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A Marathon for Safe Motherhood: Preventing Maternal Mortality in Uganda, One Step at a Time

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Angel Eduardo

Participants in the Marathon for Safe Motherhood in Uganda - Idealist Days Blog

“To me, being an idealist means being able to connect. You connect, and you’re able to act,” says Silver Owori, an idealist in Uganda, whose Idealist Day 5/5 Marathon for Safe Motherhood brought together 1,000 runners to raise money to prevent maternal mortality. “You look at a problem in a given society, assess it, get together as a team, and then maybe you are able to find a lasting solution to that problem.” That spirit has been the motivating engine for Silver, pushing him to organize a variety of efforts to tackle social issues in his community and beyond. From starting a group to help young Ugandans secure economic stability to distributing Christmas gifts, clothes, and toiletries at a women’s prison in his hometown of Tororo, Silver’s goal is to do whatever he can to bring his community up and out of the difficult situations they often find themselves in. The list of problems may be very long, but Silver knows full well that effecting change is a marathon of its own.

Silver joined the Idealists of the World Facebook group in June of 2018, and since then has been coordinating his efforts with Idealist Days and with a group of fellow idealists in Uganda. This Uganda group was particularly active around 12/12, 2018, collectively planning a series of events, including a visit to the women’s prison in Tororo, donating exercise books and toys to the Zion Children’s Foundation, holding a book drive in Kampala, giving out Christmas gifts to those with disabilities in Wakiso, and Silver’s own project, organizing inter-zonal youth football tournaments in the Tororo district.

“I decided that each of the zones raises a football team, and the 14 zones compete for a prize,” Silver remembers. The country of Uganda is divided into districts, which are subdivided into parishes, which are then further divided into zones. Silver used these preset divisions as a way to organize a tournament for youths across Tororo. “Each zone contributes a small amount: 10,000 Uganda shillings (about $3). That money is sometimes used to support things like getting them first aid and refreshments, and also the balls.” More than just providing good fun between young people in his community, Silver hopes the organization of these tournaments, along with the dedication and connections they bring about for the youth in Tororo, will have lasting and meaningful effects. “I use them because it helps me to keep the youth out of this thinking of drugs, early marriages, and all that,” Silver says. “It helps a lot. That time they would have used to fight in bars, they now use it on the football pitch. That’s the advantage I’m looking at with that kind of stuff.”

“I love the spirit of Ugandans. They always come out to support genuine causes."

Another way Silver plans his community outreach is through meetings at the Teso Convention, a gathering in Uganda’s Teso district for members of the Iteso tribe, to which Silver belongs. “It’s a meeting, but we use it much more for planning,” Silver says. “We identify the problems that are in the region, then we look at the possible solutions, and then how to get the necessary funding to enable those kinds of things to succeed.” It was during these planning meetings that the topic of maternal mortality rates in Uganda was raised. “There has been a challenge whereby women find that hospitals are not fully equipped,” Silver says. “Women sometimes die while giving birth because they can’t afford this and the other, or maybe because this and the other is not in the hospital.” The meeting then shifted to ways the group can help, beginning with the Teso region. “If we identify that there’s a problem like the high mortality rate among women,” Silver says, “we brainstorm on the solutions, and then we come up with ways to raise the necessary funds. We can use drives, we can use festivals…we can use marathons.”

The idea quickly began to pick up steam, with Silver facilitating the necessary connections with local organizations to make the marathon happen. The protocol for Silver and his team at this point is standard. “We start lobbying for the necessary support,” he says. “We reach out to telecom companies and see if they can help us do the publicity, and then we reach out to the media houses. We reach out to our honorable Members of Parliament. We reach out to the government. We go to NGO’s, we go to CBO’s, we approach almost each and every one, and say ‘This is a genuine cause, but our hands our short.’ So if they buy the idea they come in and support us.” Silver and his team managed to secure a local factory to provide water for runners, as well as a local radio station to run the whole event and promote it on the air. “At the end of it all, we had a committee that was able to handle the marathon and run everything on that day.” All that was left was to appeal to the people and get them motivated enough to participate.

Runners in the Marathon for Safe Motherhood in Uganda.

This, however, Silver was not worried about. “I love the spirit of Ugandans,” he says. “They always come out to support genuine causes. It is a marathon to do something about what they know is a big problem and really affecting the country, and they are always coming.” Silver was right. The Marathon for Safe Motherhood brought in 1,000 participants, securing nearly all of the funding Silver and his team were aiming for. “It was a success, I must say. We didn’t achieve all that we needed, but we scored around 80%.” The money raised goes toward a budget to provide things such as beds and medical supplies for hospitals in the Teso region, ensuring that they are well-equipped to handle the needs of women during childbirth and minimize the risk of maternal mortality. This, however, is just the start. Though the turnout was huge, the money raised by the marathon was enough to service only four of the Teso region’s eleven districts. “The seven that are left is now what we are focusing on,” says Silver. “We are still calling for more support because we have to roll it out to the entire region, then maybe with time we can start rolling it out to the entire country.”

Runners Dancing and Celebrating at the Marathon for Safe Motherhood in Uganda.

Like a marathoner, Silver has trouble standing still, especially when there is so much to do for the betterment of his community. He is always on the lookout for ways he can be helpful, and always has ideas for issues to tackle. For years he had been concerned about the living conditions of the growing number of Sudanese refugees fleeing their civil war for Uganda. Silver organized a few donations to send out but hasn’t been able to physically get to Bidibidi—one of the largest refugee settlements on Earth, holding more than 270,000 South Sudanese asylum seekers. “I plan to go there,” Silver says. “I need to see how to maybe raise a charity, kind of a fundraiser, and see how to reach out to these refugees because there is a scarcity of food in the camps, which is really sad. So I’m trying to see if I can reach out to a few individuals who can support the cause.” 

In February of 2019, Silver moved to South Sudan to try and help the situation by bringing together idealists from within. “When I came here, my major task was to try to establish the Idealists of South Sudan,” he says. “It’s a gradual process. We’re just trying to win idealists, but the number is still growing.” Given the dangerous political conditions, it can be difficult to communicate with Sudanese locals, who are often in fear for their lives. “It’s not like Uganda,” Silver says, “where you can talk to people freely. Here, people may mistake information for other things.” However, Silver is undaunted. “I’m winning,” he says. “So far we have around 25 members.” Like so many issues Silver is tackling, this one promises to be a long haul—but he is getting quite used to marathons by now.

An illustration of a yellow line with a star at the end.
Angel Eduardo profile image

Angel Eduardo

Angel uses his skills as a storyteller to support and inspire job seekers and aspiring social-impact professionals.