Mums and Bubs: A story of hope and connection
Tearfund New Zealand
Sadly, 75% of all global childhood deaths occur within the first year of life. Children born into poverty are especially at risk from disease and malnutrition. Our Mums and Bubs programme helps form a circle of protection over a mother and her baby in the first precious year of life. I'll tell you from first-hand experience exactly how, through sharing some trip highlights!
On the first day we were welcomed into the homes of three mums and their little ones, it was both beautiful and sobering. All the mums we visited, in this bustling urban area, live in cramped boarding houses with no running water and shared bathroom facilities. The project had supplied new mattresses which sat up against the wall during the day – bright baby baths hung on the walls and essential baby items were stacked on shelves– all provided by Tearfund's partner. It was so good to see these donations at work in person and to experience how much of an impact it had on the women's lives.
The sun was blazing the following morning as we joined 15 mums and their babies, the project staff and child specialists for a group activity at the project. The mums we had met earlier had already seen photos of our families and introduced us to the others as fellow Mamas, sparking questions like “how do you travel to see us with children at home?” There were laughs, and hilarious translations backwards and forwards, but we all connected.
Connection is crucial - Mums and Bubs is a mental health lifeline for women in this community.
The women we met were aware that New Zealanders were supporting them, "I'm so thankful for the families in New Zealand who support us, please tell them that without them we wouldn’t be here (together in the project space), please keep praying for us, I’m so grateful” said Marcelina, mum to little Gabriel (3 months).
Some of the mums and their babies singing worship songs. Photo taken by: Helen Manson.
We had seen child specialist, Erni, in action during home visits the day prior – she is quite simply, incredible. She knows where every item in a mother’s small home is kept, the names of their older children and even neighbours. Erni has the kind of capable, thoughtful concern you expect from a health and wellness professional but with that extra ‘favourite aunty’ vibe that can only come from the reality that these mums know her so well. She also has an incredible faith – it is the centre of what she does. She began the activities by leading the group in singing. When our team was in the room with them, respectfully taking pictures and videos in the background, all the women had forgotten we were there, eye’s closed, hearts open, babies in arms – the empowered mamas soaking in this moment of joy together.
I expected to hear so many tales of pre and postnatal holistic care, of food parcels, vitamins, and physical assistance – believe me, they were there, but what simmered to the top of praiseworthy comments from Mums in the group was togetherness. It made me think of the first time I visited a playgroup with my own newborn, I felt isolated and alone. Entering the group space was such a relief for me, we could all empathise with one another, the lack of sleep, the uncertainties of this new life and the many questions we had. Being a part of a community of women who were going through the exact same thing as me was a joy and a comfort. I could sense that this was exactly what these Mums were feeling too. Mum Debbie told us, “Since I have joined the (Mums and Bubs) programme, there is so much fullness in my life that wasn’t there before – I can care better for my new-born at home and I found friendship here amongst the group”.
Wellbeing checks and group learning opportunities are another important connection point.
Baby Karen is carefully measured with mum Eleanor close by. Photo taken by: Kelly Burgess
After the group have devotions, the mums and babies are scheduled for measurement checks. In the shade of the newly built activity room, each baby was lovingly handled by Erni and other child specialists. Erni then takes the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with mum about bub's development, growth, and how things were going at home. I think many mums can relate to a Plunket or wellness check in New Zealand, where you hover near, fascinated to see the numbers and be able to ask questions as you go, what a comfort that is. It's also a valuable moment for the development specialists to connect and to take a moment to provide any further advice.
One of the mamas was there with her gorgeous 5-month-old baby Gavin, she told me: “My favourite things about being part of this group is coming together with the other mums, enjoying spending time with each other, and learning from Erni how to care for my baby better.”
Many of the mums mentioned to us that without support from the programme, they would not be able to successfully breastfeed. Part of the morning’s schedule includes a breastfeeding demonstration. Breastfeeding in communities like this with no clean running water can be lifesaving for babies, and often mums have very little help or encouragement in this area. Some of the older mums expressed to me how grateful they were that Erni had supported them through their challenges. Cynthia, mum to 4-month-old, Sky said “I thank God every day that he trusts me to be Sky’s mother, and I am so pleased that I was able to breastfeed successfully with the help of the staff here”.
The provision of nutritious food, regular meals, and healthcare advocacy was wrapped in the love of staff.
The mums eating together at the project. Photo taken by: Helen Manson
Once all the babies had their time with the child specialists, project staff gave a hot cooked meal to every mum. They laid out mats in the shade, to give mums respite while they ate and older children played on equipment provided by the project. Outside the streets are narrow and busy. We had seen the day before that families live in equally crowded conditions, so being at the project and eating a meal together was a moment of comfort, a haven. While mums laughed, talked, and shared, busy child specialists, prepared bags of groceries for each family to take home.
Mums are given pantry staples and supplies at each home and group visit. Through the pandemic, this provision was lifted to a new level thanks to the support of generous Kiwis. A mum, whose child had already graduated into the child sponsorship programme, told me that during the lockdowns their family had no income at all. Without the provision of nutritious food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, along with help with rent from the programme, they could have been starving and homeless. These mums and babies are supported on a practical level, but also on an emotional level. It was evident how much the staff deeply cared about their wellbeing too.
The project leader is passionate about knowing, loving, and protecting this community.
Kelly Burgess with mum Yuliana and baby Patricia (5 months). Photo taken by Helen Manson.
Project Director, Dominguez, tells us that many of the families in this community are migrants from other areas Indonesia who have come in search of work, work that can be difficult to find. He tells us they are often vulnerable and unsure how to navigate and access local health support, “Project staff will advocate for mums in the health care system,” he tells us that migrants are often scared, but Compassion stands in and stands up for them. “I am certain that lives have been saved (through the programme), especially from preventable diseases", he says. While he is proud of this, his passion is not just to see babies survive, it’s to see their whole family healthy and thriving. “I grew up in this community, in this church and it’s been my passion, all my life, to release children from poverty in this area”.
As grocery bags were taken, and mums said farewell to their friends, it washed over me what a privilege it had been to spend the morning with this incredible group. What an honour it was to hold their precious babies in my arms, to pray, laugh, and cry with them. We truly got to see for ourselves what Debbie, new mum of beautiful 3-week-old Alona, had put into words “There is so much fullness in my life now that wasn’t there before”.
We are so grateful for the support of Mums and Bubs donors that make this work a reality. You too can help form a circle of protection around Mums like Debbie and their little ones, for this first precious, year of life.