Gillings students combat birth disparities through Durham Volunteer Doulas

December 19, 2019

“When women are giving birth, they need to feel safe, respected, honored, understood, seen and heard.”
…..—Debra Pascali-Bonaro

That quote, in a sentence, explains why UNC-Chapel Hill student Manisha Dubey joined the executive board of Durham Volunteer Doulas (DVD) soon after it launched. DVD is a student-run nonprofit that provides free doula training and care to women living in North Carolina’s Triangle region.

Manisha Dubey

Manisha Dubey

Rasheca Logendran

Rasheca Logendran

Ana Gomez

Ana Gomez

An undergraduate studying health policy and management at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, Dubey initially helped DVD win a Kenan Biddle Partnership grant through the UNC Campus Y. Now, she serves as the organization’s community outreach manager. Rasheca Logendran, an undergraduate Robertson Scholar jointly enrolled at UNC and Duke University, studies nutrition at the Gillings School and is a DVD program coordinator. DVD’s executive director, Ana Gomez, will join the School’s master’s degree program in maternal, child and family health in 2020.

As the group’s website explains, a doula is someone who has been trained to provide physical, emotional and informational support to pregnant individuals before, during and shortly after childbirth, with the overarching goal of helping parents achieve the most satisfying birth experience possible.

Dubey is quick to point out the unjust paradox that lies in the lack of doulas accessible to the very communities that need them most.

“Maternal mortality problems are especially exacerbated in non-white, non-resource-rich populations, but doula care is only readily available to people who are fairly well off,” Dubey explains. “There’s a large need for volunteer doulas and a nonprofit like DVD to help organize them.”

Started in July 2018, the group endeavors to provide accessible, high-quality doula care at no cost to pregnant individuals who otherwise would be unable to afford doula services. The 501(c)(3) organization supports parents who are eligible for programs like Medicaid and WIC based on their family income.

Liv Neely (left) and Rasheca Logendran accept the award for taking third place at the Carolina Pitch Party.

Liv Neely (left) and Rasheca Logendran accept the award for taking third place at the Carolina Pitch Party.

In 2019, DVD worked with 33 local mothers and offered two free doula workshops. In November, they won third place at the annual Carolina Pitch Party, which is a key student entrepreneurship event for local universities. The nonprofit’s members also are participating in CUBE, UNC’s social innovation accelerator.

“We are a growing organization of volunteer birth doulas who serve folks at no charge,” states the DVD website. “All of our volunteers have received doula training; some are professional doulas working in the Triangle, while others are community members and students. We believe that all families deserve and can benefit from the support, advocacy and empowerment of a birth doula.”

“Many of our doulas also volunteer with UNC Birth Partners — myself included!” Dubey adds. “I would say the main difference is that DVD sticks with the continuous model of care, aiming to have the same doula present for the entirety of labor and delivery, while Birth Partners operates on a shift-based schedule.”

In the spring of 2020, the DVD team will focus on recruiting more local community members so their work can continue after the original student leaders graduate.


Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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