At the 1995 UN Women’s Conference in Beijing, actor Sally Field inspired Adelaide Doctor, Joy O’Hazy with the idea that women in developing countries could survive birth in far greater numbers if they had access to a few basic, clean items.
After four years of research Joy developed the Birthing Kit using six items packed into a small zip-lock bag. 100 kits were put together at the first ‘Assembly Day’ in 1999 by the Zonta Club of the Adelaide Hills. Those kits, distributed in Papua New Guinea, were incredibly successful. Joy sought support from Zonta, the word spread and ‘The Zonta Birthing Kit Project’ was adopted.
By 2005, over 121,500 kits had been assembled and distributed – the majority of these by Zonta Clubs. Over the years, Zonta clubs reaffirmed their commitment with the Zonta Birthing Kit Project Committee responsible for distributing kits across the developing world, seeking out NGOs to partner with.
The Zonta Birthing Kit Project was so successful it needed to become a charity in its own right. Birthing Kit Foundation Australia was established on September 6th 2006.
Directors were soon assisted by newly appointed staff as kit production rose to over 100,000 a year with kits being distributed to over 17 partners in 16 countries.
Visits by Foundation Directors to Vietnam revealed the need for birth attendant training and in 2007, training programs in Ha Giang Province commenced. Local kit production was also an initiative of this era in Vietnam.
The first kits sent to Ethiopia were bound for the Hamlin Fistula Hospital. With over 2.8 million home births a year in Ethiopia their network of outreach centres became vital as distribution points.
Valerie Browning, an Australian nurse living and working in the harsh Afar Desert for the NGO, Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), embraced the kits and soon became a trainer. An energetic reformer she quickly developed a unique training course for Afar communities.
APDA now manufactures its own kits and Valerie’s ground-breaking initiatives have yielded outstanding results; one of which is reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation.
Mission in Health Care and Development (MHCD), in eastern DR Congo, is headed by the dynamic Dr Luc Mulimbalimba. Dr Luc was quick to organise kit distribution, start training programs in DR Congo, Kenya and Burundi and commence local kit manufacture.
Training notoriously remote groups, such as the Masai Mara and Pygmies, Dr Luc initiated midwifery clubs to keep newly trained birth attendants in regular contact with each other. Locals were also inspired to build birthing huts in communities where no facilities existed.
MHCD is now training trainers who educate hundreds of birth attendants when they return to their local provinces.
Meanwhile, Zonta and community groups maintained their enthusiasm and support for Assembly Days and new Train-the-Trainer programs were developed to fast-track the numbers of community birth attendants being educated.
As support for BKFA grew, Birthing Kits proved popular with the young. Creative fundraising enterprises were introduced such as walking the Kokoda Trail for BKFA – an initiative which raised over $10,000.
BKFA became a signatory to the Australian Council for International Development and gained Overseas Aid Gift Deductibility Status to allow tax deductible donations.
By June 2011 kits were being delivered to 42 organisations in 23 countries. The Australian Defence Forces delivered 50,000 kits into war-torn Afghanistan and slow distribution by sea was replaced by air freight for all kits leaving Australia.
Successful training programs existed in DR Congo, Ethiopia and India. Locally made kits were being produced in DR Congo, Ethiopia and Vietnam.
By the end of 2011, 900,000 kits had been made and over 8,000 birth attendants trained.
In August 2012, the one millionth kit was produced at a vast assembly day co-ordinated by the Zonta Clubs of Brisbane and Brisbane Breakfast at which 10,000 kits were assembled in just three hours.
It represented the complete opposite of the first packing day held in Joy O’Hazy’s home in 1999. However, in common with those first kits, some were destined for PNG.
Dame Quentin Bryce AD, CVO became BKFA’s Patron and Val Sarah, Past International President of Zonta, an Ambassador.
In Southern India, NGOs, SAWED and SWEAD distributed kits and trained birth attendants. For many of these illiterate midwives, this was the only education they have ever received.
As Dalits or “untouchables” most had never consulted a doctor. Training built the status and self-esteem of these women who now provide an important and free service in Tamilnadu’s underprivileged rural communities.
In recent times SWEAD has expanded its training to include adolescent girls, preparing them for the time when they will become mothers, and has initiated its first ‘train the trainer’ program.
2013 saw BKFA in partnership with 33 organisations in 20 countries with the distribution of 140,000 kits to countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kenya, DR Congo, Chad and Uganda.
Partnerships grew and training programs and local kit production continued in DR Congo and India. Board members travelled to Ethiopia on a monitoring and evaluation field visit to review in country kit production projects.
In DR Congo, further seminars for traditional midwives for the Mulenge and the Lemera Pygmies were undertaken. Overcoming logistical and literacy challenges, all materials were carried by foot to these hard to reach areas, with photo books used for educational purposes.
2014 saw organisational transformation with a BKFA brand relaunch and the development of a greater online presence.
International programs with CENESA in Vietnam and with Abraham’s Oasis in Ethiopia were completed and several new Birthing Kit distribution and training partners were piloted to extend BKFA’s reach.
Over 1500 Zontians from around the world heard about the success of Birthing Kits at the Zonta International (ZI) Convention in Orlando Florida, 2014. Here, District 23 was recognised, with the Zonta Birthing Kit Project voted ‘Best District Service Project’ as part of the inaugural ZI Service Recognition awards; a huge honour for all Zontians involved in the Birthing Kit Project.
In February, BKFA celebrated another milestone – the 1000th Assembly Day was held by Cheeky Monkeys mother’s group, in WA.
2015 was a year of growth, with new staff appointed, a major corporate sponsor coming on board supplying gloves for Birthing Kits, and a partnership with World Vision Australia established.
Another record was broken with Zontian and BKFA Life Member Judi Hutchinson coordinating a record Assembly Day of 15,000 kits.
In 2017, BKFA Program Manager and Executive Director travelled to Uganda on a Monitoring and Evaluation Field visit, where they met with 10 BKFA field partners and made visits to 17 community settings. A film and photography crew accompanied them, to gather footage with which to document the visit.
BKFA is working on plans to focus field partnerships in South Asia and East Africa, with new community development project collaborations underway in Uganda and Ethiopia.
In 2017, BKFA celebrates the launch of a brand new website and 2 beautiful films, shot in Uganda.
Today, BKFA marks field partnerships with over 40 organisations, in around 20 countries and distributes around 200,000 kits annually. Plans are underway for the implementation of two collaborative maternal health projects in 2018, with partners in Ethiopia and Uganda.
In total, over 1.65 million kits have been provided to women in developing countries and the role being played by simple interventions such as Birthing Kits is internationally recognised by the World Health Organisation.
With the ongoing goal of addressing the problem of maternal and infant mortality, BKFA looks to the future with ambitious targets and always with the clear vision; that there will one day be a world in which preventable maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity has been eliminated.