On Friday 9th July 2010, Linda McDonald was presented with a doctorate for her outstanding campaigning for mothers in Malawi by Strathclyde University. Below is the transcription of the Oration:
My Lord and Chancellor, I have the honour to present Linda McDonald, midwife and campaigner for mothers and children in Malawi.
Linda McDonald is a senior midwife in Edinburgh’s Simpson Maternity Centre, where her colleagues will be waiting with interest to see if she appears for her next shift as Dr McDonald, as she will have every right to do after to-day’s ceremony. She considers her job to be a privilege allowing her, as she puts it, to assist in the most private and precious moments of any lifetime. With her work and as the mother of two daughters, Katie and Sally, whom we are glad to welcome to-day together with her husband Iain, she had a life which was both busy and fulfilling.
In 2005, however, she heard news that was to change that life forever. She learnt from colleagues at the Simpson who had recently returned from Malawi about the terrible conditions in the Bwaila Maternity Hospital in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi in Central Africa. The hospital had two doctors and four midwives and delivers 12000 babies a year. Mothers gave birth on bin-bags surrounded by cockroaches. At least one mother died in childbirth every week and four or five new born babies died every day. Linda McDonald saw the photos and when she went home that night she said to her husband that they were going to have to go there and help.
Linda McDonald duly arrived in Malawi, where conditions were if anything worse than she had imagined. She saw the indignities to which the mothers were subjected as infringing their basic human rights. She asked Dr Tarek Meguid, consultant obstetrician at the hospital, what was needed. He replied “a new high risk hospital”, and that is what she immediately set out to secure.
On her return she set up the charity MUMS (Malawi Underprivileged Mothers) and decided to begin her fund-raising with a recipe book. She approached a friend in the Royal Bank to see if they would sponsor 500 books. He said no, but they would sponsor 5000.The book was, you might say, a success, selling 10000 copies in 6 weeks, raising £50K. One night when Linda McDonald was on duty in the Royal Infirmary, she took the opportunity to talk about Malawi to a mother who was learning how to feed her new-born son. The mother was Sarah Brown, who later contributed the foreword to the second recipe book, in which she wrote “I have my own experience in losing my first child and I understand all too well what that means as a mother. I certainly wish my experience on no one else and hope ardently that we can all find ways to prevent future losses for other expectant mothers. That is why I am such a champion of Linda’s persistent and up-lifting endeavours to bring about a better way of giving birth where it is desperately needed”. Her words were quoted in all the national newspapers, helping to ensure that the book was a great success. A third book and a concert followed, bringing the total funds raised to £300K.
Linda McDonald’s campaign reverberated. When Davina McCall was in Malawi to make a film for Comic Relief, Linda was on hand to advise her. The film was the second highest earner that night and Davina McCall later said of Linda “she was everything I had hoped for-such energy and passion and she is single-handedly responsible for changing thousands of women’s lives in Malawi”. Earlier this year, a £1.8M high-risk maternity wing, funded by the Scottish people through STV, the Hunter Foundation and MUMS, opened its doors in Lilongwe. Dr Tarek Meguid commented “Looking at the new units I almost feel a miracle has happened, especially since it all started with little people. But on reflection the new buildings are a testimony to the fact that there are no little people and the least little are the women who give birth here and their children whose first impression of the world will be of these beautiful hospitals.”
That the hospitals opened on time is a tribute not only to Linda but also to Iain who found himself in charge of the electrical installation contract, for which work he was eventually paid one set of golf clubs. He was in Lilongwe with Linda who had taken six months unpaid leave from her job to work in Malawi, principally in the villages. On one occasion, in the rainy season, she set out to help triplets whose mother had died in child-birth. The river was impassable and shoulder high but she did not allow that to stop her. Flagging down a lorry on the other bank to give her a lift, she waded across, carrying her medical kit above her head, and reached the children.
Strathclyde University is particularly well placed to appreciate and recognise Linda McDonald’s achievements. For the past 10 years, our Malawi Millennium Project has focussed the energies of students, staff and graduates on assisting that country, where our most famous alumnus, David Livingstone, is regarded with something close to veneration. Much of our work has been targeted on maternal health, working through the Kamuzu College of Nursing in Lilongwe. We have provided scholarships for some 300 student nurses and have built and equipped the David Livingstone teaching clinic, which has provided ante and post natal care to thousands of mothers, and the City of Glasgow Maternity Unit, where up to 50 babies a month are born. The first child born there is now 5 years old and flourishing. He rejoices in the name of David Livingstone Jere.
The University also occupies the site of the former Rottenrow Hospital, now a garden with, at its centre, a giant nappy pin created for us by the sculptor George Wylie, which is entitled “Maternity”. We like to take our visitors there, most recently Dr Address Malata, Principal of the Kamuzu College of Nursing. She had this to say about Linda McDonald, whom she knows well; “She is an incredible midwife who has done a lot for Malawian mothers and children. She did not wait, she acted, with extraordinary courage”
Linda McDonald has shown all of us that with sufficient determination and inspiration we can achieve more than we ever thought ourselves capable of. She has changed the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth and in so doing has brought credit and honour to our land.
My Lord and Chancellor, with the authority of Senate, I ask you to confer upon Linda McDonald the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.