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Mother-Child Pastoral Service: an example of faith, love and commitment to children

© UNICEF DR/J.L. Bautista

Santo Domingo. - Even before going in to the premises of the Mother-Child Pastoral Service in the Mejoramiento Social neighbourhood, Father José Navarro welcomed Nils Kastberg and Françoise Gruloos with an effusive hug while declaring: “This visit is an example of how faith is the basis of the work for children… and how this can play a basic role in their benefit… what motivates us is that non-religious organisations value our work, and even more so the fact that they help us carry it out”.

During a brief visit to the offices of the Mother-Child Pastoral Service, its director Father Navarro told Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, about the mother-child health situation at a national level, and especially the way in which these indicators have improved among the beneficiary population thanks to the project being implemented by the Pastoral Service in the area, highlighting the fact that 24% of beneficiary mothers are adolescents. He also described the scope of this successful community intervention, based on a model of health counselling provided by volunteers.

Likewise, Father Navarro thanked UNICEF for its support in funding training materials for the Project. “At the Pastoral Service we want to make concrete proposals for community education aimed at preventing maternal and infant mortality… we ensure that the counsellors have adequate materials that provide concrete practices”, referring to the need to complete the training, evaluation and monitoring processes of the cases they are working on. “Because there are only a few interventions in growth monitoring… many evaluations are carried out in the area, yes… but then no work is done on addressing the issues that emerge as a result of these evaluations”.

UNICEF DR/J.L. Bautista
© UNICEF DR/J.L. Bautista

The visit continued at the Santa Filomena School in the neighbourhood of La Ciénaga in Los Guandules, one of the communities that benefit from the project and where a group of counsellors and mothers was waiting to talk about their experiences.

At the entrance of the school, like the “Pied Piper of Hamelin”, the UNICEF visitors were surrounded by a sea of children who were out enjoying their recess, and who stopped the group from going in to the room set aside for the meeting. “The American has arrived” – they shouted, encouraging their friends who had still not noticed the arrival of the surprise visit. “Take one of me” was the plea from the children who wanted to appear in the photos being taken for the visit.

It wasn’t until the school bell rang that we were able to reach the classroom where we were welcomed by dozens of counsellors, mothers and children waiting to tell their stories.

Training Coordinator Adalgisa Celestino had already warned us that “they love receiving visitors, because it strengthens their self-esteem… they say that this is how the value of their work is acknowledged”, stressing that soon they will have trained 180 counsellors that the Pastoral Service can now send to work in the neighbourhoods of 27 de Febrero, Esperanza and Filomena.

After Father Navarro’s opening words, the emotion behind each testimony was palpable, and this included tears, applause and laughter. For example with Mery, who described her experiences as a counsellor: “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”.

The beneficiary mothers also took part in the meeting. Many of them thanked the Pastoral Service for its work and the changes they had been able to make in their lives thanks to receiving the correct information at the right time. “What the Pastoral teaches us more than anything else is to demand our rights, because sometimes we are treated as if we were not human…” – said Yahaira.

“Every pregnancy has a story, I think it’s a great success that you can meet to share these stories (…) life is full of them, of different colours and hues, and when all is said and done what is enduring is the love we can dedicate to what we do (…) that we can give each other, and I have no doubt that this is something you know how to do very well”. (Nils Kastberg)

Bringing the testimonies to a conclusion, Fefa described more than her experience: she appealled to those present to go on supporting this important initiative: “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 then, in chorus, all the counsellors finished the sentence “and go on giving it in abundance”,

UNICEF Representative in the Dominican Republic Françoise Gruloos praised Father Navarro’s leadership, which is reflected in the work of the health counsellors, and encouraged them to continue doing this important work.

To conclude the visit, UNICEF’s Regional Director, holding two small twin babies, daughters of one of the Pastoral Service counsellors, paid tribute to the Pastoral Service’s work, highlighting the important role of the community health agents.

“What you’re doing is very important, helping each other, but it is also important to come together with one voice, for example (…) for all pregnant women to receive the support and affection that you give them, and in this way, reaching them in time, you can prevent mothers and children from dying, which is unjustifiable in this day and age”.



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