The women of Harambee Village aspire to create a more equitable health care system through improving health outcomes for mothers and babies one family at a time.
“Our mission at Harambee Village is to enhance the prenatal experience and we center our work on women of color,” Harambee Village Cofounder and Doula Tia Murray said.
Modeled after South Madison Health and Family Center-Harambee, a collaborative effort between social service providers which opened its doors in 1995 and closed them in 2010 due to lack of funding, Harambee Village returned to the idea of community support. Founded in 2014, the organization enhances the childbearing experiences for families through doula support and accessible education.
Their name, Harambee, pronounced “Har-ahm-bay,” derives from a word in Swahili meaning “Let’s Pull Together.” These women use a community-based model leveraging grassroots connections and community partnerships to serve as an equitable resource to all mothers, especially women of color.
“The average cost of a doula in Madison is from $1,200-1.500, and that’s on the lower end of the spectrum,” Murray said.
For some mothers, hiring a doula could seem unrealistic or an expensive endeavor, however, Harambee Village works with all women to make care affordable. Through various grants and funding processes, the organization has the ability to offset costs for low-income clients.
By far, Harambee Village offers services to mostly Black women across the socioeconomic spectrum. Murray said there often is a misconception among some community members that Harambee Village only serves low-income families, however, this isn’t true.
“One thing we love to highlight is our community-based doula model goes far beyond the average doula based model,” Director and Doula Micaela Berry said.
She said Harambee Village works to empower women to advocate for themselves in a healthcare system that does not always listen to Black women. Berry said the organization was the first community-based doula organization in the Wisconsin area. Harambee Villages’ goal is to increase positive birth outcomes and to decrease infant mortality, as well as increase the number of Black mothers who breastfeed.
“There’s this perception of Black and Brown women being WIC recipients which have been equated to using formula,” Murray said.
She said women of color are often discouraged from attempting to breastfeed their children. Murray said Black mothers are often pushed to use formula instead.
“I think there are some implicit biases about the narrative of who wants to breastfeed or who will be successful at breastfeeding,” she said.
Harambee Village leverages their close partnership with the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance of Dane County to help mothers interested in or struggling to breastfeed their children. The organization often connects families to many other partnered organizations to help improve their quality of care. In a lot of ways, Harambee Village operates on a referral system.
“We do get a lot of referrals. A lot of times the moms would let their providers know that they would like a doula,” Berry said.
She explained people are now starting to learn more about what a doula does for pregnant women. Berry also said doulas help more than just mothers but often act as a support mechanism for the entire family.
“I think that a lot of times the community may not understand the value of a doula and having a doula postpartum,” she said.
Murray said African American mothers historically had midwives but as time went on, some elements of the culture were lost. Harambee Village hopes to bring back a successful cultural model and integrate a more collaborative approach in health care.
“The hospital staff is focused on the process of the birth and not necessarily the person whereas as doula we are focused on the person,” she said.