Meet the woman who’s saved thousands of lives.

What do you think is the most misused word currently doing the rounds? “Hero.”

Perhaps, misused isn’t the correct way to put it… maybe it’s a word that isn’t used often enough in a way that’s relatable to me.

As I’ve matured, as I’ve been approaching the big 3-0, I’ve noticed a significant shift in how I see things. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye when I saw the word ‘hero’ used to describe a celebrity (yes, a tragic self-confessed Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan right here). These days, using the term like that leaves me with nothing but a question mark in mind.

To me, a real hero isn’t someone who can remember their lines in my favourite TV shows or movies or someone who is famous just for being famous. It’s someone who is making a real difference in the world. A woman like Sister Christine Otai.

“Sr Christine Otai is one of the fiercest and most incredible women I’ve ever met. She’s a real hero of development and has single-handedly saved the lives of thousands of premature babies,” says Madeline Vaughan, from Adara Development.

Sister Christine Otai caring for a premature newborn. Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik

Now, I’m the first person to admit that the above quote reads as though it’s been perfectly scripted, however I promise you that it actually came about during a phone conversation between Madeline and I. Every conversation about Sr Christine left me wanting to know more about her.

Heading up the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Kiwoko Hospital in rural Uganda, Sr Christine specialises in high-risk deliveries. Her expertise lies in resuscitation techniques and stabilisation, as well as the safe transfer of newborn infants. She’s also very hands-on in relation to the initiation of medical treatment for the tiniest patients.

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Personally, I can’t really imagine Sr Christine having any extra time up her sleeve but this incredible woman’s story reminds me of the following quote I read while trawling the internet (who isn’t addicted to inspirational quotes these days?):

“Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to humanity.” - Unknown

While we may never learn who uttered these words, Sr Christine’s work guiding student nurses and other neonatal teams across Uganda epitomises this theory. She spends one-on-one time with the dedicated clinicians in NICUs and maternity wards across the country, encouraging them to continue learning and building their skills in both infant and maternal care. Qualified as a trainer in neonatal resuscitation, Sr Christine has been directly involved in the training of more than 500 nurses and when you think of this in a wider sense, her impact is even more meaningful. After all, each of these nurses play a direct role in those first critical moments as newborn’s take their first breath.

A role in those first critical moments. Image via iStock

Remarkably, the more you consider this one woman’s impact, the more you begin to realise how powerful any one person can be. Consider these statistics:

  • Since 2005, there has been 13 per cent increase in the survival of all babies born in the ward Sr Christine leads.
  • Babies born with what iss considered a low birth weight (anything under 2.5kg) are 28 per cent more likely to survive.

Fascinated? Trust me, my words don’t do Sr Christine’s great work justice - see exactly what I mean in this video.

Video via Adara Group

What I find even more inspiring is that the work of Sr Christine and so many like her, is done without wide praise or awareness. Still though, these incredible women, alongside individual giving and government investment in aid, continue to make great progress in reducing child mortality. In 2015, for the first time on record, the global child mortality rate (defined as child deaths under the age of five), dropped below the six million mark. This means that about 19,000 fewer children died per day in 2015 than in 1990.

Sadly, if you’re aware of the government’s stance on Australia’s aid commitments, you’d be aware that funding to regions such as rural Uganda is lacking. Disappointingly, our Prime Minister missed an opportunity during the latest budget update to take the lead and cement Australia’s long-term security and economic growth by taking a stance on aid.

Our PM missed the opportunity. Image via @turnbullmalcolm Instagram.

As it stands, severe cuts by our government is set to drive Australia’s aid contribution to its lowest ever levels.

As someone living in a resource-rich nation, I struggle to fathom how those leading the country can’t see that giving everyone a fair go is what defines us as Australians and that investment in aid is crucial in terms of global stability.

That said, I’ll take my hat off to more than 10,000 Aussies who’ve sent a real letter that begins with Dear PM to show Malcolm Turnbull and their local MPs that rebuilding Australia’s aid program is on our wish list for 2016.

We must remember that at the end of the day, these letters act as our voice in supporting incredible people working in aid and development such as Sr. Christine who are making a real difference. It’s women such as Sr. Christine who I’d like my future children to look up to.

Sarah Cannata is the Communications Officer at Campaign for Australian Aid.

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