Caritas case study for International Women’s Day: Salma’s story

8 March 2022
Bangladeshi mother Salma and her baby Samiul. Image: Ashish Peter Gomes/Caritas Australia.


Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Salma was just 18 years old, pregnant and fearful for her life and that of her unborn child, when she featured in Project Compassion 2013. In Bangladesh, maternal and infant mortality rates are still tragically high. According to a recent World Bank report, nearly 30 in 1,000 newborn babies die, while still more are born suffering malnutrition and low birth weight. 

Salma sought the help of a midwife trained by Caritas’ Safe Motherhood Program – and more than six years on, Salma is thriving and the mother of two healthy children.

Salma lives with her husband, Masud, in the rural community of Gazipur, two hours from Bangladesh’s bustling capital, Dhaka. During her first pregnancy, Salma was very sick. She experienced abdominal pain, couldn’t eat and was frightened by the pain she was experiencing. Her distress increased as some villagers suggested that something might not be right with the baby. 

The nearest medical clinic was too far away for Salma to attend, so she sought care from the village’s elderly traditional birth attendant. However, Salma didn’t feel comforted or confident that her baby would be born healthy. 

Thankfully, Salma heard about a rural midwife named Pronoti. Word had reached Salma that mothers and babies in Pronoti’s care suffered fewer complications during birth and in the critical months afterwards. Pronoti’s patients were also less likely to suffer illness or injury. This brought great hope to Salma and her family. 

Salma sought out Pronoti, who safely monitored her pregnancy and helped deliver Salma’s beautiful daughter. 

Pronoti was able to help, thanks to the midwifery training she received through the Safe Motherhood Program supported by Caritas Australia. This comprehensive training means midwives like Pronoti can provide full antenatal and postnatal care, deliver babies, and refer mothers to hospital if needed. 

Through the program, more and more women in rural Bangladesh are receiving the care they need and fulfilling their hope of having a family. To date, the program has reduced maternal and infant mortality in the area by almost 70 per cent. Over 400 women have been trained in midwifery since 2008 – and these new midwives have had an incredible impact, giving over 28,000 women antenatal checkups and delivering more than 15,000 babies. 

Not only has the program benefitted new mothers, it has empowered midwives, like Pronoti, by giving them the opportunity to learn valuable skills. Pronoti is now a respected community member who is able to contribute to her family’s income. 

“There has been positive change in the community, many women say they are less fearful. Now, the women are much better prepared for pregnancy and delivery,” says Caritas program manager, Provaty Rozario. 

Of course, when Salma fell pregnant a second time, she called Pronoti immediately. Pronoti was once again delighted to accompany Salma through her pregnancy and this time deliver a healthy baby boy. 

“I think often how if the Safe Motherhood Program had not trained midwives like Pronoti many of us would have to go to the private clinics 11 kilometres away,” Salma says. “Some of us women and our babies might die because of that.” 

Salma’s husband, Masud, says that without the midwife’s help, they would not have known what to do. He’s proud of his young family. 

“Being poor I see it is going to be very hard to educate our children well, so I need to earn more money. We dream of leasing some land in the future so we can cultivate rice,” Masud says. “With hope, we can believe that our children will not have to suffer in the same way as we do because of our poverty.”

Now 24, Salma smiles as she lovingly watches her one-year-old boy and her six-year-old daughter who is in Year 2 at school. She is pleased that not only were they born healthy, but they’re growing up strong, and can focus on their hopes and dreams for the future. Salma’s face lights up as she describes her daughter’s ambition to be a doctor in future. 

Salma would like to say a big thank you to Caritas and the people of Australia for all their help. With your support, Caritas is helping women in Bangladesh to safely give birth to their babies. 

“We are poor and so it is easy to get discouraged about the future. However, if we have hope, we have the courage to try and do things that seem difficult or impossible at the time,” she said. 

With thanks to Caritas Australia.


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