There are many ways one might choose to take some time away and recharge during the winter season. Oakdale High alum and community member Ashley Worley, however, used her recent vacation time for a bit of a different purpose.
Worley recently returned from a 16-day trip to Africa, where she traveled to assist with hosting conferences for midwives in three varying areas of the country.
A labor and delivery nurse by trade, Worley shared she learned of the opportunity through a mentor and former nursing school professor. The trip was in conjunction with Hawa’s Hope, a small not for profit foundation which was co-founded by her past professor Joanie Seacrist. “Hawa” is a common woman’s name in Sierra Leone.
“She just had a great impact on me. She was always so sincere, incredibly knowledgeable,” Worley said of Seacrist, noting she had made an attempt to take the trip once before but was unable to previously.
This time however, when she learned of the trip possibility she was the first to volunteer. A total of five made the 16-day trek, stopping in three different areas to host two-day training workshops.
“We didn’t know if we were going to have any one there,” Worley admitted of the unknown as they made the trip overseas. Much to their delight and surprise all three conferences were full, as well as had wait lists. “So it was cool.”
The group of five traveled to three schools and held two day conferences. The first day strictly lecture, based on the maternal mortality. The second day broke up into stations and did a more hands on approach.
“The World Health Organization is really pushing on Sierra Leone to increase the number of safe birth attendants or mid wives to reduce their maternal mortality rate,” the nurse said of their first stop on the trip.
The advent of the internet has proved as a positive tool for much of the country, as the younger generations find themselves facing tribal tendencies which can impede change.
“It’s hard, but once you train birth attendants and you’re saving lives,” she shared, “you’re encouraging and empowering these women and the rest of the country. The knowledge is very helpful.”
Worley also shared as a country the people have an unwavering faith, as well as a strong belief in family.
“They’re not accepting that oh it’s just Africa. This is how it is because we’re in Africa,” she said of those she encountered.
During the course of her stay she lived with a host African family, which she noted as one of the many highlights during her stay.
“I have an African family now that I love,” she said.
In addition to the African family she gained, Worley said she also came away with a renewed appreciation for many things large and small.
“It’s sometimes not fair to think we’re born into this place, where we have all these resources at our fingertips. Even if one of the children over there had all the desires in the world, they still have all these obstacles,” she explained. “It’s like you don’t want to take anything for granted over here.”
When the nurse says “anything” she’s not making light. She noted that returning home to her two young boys and family she felt grateful for the simplest of things such as clean drinking water and a bathroom with running water.
“They acknowledge that life in Africa is hard. Not that they desire that but they recognize it,” she said. “You sense it in their tone and their story. They can be laughing, because they’re appreciative but when they talk about their stories you can see the pain that they’ve been through and the barriers of what they might really want.”
Acknowledging that while they do in fact have disparities, Worley was moved by how much love and human connection she experienced during her trip.
Moved so much in fact, that she shared she’s now been inspired to return to graduate school to further her health and nursing education.
“I really have this desire to study health disparities,” the nurse stated. “To see environmental cause and factors on health. To be involved in bio statistics and to write (the) legislature on changing public health.”
It’s a goal she now has in place to benefit individuals both stateside, as well as globally.
“I think that nursing has really given me this foundation on health, but I’ve always been wanting to travel and dive into different cultures and see how people are living,” she said of her future plans.
“I really feel like the people that I have seen, have really pulled on some heart strings,” she continued, noting that the experience has now left her feeling empowered to make a difference and continue with her passion for health and the underserved.
“I feel very at peace in my life. I feel very appreciative. I feel very loved. I just have an appreciation for this world.”