Sitting at one of the small tables at the campus Starbucks, Boise State alumni Patricia Forbes pulled out a plastic wrapped square containg a birthing kit, leaned over her open copy of “Half the Sky” and handed it across the table.
“Right now, we have woman (in Somaliland) giving birth on the ground, or a dirty sheet,” Patricia Forbes said. “It just makes sense that if a women has the option of trying to have a clean birth, that it could only help her and her baby.”
Patricia Forbes is the co-founder of Gratis Humanity Aid Network, a nonprofit that assists organizations in underserved parts of the world by sending necessary supplies. Although it plans to expand, Gratis Humanity Aid Network currently sends birthing kits to the Edna Adan Hospital in Somaliland and sends reusable feminine hygiene kits to girls in South Sudan and Uganda.
Origins in Venturing and Venture College
The nonprofit started after Patricia Forbes graduated with her undergraduate degree from Boise State in 2008.
“Back in 2008, I actually started bringing in duffle bags of basic medication into South Sudan when I would travel into Africa,” Patricia Forbes said. “My first trip, I brought in some really basic supplies—everything from reusable feminine hygiene kits to prenatal vitamins. It was such a grassroots effort.”
After returning, Patricia Forbes got an interdisciplinary master’s degree from Boise State in 2012 focusing on “economically and socially marginalized women in conflict imposing and post-conflict settings.” During the program, she did her research in a small village on the border of South Sudan and Kenya.
After graduating, Patricia Forbes wasn’t sure how to use the academic knowledge she had to enact change.
“I didn’t have a business background ,and I didn’t know how to begin to establish a business, so the Venture College allowed me to apply and accepted me,” Patricia Forbes said. “The way I look at it is Boise State gave me roots to stand—the academic part of it—and the Venture College gave me the wings to fly.
It wasn’t until October 2014 that Gratis Humanitarian Aid Network was registered as a 501c3–the classification for non-profits allowing their donors to get tax write-offs.
By that time, Gratis Humanity Aid Network had already started delivering reusable feminine hygiene kits to South Sudan and Uganda, and they had started fundraising to supply Edna Adan Hospital with with birthing kits
Patricia Forbes’ son and the other co-founder of Gratis Humanity Aid Network, Austin Forbes, was traveling around in several different parts of Africa with his significant other in 2013. While they were living in Uganda, she got a bad case of Typhoid.
“A lot of the medicines that were in Uganda were from India and from Pakistan. I didn’t realize the significance of that until my partner got really sick,” Austin Forbes said.
After trying all the medicines available, Austin Forbes had to have medicine shipped in from the U.S. in order to save his partner’s life. This sparked Austin Forbes interest in providing underserved countries with the supplies they need.
Shortly after that, Patricia Forbes asked Austin Forbes to check out the Edna Adan hospital in Somaliland because he was close to the area. Before visiting the hospital, Austin Forbes thought the trip was just going to be “a good old-fashioned adventure.”
The hospital was started in 2002 by Edna Adan Ismail, the foreign minister of Somaliland Republic from 2003 to 2006. The intention of the hospital, according to Austin Forbes, is to “serve essentially the most underserved people in one of the most represented and underserved parts of the world.”
“As soon as I showed up, I realized this was the kind of organization we want to work with,” Austin Forbes said. “After going there and seeing her hospital, we knew we could go there and trust her to use the things we provided her with in the way we intended.”
After speaking with Ismail, both the Forbes were told that they could best serve the hospital by provide it with birthing kits. The kits have the necessary tools for midwives at Edna Adan Hospital to go out into the rural areas of Somaliland and help women give birth.
“Edna’s feeling is if just the basic of hygiene options for a woman giving birth are met, it will decrease the maternal infections and the neonatal infections,” Patricia Forbes said. “There aren’t any good statistics about these rural areas because often times births and deaths aren’t kept track of the way we do in western society.”
According to Patricia Forbes, over 90 percent of the women in Somaliland have had some form of female genital mutilation done to them. Also, there is a high rate of early marriages with young girls whose “pelvises aren’t fully developed for childbirth.”
“You have grinding poverty, vast distances to travel—basically you have an entire region where a women is expected to give birth and keep on going,” Patricia Forbes said.
Recent steps forward
After several years of fundraising, a shipment of a thousand birth kits arrived in Somaliland in March. In April, Patricia and Austin Forbes traveled to Somaliland to finalize the shipment, sending it off to the Edna Adan Hospital via aircrate.
According to Austin Forbes, the hospital’s midwives will “field test” the birthing kits and decide whether or not they need to be modified to better suit the hospital’s needs.
“Once (Edna) compiles the results of that field test—assuming they will still want to use those birthing kits—we would like to deliver those on a larger scale,” Austin Forbes said. “We would like to get the funds to fill a shipping crate with these from India and send it to Edna so essentially every birth in the country, that has a midwife present, has one of them.”
After a fundraiser to thank their donors on Thursday, Nov. 17, Patricia Forbes said they will continue to try to move Gratis Humanity Aid Network forward.
“I would love to think we could be delivering thousands upon thousands of (birthing kits), but what’s holding us back is funding,” Patricia Forbes said. “We’re still so small that every $1,000 we raise feels like $100,000.”
Kelly Miller, a board member for Gratis Humanity Aid Network, is excited to see the non-profit donate more birthing kits because of the link between the birthing kits’ creation in India by the non-profit, Days for Girls International, and what those birthing kits provide for women in Somaliland.
“You’re providing economic stability for women working in India by proving birthing kits for women working in Edna’s hospital in Somaliland,” Miller said. “That connection between empowering women in one developing nation to help women in another is such a strong model and I’m excited about Patty’s vision and connection she’d made between folks.”
Students can donate to Gratis Humanitarian Aid Network on their website. Students can also donate a birthing kit or reusable feminie hygiene kit in someone’s name as a gift for the holiday season.
“While violence against women here across the state may look different than violence against women in Somaliland, it comes from the same roots of devaluing girls and women and people are gender non-conforming,” Miller said. “We need to continue to have those conversations about why we value one gender over all others.”