‘One Day Young’ photographer Jenny Lewis has produced a touching series of images of new mothers and their babies in their first precious hours of life after being born in a hospital in rural Malawi that recently got clean water and good sanitation thanks to a WaterAid project.

Jenny, from Hackney, previously visited Simulemba health centre in Kasungu in 2015, when there was no running water, no proper toilets, unsafe waste disposal and a single flickering light bulb, meaning staff struggled to provide adequate care for the 90 babies born there each month. Then, Jenny captured intimate shots of mothers after the ordeal of giving birth in a place with poor facilities yet full of hope for the future.

Nearly half of healthcare facilities in least developed countries, and one in four globally, do not have clean water on site, increasing the risk of infection. Globally, 225,000 babies die of sepsis in their first four weeks of life, most of those in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Many of these deaths might have been prevented had they been born into a clean environment.

Simulemba health centre now has clean water and decent sanitation thanks to WaterAid and UK aid from the British people as part of the charity’s Deliver Life project, meaning staff can provide better care for the 90 babies born there each month. In fact, many mothers now choose the hospital over other closer facilities due to its reputation for excellent care. Jenny returned for a week, once again sharing the joy of childbirth and seeing how clean water is helping give babies the best start in life.

Vitumbiko, 25, had her son Brave at the centre when there was no water and recently returned to have her daughter Evelless, this time staying at the centre for three days – she’d hoped to stay longer to get more rest, but was needed back at home. She said:

“It feels much better giving birth with water close by. Before, women would fight for the water and people from the village would make new mothers wait to get water. I had hoped things would be better this time and they were. I have been able to wash twice since giving birth; it felt very good to be able to get the blood away so quickly.”

Alinafe, 19, lives three hours away from the health centre and stayed for two months prior to giving birth with her guardian, who brought pots, flour and firewood to prepare their meals during their stay. She welcomed her first born, Ethel, at the health centre and said:

“The place closer to me does not have the same facilities and the staff aren’t as supportive. I thought that my baby and I had better odds at this centre”.

As well as meeting mothers celebrating the arrival of their new babies, Jenny saw some familiar faces, revisiting the ten families she had met three years before.

The children have grown into charismatic and inquisitive three-year olds who craft their own toys and play with their friends around the village. They have also fought off several diseases, many linked to dirty water. Conditions such as bilharzia, malnutrition and malaria have meant consistent health concerns and visits back to the health centre for treatment, where they have experienced the improved facilities.

Esther, 33, says Joyce, 3, has suffered from malnutrition since birth, and has had to get special treatment from the health centre. An estimated 25% of stunting cases are attributed to five or more episodes of diarrhoea in the first two years of life. Jennifer, 24, is happily pregnant again with her second child, but worries for three-year old Joseph, who suffers from bilharzia, an infection caused by a parasite found in contaminated water.

Without a safe water supply close to home and access to good sanitation – things that are so often taken for granted – it’s almost impossible to stay healthy. Around the world, 800 children die every day from diarrhoeal related diseases caused by dirty water. As well as working in health centres across three districts in Malawi, WaterAid is also working on hygiene behaviour change in the surrounding communities to ensure children will no longer get sick because of an unclean environment.

On the revisit, photographer Jenny Lewis says:

“Despite the setbacks the families face each day and the total lack of material items, what they have in abundance is hope. It was immensely touching to meet the families again and to see how the children have grown. Jonathan’s mother told me that he loves to play football and that he never stops running. Ruth so closely resembles her older sister that I’d met during the last visit and has such an immense personality, brimming with life and confidence. All the children have their unique personalities, from shy and inquisitive to exuberant and extroverted, as you would find in any bunch of three year olds anywhere in the world. To meet them all again was wonderful.”

Baby Jennifer lost her mum Joyce to an unknown infection last year and is now being raised by her father and two grandmothers. Joyce’s mother, Vestina, says that:

I want Jennifer to get an education. It would make me very proud and would be a lasting memory for the daughter that I lost. I’ll always be proud of her and now just want the best for Jennifer”.

The same hope for their child to get an education extends to Praise’s parents, whose father, Richard, says:

“I regard Praise as very precious. I wish for him to excel and become a nurse one day. I see the nurses who have helped him and I want him to one day help other children”.

Donations to Water’s Aid’s Deliver Life appeal were matched pound for pound by the UK Government in 2016.The project has reached over 12,000 people with water, over 20,000 with improved sanitation, and over 38,000 with hygiene messages in Malawi alone. It focused on health centres with maternity wards across Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda, with the aim of ensuring a safe and clean delivery environment for mothers and babies, and more broadly reducing the risks of water, sanitation and hygiene-related illnesses.

Discussing the project, Mercy Masoo, Country Director of WaterAid Malawi says:

“In Malawi, it isn’t uncommon for mothers and babies to become sick after the birth. Often the conditions they deliver these children don’t have the very basics for a safe delivery – including water. Through the success of Deliver Life, we’ve seen how this life-changing experience can be transformed and the newborns given a real start at life. A clear indicator of success is how many people are travelling further afield to reach health centres that are being provided with water, sometimes walking miles for the peace of mind that clean water can bring to a new mother. Without it, new lives are put at risk and too many are cut short.”