Aug. 17, 2018

Mama na Mtoto project aims to improve maternal, newborn and child health in Tanzania

Two UCalgary students experience global development work first-hand through international internship

Students Ashley Anderson, above, left, and Donna Ng, both with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary, recently returned from a four-month internship in Tanzania made possible by the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship (QES) program. Their internship was offered through the Cumming School of Medicine’s Global Health and International Partnerships Unit. Below is their account of the experience. 

“Africa! Really? Aren’t there lions?” 

“But… you’re not a med student.” 

These were just a few of the amusing and skeptical responses we received when we told friends and family we were going to be interns for a global health project in rural Tanzania for four months. 

This year, we were accepted into the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship (QES) program and were connected with Global Health and International Partnerships at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) that placed us with the Mama na Mtoto project in Tanzania.

Mama na Mtoto is a research and implementation initiative between Canadian and East African partners dedicated to improving maternal, newborn and child health in the Lake Zone of Tanzania. In Canada, Mama na Mtoto is led by Dr. Jenn Brenner, MD, director of Global Maternal Child Health at the CSM.

The Mama na Mtoto team uses a capacity building approach that includes supporting clinical skills workshops, equipment upgrades, and training for district health managers and volunteer health workers in the community. Leveraging local skills not only fosters community ownership of the program but also ensures its sustainability.

As interns, our objectives were to create a public engagement plan for the project, establish its online presence and support the local field staff with the reporting and documentation of their activities.

We were able to create an information sharing structure between Mama na Mtoto’s various partners and provide consistency on both internal and external communications. We also helped create and formalize training manuals and other documents that will help Mama na Mtoto become a scalable model that could be used as a basis for future initiatives.  

Through our work, we were able to experience first-hand what on-the-ground global development work is like and how to build a communication strategy from the ground up. We realized how important holistic and multidisciplinary approaches are in international partnerships.

International development is complex — contributions from health-care practitioners, researchers, development specialists and even communication students are what make initiatives like Mama na Mtoto successful. Working on a development project that included such a diverse pool of talent made us grateful not only for the lessons we learned, but also for the personal and professional growth that we achieved.

Browse through the gallery below to learn more about Mama na Mtoto and our experience.

Mama na Mtoto brings together a coalition of community, development, and academic partners from East Africa and Canada, and is funded by Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the International Development Research Centre.

Ashley Anderson is a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Arts – Political Science program with a minor in Communication Studies. Donna Ng is a current student in the Bachelor of Arts – Communications Studies program, minoring in Drama. Jenn Brenner is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of both the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.