For Humboldt resident Arlene Julé, saving a child’s life during a tough birth was only the beginning of a transcontinental bond.
Julé has been going to the east African country of Tanzania since 2008, where she volunteers to help out in the remote village of Ussongo. Trained as a doula, a non-medical person who assists women with the process of childbirth, Julé helps at the village’s health centre.
For this particular birth, the baby had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, arm and one leg, cutting off oxygen to her head. A traditional midwife from the area asked Julé to hold the baby as she removed the cord.
“The cord was eventually removed but there was probably a time lapse of about five minutes before the cord was removed,” she said. “The child was completely blue and was completely unresponsive so there didn’t look like there was life there.”
Julé remembers the midwife shaking her head, looking like she was relinquishing any chance of life.
“I said, ‘no, I don’t think we should give up,’ so she told me to pick up the baby, which I did do,” she said. “I took the baby and put her next to my chest, next to my heart and I massaged her back, massaged her whole body very gently. Then I turned the baby upside down and again rubbed the back and the baby started to cry, started to breathe.”
That moment was amazing for Julé.
“The baby’s mother looked at me and she had tears in her eyes, so I gave her her baby, placed the baby in her hands and told her to put the baby on her heart were the baby was warned and colour came back to the baby’s face, so it was obvious she was going to live.
“The next day after she was born, the midwife told me to come back to see the mother and the new baby and she told me the mother wanted to name the baby after me because I had helped to save her life.”
Arlene is not a particularly familiar name in Tanzania, but there was something that would work using Julé’s surname: Juliette.
Julé spent the rest of her time in Ussongo that year helping with various project. She then returned to Canada and reflected what had happened there.
“Considering the sequence of events here and the realizations that came to me though the entire process, I realized that really it was most likely intended by the powers that be that I was to assist her in her life,” she said.
“I realized that this little girl had really been turned over to my hands.”
Juliette’s family was poor and there was no way she’d be able to receive an education if somebody didn’t help. In Tanzania, boys tend to be the first priority if the family can afford an education. While public school is free, uniforms and school supplies are not, stopping many from taking part.
So Julé talked to Juliette’s parents.
“They were very surprised that anybody would want to do that and were a bit suspicious of me at first, wondering why I would want to pay for her education,” she said. “I told her it was a conscious thing that I was doing based on my beliefs and Christian principles – that you help others that are in need when you have the chance to do that.”
They agreed. Over the next couple of years, Julé got to know Juliette’s parents, assuring them that she didn’t want to take Juliette to Canada but just help with her education so she could have a better life.
The parents selected a private evangelical boarding school where Juliette’s is assured she’ll have a place to stay, food to eat, medical attention as needed and a chance to learn English.
Juliette is now in what’s the equivalent of our Grade 6. She’s fluent in three languages, including English. She lives in a family with six children, with one older brother and four younger siblings.
“Juliette is a very happy young lady. She’s made friends in school and she realizes that she’s loved a lot and she’s fortunate to have an education,” Julé said. “She’s also realizing that it’s a bigger world than where she was born and this bigger world has people in it that really care about her, that we’re a caring and sharing world.”
Julé has been back to Ussongo 12 times since 2008, meeting with Juliette and her parents each time. As Juliette’s English has become stronger, she and Julé talk over the phone.
“Juliette has stated that she wants to become a doctor and she wants to become a doctor that delivers babies.”
There’s a lot of potential barriers in the way. Malaria is rampant in the area and it’s common to get sick from it. That’s something that can be dealt with with antimalarials if caught early enough. There’s also societal pressure for girls to get married at a young age. Julé said she’ll have to be wise and stand up for what she want.
As for Julé, she’s working to support Juliette’s education.
“Now my family, my children and myself, had decided that instead of giving each other Christmas presents every year,” she said, “we have decided to take that money and put it towards Juliette’s education until she’s finished her schooling.”
Julé said she believes in following principles of Christ, ones of love and peace, and part of that is helping out those that are less fortunate.
“I think it’s important to follow the calling of love and wherever it takes you, to follow your heart and to respond with love to everyone that comes along your path.”