GIVING birth to a child is a life-changing moment full of happiness.

With the help of experienced midwives plus a comfortable hospital environment, the experience can be one of the most precious of your life.

Now think about having to walk alone for nine miles in the blistering heat to reach the hospital, with a fear you may not make it through the birth to see your baby.

This is what women in Sierra Leone are facing every day.

It is the most dangerous place in the world to give birth, with ten women dying each day in childbirth.

For mother-to-be Jebbeh Konneh, her life has been incredibly tough.

She is eight months pregnant and as her baby grows it is not joy that fills her heart, but fear.

Recently Jebbeh’s sister, Fatmata, was pregnant in a village nearby. There are so few ambulances she would be waiting for hours.

When she went into labour Fatmata had no choice but to walk for three hours under the baking sun to the nearest hospital.

Jebbeh told the global poverty charity Christian Aid: “My sister was crying out with hunger. She died on the side of the road. She never gave birth.”

“I’m afraid,” she said. “I pray, when my day comes, God will help me to deliver safely, so I can have a bouncing baby and I’ll be healthy.”

Christian Aid hopes to build more health centres and provide training for health care workers, promote and improve hygiene practises and provide food for hungry mothers during their pregnancy.

The Bishop of Colchester, the Rt Rev Roger Morris wanted to better understand the harrowing experience women face.

He walked from Earls Colne to the neonatal ward at Colchester Hospital to speak to staff and students at a nearby school about Christian Aid’s work.


He said: “On average a woman in labour in Sierra Leone will have to walk nine miles to get to the hospital to deliver her baby.

“Partly as an act of solidarity and to put ourselves in that mindset we walked nine miles from Earls Colne to Colchester Hospital, which turned out to actually be 12 and a half miles.

“One of the really sobering aspects for me was in the time it took us to walk, two women would have died in Sierra Leone during childbirth.”

The saddest thing is the deaths are preventable. All it takes is the right equipment and training.

Bishop Roger added: “When I stepped into the wonderfully equipped neonatal ward at Colchester Hospital with its £38,000 incubator, the difference is huge.

“We want to do our best to eliminate that awful death rate and make women’s prospects much better.

“They are often undernourished which creates difficulties.

“I was in Tanzania once and I visited a ward where almost ever person was awaiting treatment for fistula - an abnormal opening between organs.

“In some countries they have birth attendants to look after the mother but if you are giving birth en route to the hospital you may not have anyone with you.”


Bishop Roger also spoke to staff about the pressures they face as working in the NHS can be equally challenging.

He said: “They are sometimes dealing with poorly children. It wasn’t so much about comparing, it was recognising both places face challenges.

“I was talking to a midwife who used to work in London and she said there was an African mother who asked ‘I’m not going to die am I?’

“There’s almost a cultural fear.”

Bishop Roger also stopped off at schools in West Bergholt to speak to children about Christian Aid Week.

The children created artwork using handprints and they sang a song as a message of peace.

They made a football from waste plastic as they would in Sierra Leone and played drums.

It was a way of appreciating what we have and what others do not.

Bishop Roger said: “It was a lovely walk as we are blessed with a gorgeous area here, but for a heavily pregnant woman it would be torturous.”

Christian Aid is the official relief and development agency of 41 British and Irish churches and works to support sustainable development, stop poverty and provide disaster relief in South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

For more information on the charity, go to