And still we march

Dorothy Ngoma, centre, participates in an International Women's Day march in Toronto during a previous visit to Canada to advocate for the rights of nurses in Malawi. (Allan Lissner/Oxfam Canada)

By Dorothy Ngoma, G20 citizen contributor

dorothy52.jpgWhat happens when G8 leaders fail to keep their promises? Let me share a story from my country, Malawi, where the economy is supplemented by foreign aid. It helps pay for essential services, such as education and health care.
Sometime last year we were suddenly told donor countries had no more money to give, and as a consequence our government had no money to pay for scholarships for training skilled health-care workers.
This is a country with a 76 per cent vacancy rate for nurses and midwives, who sometimes work 24 to 76 hours straight without rest. They work alone in health centres. At the height of the "brain drain" crisis, some 50 per cent of health professionals quit and left for Europe, even though their training had been paid for by donors alongside the Malawi government.
With only 500 registered nurses for 14 million people, our government decided that without donor money, they couldn't afford to continue subsidizing the education of health-care workers. So they privatized all the nursing colleges.
That was last September, but my organization vowed that we were not going to allow that to happen. We formed a coalition and lobbied. We lobbied and lobbied and lobbied. We knew that if nurses and midwives had to pay $3,000 for their education, they would be educating themselves for work in the Canada, the U.S. or U.K. They would need to work overseas just to repay their debt.
The scholarships we stood to lose numbered 1,500 and in a country so woefully short of nurses, where 16 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth, we knew it was a cut we couldn't afford. 
I knew we had to fight. I knew that we just needed to annoy these leaders until they said yes. So, we wrote a petition, got as many signatures as could from all the nurses and health-care workers and then we sent it to every parliament member, the president, to donors. We told the students to write to every MP, to the ministers of finance and education, to the vice-president, to everybody.
We met with MPs, we met with journalists. The noise grew. Our president had just bought himself a jet - with a two-billion-kwacha price tag - and we used that against him. We said, "It is good that you bought yourself a jet. It shows we have money in this country! So we must educate these students!" He couldn't get away with it.
And so, when the budget was presented - just last week - we learned there were scholarships for 1,200 students.
That's why the G8 is there. That's why we must fight, because that money is there. The G8 will probably attempt to say that they cannot keep all of their promises because the world's economy is in crisis. But we know that there was money available when the banks needed a bailout. Now let's bail out the poor. Let's invest in them.
If we keep quiet, nothing is going to happen. These politicians don't like to hear the noise. And because they don't like to hear the noise, let's make more noise. Let's scream. Let's do whatever to annoy them until they do the right thing.

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Related: A voice from Malawi