Brenda Davis’ film Sister follows dedicated maternal health workers in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti. With a lack of access to proper medical facilities or a lack of transport to get women to suitable facilities, the mortality rate among pregnant women is shockingly high. Sister follows three women on their tireless crusade to provide care for these women and their children by any means possible.
Sister is quite the eye opening film. Shot with compelling and non-flinching footage, Davis never edits or pulls away from the truth and the enormous difficulties facing pregnant women in particular. The three women featured in the film, Goitom Berhane in Ethiopia, Pum Mach in Cambodia and Madam Bwa in Haiti, are incredible pillars of inhuman resolve and compassion. Along with their challenges regarding health care, access to facilities and medication and proper services for the care of mothers and their babies, they also face obstacles that are just due to the country they live in. Long distances, terrible living conditions, widespread poverty in dense populations and in the case of Cambodia especially, heavily land mined areas. The fact that these women dedicated their lives to helping women in a situation taken for granted here is admirable. For them, there is no other mission in life — and they seem to do it with no thought to the risks. It just comes naturally to them and they never seem to have questioned it.
Davis and her entire crew (all women) have constructed one of the most honest documentaries I’ve ever seen. They make sure to point out that the drastic mortality rate could easily be reduced or even obliterated with small changes and support to the medical conditions in certain countries. Even just adding the availability of ambulances or other transportation to outlying villages would make a huge difference. As is often the case in many third world countries, small changes can make gigantic differences. When a country’s lifetime risk of dying of childbirth related causes are one in 27 when the United States has a rate of one in 4,800 is staggering and unbelievable. But with more compassionate people like Berhane, Mach and Bwa, there is always hope of a better life for these mothers and their babies. Sister is a beautiful portrait of three women making a huge difference with no desire for a reward or attention, providing a lesson the whole world could benefit to learn from.