Newfoundland yoga teacher offering training in Uganda

Trip raises funds for local birth house

Josh Pennell
Published on February 13, 2014
Bobby Bessey (middle) teaches pregnant women at a prenatal yoga class at a birth house in Uganda in 2012.
— Submitted photo

It may seem as though it’s a world away, but there’s no distance between the things that pregnant women in Uganda need and what women in this country require. The difference is women in Uganda don’t have many of those supports as readily available as the women in Canada do.

Bobby Bessey is hoping to offer some support to women in an area of Uganda. She is the owner of Shakti Yoga in St. John’s, where she teaches pre- and post-natal yoga. She’s also what’s known as a birth doula — a non-medical birth support person who tends to a woman in labour either at home with a midwife or at a hospital.

A doula, Bessey says, does things such as massage the mother, help with baby positioning and offer support before and after birth.

Bessey is trying to provide support at a birth house in Uganda. Two years ago she went to a birth house there to do birth-support training with a midwife from Seattle, Wash., who was running it as a fundraising event.

Now, Bessey is going back to offer her own training and is giving the money raised to the birth house.

“It’s a really important resource. Many women die every day in childbirth and the hospitals are overcrowded,” she says.

On her first visit to the birth house in Uganda, Bessey visited the nearby building used as the hospital. “It’s a long, skinny hallway that has enough room for a line of beds and someone to walk down at the end, so when they’re busy, I’ve been told that there’s a woman on a bed and a woman on the floor between the beds and they’re all labouring in that one room with one doctor.”

In contrast, the birth house has midwives there around the clock. It’s a site for women with HIV/AIDS to give birth and they have resources to minimize the transmission from mothers to babies. There are also emergency vehicles in case there are severe complications, so the women can be taken to an adequate hospital. Besides the birthing supports, there’s an income-generating group for mothers living with HIV/AIDS which teaches the women how to sew and bead and to sell their goods.

Bessey says it’s having a real effect on a community where the AIDS epidemic and war have left the people beaten down. Some mothers there are taking care of their children’s children and may have as many as seven or eight to care for.

At the fundraising trip, Bessey will be teaching 10 days of pre-natal yoga training. There are several Canadians already signed up and a woman from Australia. Any money that isn’t covering airfare, food and lodging goes directly to the birth house.

Who is the trip for?

“Anybody interested in travel and women’s health and in yoga,” says Bessey. “They’ll have the opportunity to meet and interact with all these women who, of course, will be benefiting from all of the money they paid to do this program. The women in this program who are in the income-generating program will be taking us to their houses and making meals for us there. So we’ll be very really involved with the community.”

There will also be drumming and African dance parties at night.

The birth house offers women there all their pre-natal visits and training and the actual birth for about $1.50, meaning its accessible to even the very poor. With about five people signed up, Bessey figures that means more than $5,000 for the birth house already.

Anybody interested in the fundraising trip can check out