Mother-Child Pastoral Service Project Counsellors: More than advice… the privilege of caring for a big family
Santo Domingo.- “I feel very privileged to be part of the Pastoral group: we provide follow-up for mothers by making home visits, and I feel proud because the education we have given the mothers has made them happy and their children are healthy”, said Altagracia Serrata, one of the founding counsellors of the Mother-Child Pastoral Service project, during a meeting with UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Director Nils Kastberg at Santa Filomena School in the neighbourhood of La Ciénaga in the Los Guandules sector.
The Mother-Child Pastoral project is an innovative intervention that involves providing continuous care in maternal, neonatal and child health, carried out by voluntary community agents and supported by UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation and the Dominican Ministry of Health (SESPAS).
Altagracia, better known as “Tagui” lives and works in the Esperanza neighbourhood. As well as a counsellor she is a young mother of four daughters. Her two youngest daughters are twins Brianna and Brianni who are just three months old, and who now accompany their mother during all her voluntary work commitments as a counsellor in the community. “I’ve been working for four years, and I know I have much more to give because it is like a Mission that God has given me” – she replies when we ask her whether she can go on working for the project while she has to care for her newborn twins.
And according to the group of counsellors, work in the Pastoral project is not work but a privilege, and many of them believe that working as volunteers for the Pastoral project is like belonging to and caring for one big family.
“I am happy to work in the Pastoral because one does a lot as a person and goes far… I don’t earn money, I do it on a voluntary basis, and this is why one feels part of the family… Wherever I go I have ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’ who look for me… it’s like caring for one big family”. This is how Mery expresses it. She is also a founding counsellor who despite opposition from the Pastoral Service director himself, Father Navarro, she decided to support this initiative. “…I am happy here although the Father didn’t want me to be a counsellor because I am also a catechist”.
Enerolisa (Eli) from Ciénaga de Guachupita also highlights this in her words, “I feel very proud of working with the Pastoral, advising and advising, and now I feel like a grandmother of 47 children!!”
The beneficiary mothers have also felt this type of “sisterhood” that rules the project. Yahaira, overwhelmed with emotion, describes how “I joined the Pastoral when I was two months pregnant, I wanted to have an abortion because the father told me that since I ended up pregnant it was my problem to support the baby, and my friend Tagui invited me to the reunion, I saw so many happy mothers going through with their pregnancies. I felt more than just a feeling of being amongst family… I felt as if all the counsellors and mothers were my sisters… then, when I had my baby, it was the greatest thing… look how big he is now…and they are still looking after me and my baby”.
UNICEF has supported this initiative since 2004, funding the training materials for the counsellors. The counselling work has involved a great deal of training efforts, and in the four years since it started, 180 women have received training as mother-child health multipliers and counsellors.
Luz, from the community of Madre Cándida in Guachupita stresses the most valuable aspect of this learning process has been a two-way street: “I’ve learned a lot through working in the project, and especially have been able to advise mothers, many who wanted an abortion (…) I also was one of those women who gave birth to my first child on the floor, and this is why I say that you are all privileged to have someone to teach you, to guide you… I didn’t have that”.
But counselling is not just about health and faith. The project involves a citizen education component in which the women are taught to defend their rights. In Yahaira’s words, “More than anything, what the Pastoral teaches us is to demand our rights, because sometimes we are treated as if we were not human”.
And if anyone has any doubts about the project’s sustainability, just listen to what Fefa from the Filomena neighbourhood has to say: “I am only going to say a few words… and it is that the Project needs to continue expanding for the sake of those who know it and those who don’t know it, to go on giving life, and go on giving it in abundance”, she said, concluding a series of testimonies shared with the UNICEF visitors.