Abenaa, its remarkable leader.