Moms Matter: Improving Maternal Health in Kenya
In Nyanza near Lake Victoria in western Kenya, fishing is a way of life. The men leave early in the morning to earn money for their families. The women are left at home with multiple household responsibilities and with very little support.
It's a social structure that can be isolating and have a profound effect on women's health. The impact on women also trickles down to the children and can have long-lasting consequences.
The THRIVE project helps ensure that children—who are, because of poverty and HIV, particularly at risk during this critical period—receive high quality services and support, and are therefore able to reach their potential. THRIVE helps ensure that children have proper health and nutrition, stable and responsive relationships, and a safe and stimulating physical environment. Children can succeed more easily when their moms and dads do too. CRS has been teaching positive parenting skills to the people who are closest to the children. Parents learn how to interact and form bonds with their children.
In Kenya, CRS screened 457 new mothers. Of those, 301 mothers—or more than 65%—were found to be depressed. The team was surprised by the findings. The depression found in Nyanza was not the typical post-partum depression, but related more to the economic and social situation in the community.
The mothers in Nyanza deal with many risk factors. Many are poor, infected with HIV and don't have a social support system. In addition, they are dealing with a new baby. The men work away from the home and the women are taking care of many of the other responsibilities that come with having a family: getting food and water for the daily needs, cooking, cleaning, child care, etc.
Multi-dimensional support network
Under the THRIVE program, CRS is making sure moms are not forgotten. A World Development Report and other studies suggest happy and healthy mothers lead to strong children. CRS is organizing these Kenyan mothers into support groups. Moms interact with peers in their community, develop a broader network of support and build relationships with people who understand daily life in Nyanza. These women work together, farming and raising small livestock to improve their economic outlook.
Moms are also encouraged to expand their economic power. Some are given seeds to create kitchen gardens. The vegetables from those gardens can provide nourishment and money for their families. Women in the support groups receive chickens and goats if they build the housing structures for the animals. CRS helps mothers get farming assistance from agricultural extension agents. This help can prove invaluable in protecting potential food and economic sources from hippopotamus attacks and drought.
Finally, under this program moms are taught appropriate hygiene and waste management practices. Many of these moms are HIV positive or are directly affected by it and face several health challenges. They are supported and encouraged to take charge of their own health, as well as their families.'
No experts in parenting
"Parenthood is not easy, and no one anywhere in the world is an expert in parenting. We can all improve," says Dr. Shannon Senefeld, licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in children and families and CRS director of Program Impact and Quality Assurance. Through many different programs all over the globe, CRS works with parents on their journey to help their children reach their full potential.
"Without a facility, without follow-up care, knowing the baby is high-risk because of HIV, [parenthood] is overwhelming," says Senefeld.
Through this part of THRIVE, the goal is to help new moms realize their own potential, while providing for their children. The moms in Nyanza are strong and integral to their communities. It is important that all aspects of their health are satisfied, including mental health.
These Kenyan mothers are already providing care and support for their children, but CRS can offer additional guidance. CRS' goal is to build upon their strengths. In this program, CRS teaches new moms approaches to attachment and bonding with their babies and to recognize responses from their little ones.
Maternal health and wellbeing is not a new concept, but CRS has brought new emphasis to nurturing good mental health for mothers in communities where early childhood development work exists. The goal is to capitalize on the strengths of the community and let moms in Nyanza— and all over the world—know they can help their children reach their full potential.
"No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. You do the best you can do. If you are looking out for your children, you are a good mom. If you are worrying, you are OK. Don't beat yourself up for all of the small stuff," Senefeld says.