- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - She is only 21, but Natalie Brown already has seen more of birth and death than most.

She has helped with the delivery of newborn babies in primitive conditions and stood by helplessly as infants died. She has gone to the morgue to identify the body of a friend and has comforted pregnant AIDS patients.

The Ingleside native is working with a Corpus Christi-based ministry, Uniquely Woven, to help mothers in Uganda.

The organization was started by two other local women, Ashley Perez and Presley Smith.

Brown had been in Africa since April and is back in Corpus Christi for the holidays, visiting family and raising funds. She will return in February.

Uganda has one of the largest orphan populations in the world, and Brown decided to focus on that issue in a roundabout way.

“So many people are working with the orphan crisis, and they are doing a wonderful job,” she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/1AYoZV7 ). “But we wanted to focus on seeing what we could do to prevent children becoming orphans in the first place.”

So Brown is providing services that will help mothers have safe deliveries. The maternal mortality rate in many areas of Uganda is 1 in 10, she said. Part of the problem is that hospitals refuse to treat those without money. So unless a woman can pay upfront for hospital care, she is turned away or simply gives birth alone.

Uniquely Woven provides women with birthing kits so they can take everything they need into the hospital with them - from scissors to sanitary pads.

“Since the hospitals don’t provide supplies for the birth and these supplies are costly, it really helps,” she said. “We are preventing the next orphan by equipping the mother and helping these wonderful strong mamas be the mothers God meant them to be.”

The group also is providing housing and prenatal care for women, giving them a place to live, nutritious food and medical care before they deliver, as well as access to a safe delivery. Two of the mothers the group has cared for tested positive for HIV, but Brown was thankful that their babies were born without the disease.

Brown stays in Kampala, the capital, and works in slums where she conducts Bible studies for the women as well as passes out the birth kits and recruits expectant mothers for prenatal care programs. The group also is providing job training and creating a sewing program, in which they teach women to sell the items they make.

Brown said she hopes to stay in Uganda for many years.

“I am in love with the country,” she said. “I first fell in love with it when I saw a documentary about it when I was 13. Then I went on a short-term mission trip when I was 17. When I got there I knew I was home. I feel this is where the Lord has called me to be. I don’t make any money. I am completely supported by the generosity of family and friends. But the Lord is making provisions.”

Her mother, Donna Brown, said in a blog post on her daughter’s 21st birthday that she’s impressed with her strength and courage.

“She’s had fevers, chills and assorted illnesses without a mom there to offer a cool rag for her head, and she’s gone to the local store for a deworming pill as if it were as ordinary as aspirin. She’s established the field operations for a fledgling ministry from the ground up, and after just eight months has them supporting three families and hosting Bible studies in two different slums … Is it possible for your own daughter to be your hero? I think so.”

Natalie Brown rents a room in a sprawling home of a safari operator with a view of the surrounding hills.

“I never know what he will bring home,” she said. “We have an elephant skull on our front porch, and there are monkeys on the roof.”

Some of the most difficult situations she has faced involve the death of children.

“One woman in my church had a baby that died the day after it was born,” she said.

Her mission is independent and she is not affiliated with any particular church group, although when she is in Corpus Christi she attends Church Unlimited, a large nondenominational church. And she attends a church in Kampala that includes Ugandans and Congolese refugees.

“Even if we don’t speak the same language, I can sit by my Congolese sister and communicate, knowing we are sisters in Christ,” she said.

___

Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com

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