#ImpactandCommunitySeries: “I am passionately driven and committed to the vision of ending preventable newborn deaths, newborns deserve to survive and thrive” – Amarachi Igwe Kalu, Founder & CEO, Thriving Up Initiative.

Amarachi Igwe Kalu is a Development Expert and Award Winning Infant Health and Wellbeing Advocate with over 5 years experience in the community development sector focusing on community healthcare interventions. She is the Founder and CEO, Thriving Up Initiative, an NGO working to save newborn lives by providing a holistic approach to ensuring the health, wellbeing and development of newborns and infants in underserved communities. 

Amarachi has worked with international, local and financial institutions including the US Embassy, Vitamin Angels International, S.C.C Nigeria Ltd and Access Bank, to implement high impact interventions that have saved thousands of newborn lives and improved health and development outcomes of babies in underserved communities in Nigeria.

Her high impact intervention projects include the construction of fully functional Primary Healthcare Centers  and provision of life saving prenatal Vitamins, Vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets, to mother’s and babies up to six months in severely underserved communities. Her interventions have saved the lives of over 1100 newborn babies, improved immunization rates of babies and children under age five (5) by over 80 percent, improved access to antenatal care by 100 percent and continues to provide access to healthcare for over 5000 people, including women and children in  underserved communities.

She is also the executive director, Thriving Up Network, a social impact hub, through which she equips young change makers with the skills, knowledge and resources required to effect social change so that they can sustainably impact their communities and ultimately Africa. She is a Fellow of the President Obama YALI RLC (2017), recipient of the NYSC FCT Honorary Award (2018), and recipient of the prestigious US Embassy Ambassadorial Grant Award (2018).

Amarachi is passionately driven and committed to saving newborn lives and ending preventable newborn deaths in Nigeria and strongly believes that individuals of all ages deserve to thrive and fulfill potential. 

 

Tell us about, Amarachi Igwe Kalu?

I am an Infant health, well being and development Advocate and Founder, Thriving Up Initiative, an NGO working to save newborn lives in under-served communities in Nigeria. I am passionately driven and committed to the vision of ending preventable newborn deaths and strongly believe that every newborn deserves a chance to survive, thrive and ultimately fulfill potential.

You are a strong advocate for the survival and well being of Newborns. Why and how did you find yourself on this path? 

The birth of my first baby in 2012 sparked an intense passion and desire in me to see newborns and infants provided with an enriched environment that fosters optimal growth and development. 

After my daughter’s birth, I realized that much of the information provided to mothers in the hospitals were centered around pregnancy and safe childbirth but very little was said about how the new mom could ensure the continued survival, health and wellbeing of her baby after she’s been discharged and sent home. I began to read about this and discovered that indeed there was a gap and not much was being said about postnatal care in Nigeria, resulting in thousands of preventable newborn deaths within the early postnatal period in Nigeria and Nigeria being the country with the 3rd highest infant mortality rate in Africa. Deeply saddened by these statistics and the reality of the situation, I became an advocate for newborn health, well being, and survival.

What is “Thriving up” all about and how have you measured your impact and achievements over the years?

Thriving Up is all about imploring a holistic approach to saving newborn lives and improving health and development outcomes of newborns and infants in undeserved communities in Nigeria. Thriving in medical terms indicates proper physical development in babies, but for me, it wasn’t just about physical development but about healthy cognitive and social development of babies as well. So, I came up with a phrase that was more holistic and indicated healthy physical as well as cognitive and social development and that phrase was Thriving Up, (laughs). So a baby is Thriving UP when he/she has an all-round healthy development.

We have a monitoring and evaluation system in place that helps us measure our impact and achievements quarterly and bi-annually. So far, we have made tremendous impact and achieved so much in our quest to save newborn lives in under served communities in Nigeria. We have partnered with well meaning individuals and highly reputable organizations like S.C, C. Nig LTD while serving as a corps member in Abuja and US Embassy, Abuja in 2019  to construct and donate Primary Healthcare centers to Gbaukuchi community in Kuje LGA and Padan Gbaghi community, remote and very hard to reach communities in Bwari LGA respectively. 

The first one built while I was serving as a corps member has now recorded over 2000 safe deliveries with mother and baby doing fine, 80% increase in immunization rates and 100% increase in access to antenatal care in the community where it was constructed and others in its environs. The second which was just commissioned in August 2019 has currently recorded 18 safe deliveries with mother and baby doing fine too.

We currently partner with an international NGO, Vitamin angels international to provide babies and children in underserved communities aged 6 months – 5 years, with vitamin A supplements, and deworming tablets and have provided for 200 babies and children so far. Working with Financial Institutions like Access Bank in Abuja, Nigeria, we have educated and equipped over 3000 expectant mothers in both rural and urban communities with the knowledge, skills and resources with which to provide efficient and effective postnatal car4e. We have donated over 200 infant care packs containing essential newborn care items to expectant and nursing mothers in severely underserved communities. 

It’s been an awesome journey of impact and I can’t be more grateful to GOD who has brought me this far, daily shown me Favor, and given me grace and strength for each new day. 

