Extraordinary Pakistanis: the mama and baby fund

Published: February 10, 2016


PHOTO: AFP/FILE The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

“I don’t have money to bury my own baby,” shared a new mother, who lost her baby due to complications at birth. When Neha Mankani, a LUMS graduate-turned-midwife, heard stories like these at the hospital every day, she realised that something had to give. This is a story that needs to be told to understand that there are people in Pakistan who choose to walk on life paths that stray from convention, where most of us are too afraid to go. “The first time I delivered a baby,” shares Neha, “I remember my hands were shaking because I was so nervous, but the fact that you’re such a big part of this baby and mother’s story is a crazy, good feeling.”

Being a midwife can deliver moments of joy and sadness with equal force. “My hospital has an infertility clinic,” shares Neha. “So we often have women who give birth after years (even decades of infertility). I’ve met a number of women like that and the kind of joy that their baby brings them is so great, it’s transferred to everyone around them.” There are heart-wrenching moments of sadness too. “Delivering dead babies or babies that are born too early and have no chance of survival is heartbreaking. The kind of vacant expressions that women who have lost their babies have, always stay with you.”

Unusual birth: Woman delivers baby girl in hospital toilet

A few years ago, Neha flew down to Uganda over summer to work in a refugee camp while securing her Master’s in Public Health from the prestigious Columbia University in New York. This is where she began a conversation with herself about wanting to make a difference not just at a macro level but also at a micro level where she could physically make a difference, one life at a time. Later, she joined the Lady Dufferin Hospital’s 18-month midwifery programme in Karachi. In the process of her training, she realised that women from disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t plan for emergencies which can create major problems for their babies, due to lack of funds. So she started a small fund, generating resources from her friends and family to help out mothers and babies.

“With the mama baby fund, I often meet people who are in very desperate situations because of unanticipated emergencies,” shares Neha. “Two moments that stand out: one morning, I walked into the labour room and asked an old woman to bring breakfast for her daughter who was in early labour and she said she couldn’t as she didn’t have money for it right now. The second moment (the story that prompted the start of the mama baby fund) occurred when I was working in the nursery and we drew blood from a sick baby for a blood culture test. I gave the sample to his grandmother who brought it back after 10 minutes and said it costs too much and she emptied her pockets and she only had Rs5. She told me to keep the sample while she tried to arrange the money overnight and that’s when I decided some kind of emergency fund needed to be in place.”

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Neha Mankani was initially hesitant to be interviewed for this story because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. It’s difficult to critique a woman who does so much good but it’s important to talk about the value of advocacy here. People who do bad things in Pakistan roam openly and boast about their ill-gotten wealth or favours. But people like Neha — the men and women we need to hold up as role models to show the extraordinary Pakistani spirit all around us — shy away from speaking about their experiences. This needs to change if we want to trigger an avalanche of positivity to combat the quicksand of negativity and cynicism, which Pakistan is hopelessly trapped in. We’re surrounded by an equal amount of positive and negative energy, but the media and chattering classes only focus on the negative. If we don’t tell the stories of good people, we’ll fall into the trap of thinking everyone is bad.

I asked Neha for a message for young people looking to make a difference in Pakistan. “You’ll always meet critics,” shares Neha. “It’s important not to let them come in your way. I meet a lot of people who are very encouraging, but also a lot of people who say ‘ok so you’re a dai (midwife)… tell me how that makes sense with your degree?’ Midwifery is a difficult profession in Pakistan where a midwife is synonymous with a traditional birth attendant and people don’t understand what I’m doing with my life and why I’m doing it. If something makes you happy and makes sense to you, it doesn’t matter whether it makes sense to other people!”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th,  2016.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Toti calling
    Feb 11, 2016 - 10:22AM

    It is a pleasure to read stories like Neha. She is a good human being with courage. In a world where everybody is running after profits, it is heartening to see and hear about good people. If I knew her account number, would like t contribute something. Good luck Neha and others like you. It is people like you that makes life worth living.Recommend

  • Naveed
    Feb 11, 2016 - 10:28AM

    Great work Neha..Is it possile that some we can join you in such a noble cause. It wil be an honor for us.Recommend

  • A Citizen
    Feb 11, 2016 - 10:54AM

    Hats off to this personRecommend

  • Ramish
    Feb 11, 2016 - 11:10AM

    Hi how can i contribute to her fund and how can i get in touch with Neha?Recommend

  • Naila
    Feb 11, 2016 - 11:47AM

    Such a heart warming story. Proud to see young people take on such challenges and make a difference in a world so pre occupied with individual success. Neha, God bless and may your venture grow from strength to strength.Recommend

  • NY
    Feb 11, 2016 - 11:52AM

    Great work. Well done NehaRecommend

  • Karachite
    Feb 11, 2016 - 12:02PM

    Dear Neha and Bilal Lakhani,
    a commendable act from both of you. First the act itself and second to make people aware of it. I am sure that there will be many people willing to contribute to your fund (with no questions asked), only if they new how to get in touch! I guess a little social media attention should do the trick.Recommend

  • dr.omar
    Feb 11, 2016 - 1:07PM

    wow Neha, love your work, love your effort, my daughter is studying in LUMS, hope she sees life like you do, best wishes.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Feb 11, 2016 - 1:55PM

    Thank you for writing that…..its an inspirational story that needed to be told.Recommend

  • Faiza
    Feb 11, 2016 - 3:42PM

    No job greater than the one that contributed to the welfare of mankind . So happy to read such storiesRecommend

  • Feb 11, 2016 - 5:03PM

    Our real life heroes!Recommend

  • Qamar Valliani
    Feb 11, 2016 - 5:43PM

    So many commentators are asking how to get in contact with Neha. Can’t Tribune publish the bank account of “Mama & Baby Fund” so that people can put money into the account. Recommend

  • Anam Ali
    Feb 11, 2016 - 8:08PM

    How can we donate to Mama Baby Fund? Please share details.Recommend

  • Husna khan
    Feb 12, 2016 - 10:41AM

    no matter what other say if you are happy what you are doing then thats it.
    Great causes. Hats off to your efforts Recommend

  • optimist
    Feb 12, 2016 - 4:56PM

    People who want to contribute:
    I think Neha is doing it for the people around her.
    You can also start something similar in other poorer areas. Contact some decent and respectable persons in your area and establish a fund. If you go to any government hospital, you will see so many poor people and it will be obvious that they cannot afford blood tests etc.
    Bilal Lakhani, well done for the report…. keep telling us the stories that no one else is interested in….Recommend

  • Karachiwala
    Feb 13, 2016 - 3:48AM


    i guess only you have picked up what was meant to be told here.
    You got it right. everyone should start from their surrounding.

    For everyone else, please visit Lady Dafrin hospital. if you cannot, ask some one to do it.Recommend

  • Rubina
    Feb 14, 2016 - 2:26PM

    Neha your work is really appreciable at least you have started some thing. Recommend

  • Shamsa
    Mar 11, 2016 - 1:53AM

    Absolutely terrific work Neha.It’s not easy at all given the challenging environment and lack of resources so all praise for your efforts. Your compassion and sense of duty is outstanding. I don’t know but you may have heard of the humanitarian Dr Syed Shershah an obstetrician from Karachi.Why not join forces if you can and gain from his extensive experience and knowledge? Just an idea and best wishes for success. You are a source of inspiration and independent action. God bless you.It would be good to know of how one can support the mama baby fund.Recommend

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