IT is the most dangerous place in the world to give birth.

In Sierra Leone's remote villages there is often no healthcare facility and no healthcare professionals, meaning women are forced to walk through jungle paths for as much as 24 hours to reach help.

Mothers can give birth at the side of the road before reaching a clinic and often their newborn will die too.

For every 100,000 live births in Sierra Leone, 1360 mothers die. For contrast, the next highest is the Central African Republic at 882. In the UK, the figure is nine.

For the families left behind, the emotional toll of losing a mother is devastating.

In Bumbeh Pejeh village, Ibrahim Koroma is still clearly distraught at the loss of his wife of 18 years. Speaking quietly, he looks at the floor as he remembers the night in 2015 that Mamie woke him to say she was feeling pain.

Ibrahim is visiting Bumbeh Pejeh but he is from Blama village, three hours away on foot.

The nurse there told him to bring his wife to the labour room at her clinic. There, given Mamie's condition, she told Ibrahim to take his wife to Bumbeh Pejeh's health centre.

In Sierra Leone's villages, health centres are nothing like what we would imagine in the UK.

They are wood and mud structures, often with no running water or electricity and with very little in the way of equipment - but they offer the best chance for mums in rural areas.

Ibrahim was fortunate to be able to afford to hire a Honda motorbike and driver, the only form of transport for those who can pay for it, for Mamie while he walked.

The jungle roads are full of deep potholes and the thought of travelling over them on the back of a motorbike while in labour is almost unimaginable.

At Bumbeh Pejeh the nurse said an ambulance must be called for but in Pujehun district there are just three ambulances per 375,000 people.

Ibrahim, 42, said: "My wife died before the ambulance came. I was with her and even now I have trauma because of what I saw."

Mamie was not Ibrahim's first loss. The couple had six children together but only two have survived infancy; a girl, Massah, who is 16 and a boy, Abdul, aged 12.

Ibrahim said: "Both of us put effort together for the sustainability of the children, but now that their mother is not alive I am the only person carrying their bodies.

"I am struggling for my children because while their mother was alive she helped me greatly."

In Nyandehun Besiema village, Amie Fawunda sits outside her home, a grey-brown wood and mud hut, speaking of the birth of her first child.

During her labour she was rowed in a canoe across the river before men carried her in a hammock to try to reach a health centre.

She gave birth in the jungle. "I gave birth by myself," Amie, who does not know her own age, says. "Nobody was there to help me.

"After [the birth] the [placenta] stayed within me and I was struggling. The men came again, and they had to carry me again. And when we reached the health centre, the baby had died on the way.

"I was so helpless."

In Sierra Leone, a country scarred by the civil war from 1991 to 2002 and the Ebola crisis from 2014 to 2016, there is story after story like those of Ibrahim and Amie. But in Bumbeh Pejeh there is also hope.

As a rainbow of brightly dressed women bursts forth, unstoppable, Joanna Tom-Kargbo, Senior Programme Manager for Health Legacy with Christian Aid, is smiling at the sight of dozens of mothers holding two metal boxes above their heads while singing with joy and welcome.

Bumbeh Pejeh is one of 22 communities in Pejehun district - there are 867 in total - that Christian Aid with its partners RADA (Rehabilitation And Development Agency) and BAN (Budget Advocacy Network) works in.

These metal boxes are changing lives for women in these communities. The premise is straightforward: women join the box scheme, paying in a certain amount of money each week. This gives a source of finance to families in need of loans, which must be paid back with interest. Three women are custodians of each box, needing all three to open it and dispense money.

Loans are given for children's education and for healthcare, among other necessary items.

While introducing the box scheme, the NGOs take the villages through a two-day empowerment project that is very much led by villagers themselves. They also use a scheme called Gender Model Family to widen rigid gender roles.

Improvement in sanitation from the NGOs' involvement has also lead to a dip in the number of malaria and diarrhoea cases.

"I think for me, the response from the community in driving their own change is something I’m very much proud of," Joanna says.

"You can see when you go to the community, you talk with the community and things that you witness, in just 18 months, it’s amazing.

"You see the women are so confident. They are vocal.

"They are coming together, they are doing their businesses, they are contributing resources even to health service delivery within their communities."

Fatamata Dugba, brought to Bumbeh Pejeh several years ago for an arranged marriage, has given birth to five children. Two have survived: her boy, 13, and daughter, 12, both live with relatives so that they might go to school. Fatamata sees them just once a year and only then if she is able to take them gifts such as a chicken or palm oil.

Her story shows the impact the box system can have.

Six months ago she was pregnant again, seven months along. After a healthy pregnancy, she had begun to feel pain and an ambulance was called. She needed to have her womb removed but Fatamata was safe in the knowledge the box would provide for her medical expenses, a burden eased at a frightening time.

While pregnant women's healthcare is free, blood is not covered.

"My children's father is a teacher, it's voluntary so he doesn't get paid. I lost some amount of blood," the 30-year-old adds.

"I loaned some money from the box. I would have died if there hadn’t been any box.

"Because of the existence of the box that is one factor of my existence."

Fundraising for Christian Aid Week is taking place across Scotland with kind-hearted supporters getting stuck in around Glasgow.

At the Erskine, Forth and Tay Bridges hundreds of people pitched in to a sponsored walk to help support the work of Christian Aid and to show their solidarity with mums in Sierra Leone.

Under the banner of the Bridge Cross Challenge, people donned their walking shoes, wore red and took part in sponsored walks across three of the country’s most famous bridges.

Reverend Roy Henderson, from Pollokshaws, chose to walk the Erskine Bridge, his third time.

The 58-year-old said: "The annual Erskine Bridge Cross started over 30 years ago and it is now one of Scotland’s longest running sponsored walks, raising thousands of pounds for Christian Aid.

"It is a privilege to represent the Presbytery of Glasgow and my own congregation and Parish of Glasgow, Pollokshaws.

"In the end it is really about our partners around the world and this year in particular, Sierra Leone."

Lucy Kirkland, Events Fundraising Officer for Christian Aid Scotland, added: "Christian Aid supporters have been crossing the Erskine, Tay and Forth Road bridges for many years and in that time, they’ve raised over £1.5million for the world's poorest people.

"This year we also welcomed Christian Aid’s CEO Amanda Mukwashi who joined supporters crossing the bridge.

"The Erskine Bridge Cross has been a huge success and this is down to the enthusiasm and commitment of the local people and community groups and we are forever grateful for their support”.

Last year supporters in Greater Glasgow raised £151,365.84 for Christian Aid Week.

See or call 020 7523 2493 to make a donation.

Christian Aid is also inviting supporters to join its campaign to drop Sierra Leone’s debt that was incurred during its fight against Ebola, in 2014 to 2016.

Debt repayments are taking money away from improving healthcare services that is so desperately needed.

Sign the petition at