Through the contacts I’ve made here, I was connected with the Country Director of an amazing organization called Mothers2Mothers. They use a model of women who serve as mentors, going into their communities to empower other mothers living with HIV. Their goals, to name a few, are to reduce the transmission of HIV to their children, focus on their health and well-being, and encourage education and dialogue on HIV. They have a presence in nine countries (including South Africa, the first one they worked in) and last year they reached almost 2,000,000 mothers, partners and children.
I contacted them to see how I could volunteer and was offered to join on a field visit to see the work they do. So I rode with two of the staffers to a clinic in the Mpumalanga Province (east of Pretoria) and we met with their Mentor Mothers to see how things have been going. They usually make appointments to see mothers at their homes during the week, bringing along a questionnaire to complete with them. They talk about things like, if their children are doing well, if they are taking their HIV medication(s) regularly, if there have been any medical problems, etc. And they just have a conversation and offer support. The first house we went to had multiple mothers there and they did a group session. A few of the Mentors set up a blanket and played with the children and the other Mentors led the discussion with the mothers. They also brought up a special topic for the week: abuse and ways to recognize it. It was fascinating to see these mothers open up to their Mentors (that they clearly had good relationships with) and talk about any challenges they were facing. (The kids were also super cute and kept coming by to show us their finger-painting…) Almost everything required a translator but I got the gist by observing their body language and facial expressions. It was really great to witness.
We then went to another house and talked to one mother and her two children. Their experience seemed a bit different – the mother was not feeling too well, her kids appeared to be malnourished, etc. But the Mentor Mothers gave her some advice, encouraged her to come to the clinic, and scheduled a follow-up. We went back to the clinic to take the Mentor Mothers back, thanked them for teaching us so much that day and drove back to Pretoria. Along the way, we talked about the organization, how much they have accomplished and how they still hope to grow. It was a humbling and empowering day – hopefully I’ll get to do more!
– By Naama