The SAFE Story: Participatory Development for Maternal/Child Health


Safe Mothers, Safe Babies (SAFE) was founded by Jacquie Cutts, Tina Castellan, and Mukalu Medie in 2009, following their experience developing a collegiate-based initiative at Vassar College in 2007--the Vassar Uganda Project. Jacquie had founded the Vassar Uganda Project (VUP) after studying a long-standing conflict in Northern Ugandan during her sophomore year. Jacquie wanted to volunteer in some capacity in Uganda, but was told by multiple organizations that she "wasn't needed" in their efforts to improve things in the region. Although in retrospect she understands better what they meant, at the time it was the catalyst needed for Jacquie to develop her own way to help. Jacquie recruited Tina on her second trip to Uganda with VUP, where they partnered with Medie as their translator to undertake a myriad of health education and nutrition projects.


Through these experiences, the team observed a gap in other organizations' projects (and their own) aimed at improving health indicators. Often, these organizations, including the Vassar Uganda Project at the time, would waltz into a community with a very narrow-minded view of what the health problems were. They would then "set" a project on the community that they thought would fix the problem, and expect it to magically fix said problem. Most often, the organizations would leave as quickly as they came, having moved on to another community or having grown frustrated at the lack of progress. The dialogue and methods to achieve change were condescending and offensive, and often disenfranchised the very people the organizations were trying to "empower." The results were disastrous, resulting in a complete lack of change and sometimes a worsening of people's lives, with no accountability from the organizations who started the projects. Simultaneously, the team also observed tragic stories of women and children dying in childbirth and shortly thereafter, in part due to the way that development projects were being conceived, developed, and implemented.


SAFE was founded to address this gap. We believe that no woman should die while bringing life into the world, and that no child should die when their life is just beginning. We also believe in the capacity and ingenuity of local people to affect change. Together, we partner to improve the "Three Delays" that collectively lead to maternal and child death. Over time, SAFE has developed an innovative, community-based, and evidence-based model targeting the "Three Delays" to ensure that mothers and children in the first 1,000 days of life lead healthy, empowered lives.


We are also committed to educating the public, and most specifically the next generation of health professionals. Participatory methods are vital to long-term improvement of health indicators, and we hold that all health professionals should become adept at incorporating them in their individual practices. We are committed to helping up-and-coming health professionals gain real-world experiences in public health in a global context, and becoming skilled at solving problems, working with communities, and evaluating that work so as to generate evidence-based health practices.


Safe Mothers,

Safe Babies

©Safe Mothers, Safe Babies 2018


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Uganda Address: Box 355 Iganga, Uganda, East Africa  ~ U.S. Address: 2628 State St. La Crosse, WI 54601