Work Exchange for Care Means Ongoing Sustainability

“If it is inaccessible to the poor then it is neither radical nor revolutionary”. We sit with this truth daily, especially when it comes to healthcare. Government funded (aka, free) healthcare in the Global South often falls radically short of quality care, and private clinics are more often prohibitively expensive for the poor.

How does a community health center offer low-cost or free care and also ensure that midwives are paid, quality supplies are in stock and an ambulance has fuel in it, without depending entirely on foreign aid that could disappear when the economy plummets or funders decide your project is no longer “a priority”? These are the questions we grapple with daily.

Long before money was a piece of paper that got exchanged for goods, people traded goods and services themselves. Sustainability starts with community ownership. We have recreated the village exchange model as a means of providing accessible healthcare and also generating enough local income to keep our clinic running. Women who come to our clinic do not have to pay for services. Instead, we have working collectives of mothers and midwives that make paper beads out of recycled newspaper; sew baby slings, skirts, aprons, and blankets; make handmade shea butter and harvest herbs from our gardens to make tea. All of these items are sold on our online market Mother’s Health Market, and at craft markets around the world. All proceeds go directly back into purchasing supplies for the clinic, fueling our ambulances and paying midwives salaries. This collective workshare model ensures ongoing sustainability for the clinic.

Almost daily groups of mothers sit around the clinic making beads while breastfeeding their babies and ‘talking story’. This radical act of turning our crafts into maternity care is the truest form of community alchemy.

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