What is the Motivation and Inspiration behind your interest and success with community impact especially as it concerns mothers? 

I am very passionate about social impact and improving the lives of the severely underserved who clearly cannot  fight back, it invigorates me. Also, I believe that our unique giftings, strengths and passions are not given to us, for us, they are given to us for others and we can by them, contribute our own quota to national development. For me, I’m leveraging my passion for mothers and infants in underserved communities to make a difference in society. 

Mothers play such a pivotal role in the lives of babies and ultimately in society because they are literally shaping the future leaders. However, mothers in underserved communities are disadvantaged by the dismal amount of information and resources available to them, limiting their ability to be the best, give their babies the best and make better informed decisions. This is what I’m working to tackle. My heart goes out to these mothers, I don’t think they should be disadvantaged in their access to information, essential services and resources just because of where they live and as a result of the social determinants of life.

This is why our outreaches and interventions at TUI are focused on hard to reach communities, I want to reach these mothers and empower them with the skills, the knowledge, resources and services they need, to give themselves the best as well as make better informed decisions for their babies, enabling them ensure the health, wellbeing, proper development and survival of their babies regardless of where they live.

Challenges and Lessons learnt on your journey? 

Hmmm… there are a number of them especially because we work with very remote and hard-to-reach communities. So, we are faced with a number of challenges from inaccessibility of these communities especially when we were building the healthcare centers and having to transport building materials, to the fear of insecurity whenever we were visiting a community for the first time. I mean I always feared that herdsmen or boko haram were going to jump out of those bushes and attack us, hahahaha, but thankfully that never happened. We’ve also been very privileged to work with reputable organizations on this journey but we can do so much more if we had more, so there’s also the challenge of funding.

One major lesson I have learned is the reward of courage, of moving and doing in spite of the fear. 

Most of my courage came from the fact that I knew that GOD was with me on this journey of impact and HE called me into it and equipped me for it. So, I knew that if he sent me, he will never put me in harms way and that was my confidence every time we embarked on these journeys.

I learned that the more you lean into your fears and move towards your challenges, the more fulfilling the rewards that will come your way. This is evident in the high-impact interventions we have implemented in these communities. What’s on the other side of fear is and will always be a great opportunity to become and do more and this is a lesson I’ll carry with me forever. Fear has nothing on me now or ever…

Care to share any memorable moments and highlight in the course of your work?

The smiles, sheer joy and happiness on the faces of these mothers whenever we commission a healthcare center in their community is priceless, it’s soul-lifting, it’s just everything. The children too, their laughter when we have our outreaches is fulfilling.

One moment that has stood out for me till date was holding a seven-hours old baby that had just been delivered in one of the healthcare centers we built. I was at the center on that day on a monitoring and evaluation visit when I was told that the baby had been delivered early that morning. When I held that baby in my hands, I knew that I had made a difference in her life. That was a moment for me and in that moment, I felt fulfilled. it was all worth it.

Oh, and another highlight is that I have a land that was given to me by the community head in the community where I built the first center as a corps member. Even though I haven’t claimed the land, it was definitely a highlight for me because I was just a corps member.

What is most fulfilling about the impact you make?

It’s the fact that we are giving these babies the opportunity to survive, thrive and fulfil potential, ultimately contributing positively to society. We don’t know what innovations or potentials they carry, that have the potential to solve a major problem in Nigeria or even the world at large in years to come.

I like to look at it this way, what if Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela had died as infants? These are people who brought about tremendous revolution to Africa; imagine we lost them as babies.

This is what’s most fulfilling for me, the destinies we are saving and giving the opportunity to survive, thrive and serve humanity with the gift they come with. Every baby deserves this chance and giving it to them, is what’s most fulfilling for me.

With how far you’ve come, and your success, what achievements do you hope for in the next 5 years?

Providing Solar energy as a source of electricity for healthcare centers across the federation. 

We are also looking at providing equipment and training for health workers on essential newborn care to make their job a lot easier.

Also looking at leveraging technology to reach more mothers and babies.

 Can you share briefly, some women you consider mentors?

I consider them more like role models than mentors, Mrs Jumoke Adenowo, Mrs Ibukun Awosika and Mrs Tara Durotoye. The common denominator with them that I deeply admire and respect is that they have built highly reputable brands while being wives and mothers. This is something I am very passionate about, in fact I have just launched an online platform in that regard, to inspire young women to be more while being amazing wives and mothers. 

They have shown that it is absolutely possible to wear so many hats as women in line with our vision. Passion and potential and wear them excellently too. I believe that women can fully maximize potential while being amazing wives and mothers and these women are our awesome modern-day proof of that.

Do you have a life philosophy, personal mantra perhaps that keeps you steady when the going gets tough? 

Yes, and that is Everything works together for my good.


The vision is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through impact at the community level.
The LLA Grassroot Series is a monthly interview series that highlights the achievements and journey of African female who has demonstrated exemplary initiative at the grassroots level.

It is an off shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.

If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things at the grassroots level, email lead@leadingladiesafrica.org, and she could possibly be featured.

 

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