Women in the Philippines are forming close bonds as they learn to better care for their children
A group of 17 mothers gathers twice per month in a day care classroom in the small Santa Fe municipality of San Juan. They listen intently as 23-year-old Rosemarie Natividad teaches them valuable practices in caring for their young children.
The San Juan group is one of 257 mother-to-mother support groups in 256 barangays (neighborhoods) in Leyte, Philippines. The program reaches women of reproductive age and trains them to advocate and promote healthy maternal, newborn, and child health and nutrition. The long-term goal is to decrease maternal and child malnutrition-related morbidity and mortality rates.
Rosemarie has volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse for almost two years in our health and nutrition programs since Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands and destroyed large parts of Leyte and Samar islands in November 2013.
Rosemarie was eight months pregnant with her daughter at that time and was concerned she would give birth early, due to the overwhelming emotions and fear that gripped her as the fierce typhoon raged around her.
“My husband was telling me to calm down because I was crying so much,” Rosemarie said. “Our house was destroyed, and we had no food to eat.”
One month later, Rosemarie gave birth to her daughter in a community health center in Santa Fe that was also badly damaged in the storm.
Now, almost two years since the storm, Rosemarie has learned life skills on how to properly care for her two children, ages 5 and 22 months. She has always dreamed of becoming a teacher; leading the mother-to-mother support group in San Juan is helping her fulfill this dream. From what she has learned and experienced from infant and young child feeding, she finds joy in sharing her knowledge with mothers in her community.
“I have gained so much knowledge, and I want to share that knowledge with other mothers,” Rosemarie said. “It makes my heart very happy.”
One mother in her group, 26-year-old Lerio Jacinto, has found the lessons to be critical in caring for her baby. Lerio gave birth to her son, Bradlee, prematurely, at seven months into the pregnancy. Lerio’s doctor advised her that Bradlee would need extra care being so small.
In the group counseling sessions, Lerio learned about the most nutritious feeding techniques and put them to practice.
“In my heart, I knew he was growing strong,” she said. “It is a wonderful feeling being a mother. I am thankful for what they have taught me in the support group.”
At 4 months old, Bradlee is now a healthy and well-fed baby.
“Look at my baby now,” Lerio said. “Isn’t he cute? He does not look like a premature baby.”
Stories similar to Lerio’s could be shared over and over among the thousands of women. A visitor can easily sense the deep community these women share with one another through the common bond of motherhood.
“This project has fostered community spirit and camaraderie among these women,” said Ge Ann Balintec, the nutrition program manager. “Please continue to pray for these women and children, along with our team in addressing issues related to maternal and child health and nutrition.”
In addition to feeding counseling, the leader mothers partner with trained church leaders to conduct family life development sessions. The sessions teach biblical parenting truths and principles to the women and their husbands in the communities and local churches.
The motherhood program in Leyte has finished and will soon launch in two more locations. Please pray for the Filipino women who will participate.