Sunday, October 2, 2011

Caring for Maria

Maria and her three children. All are fully immunized
© UNICEF Timor-Leste
Baucau, Timor-Leste.  In the village of Bahu, Golgota, Baucau District, Maria Auxiliadora proudly shows off her three children. Her smile shines brightly despite the obvious poverty that surrounds her. Part of the roof of her house was blown away by the strong wind and a plastic tarp is in its place. A cart is loaded with empty plastic containers indicating that the water for her family’s needs must be fetched several hours away. She has no work and she no longer has a husband.

“I am just grateful that my children are all healthy and I am thankful to Candida Flores for making this possible,” she said.  
Candida is the Pastoral da Crianca health volunteer who started supporting Maria four years ago when Maria was pregnant with her first child, Armandino.

“I remember, Candida came to me and introduced herself as a health volunteer. I was surprised that she visited me but Candida came often and explained to me the importance of ante-natal visits. She taught me to watch out for danger signs during my pregnancy and the importance of delivering my baby at the health facility.”

Armed with this information, Maria routinely went to the nearest health facility for ante-natal care often accompanied by her mother or sometimes by Candida. When the time came for Maria to give birth, she went to the hospital accompanied by her mother to deliver Armandino. She stayed for two days at the hospital.

“After I arrived home, Candida came to ask me if I was eating and sleeping well.  She also checked if Armandino was breastfeeding well and reminded me about the vaccinations for him,” Maria continued. “Candida also informed me that it was important to observe Armandino and to know the danger signs of serious illnesses. For instance, she told me to immediately take the Armandino to the hospital if I observed difficulty in his breathing due to colds. I owe so much to Candida.”

Because of Maria’s positive experience, her two other children, Eva who is now 2 years old and Hipolito, 7 months old, were also born in the health facility.

Candida is part of the Pastoral da Crianca network of health workers. She was provided training on how to counsel mothers on breastfeeding. She was also trained on how to motivate pregnant mothers to have regular ante-natal care check ups and the importance of delivering in health facilities.

Pastoral da Crianca’s project to improve maternal, new-born and child health and nutrition through community-based promotion of feeding, caring and care-seeking practices have touched many lives such as Maria’s.  As of December 2011, with support from UNICEF, total of 4,092 families and 5,488 children in 53 sucos (villages) and 180 aldeias (hamlets), in four out of the thirteen districts of Timor-Leste have been reached.

When Maria was on her 8th month of pregnancy with her third child, Maria’s husband abandoned her. He left and never come back. Maria went from Golgota to Vemasse, another part of Baucau, to ask her husband’s relatives on his whereabouts but even they were not clear on where he was.

Maria was very confused. She had no work and now totally relies on her mother and father for moral and financial support for her and her three children. Her father is a black smith and can only earn approximately $5 to $10 a month.

Despite all the difficulties, she is grateful that all of her children are in healthy condition. All her children have been vaccinated and are fully immunised. She brings her children during the health services organized by Pastoral da Crianca. If she cannot go herself since she sometimes sells vegetables in the market, she always makes sure that her mother can take the children to the services.

Maria is 25 years old with three children. She is abandoned by her husband. She does not have any job. While others cannot see brightness in their lives, Maria says quietly, “I am blessed. My children are healthy. I have parents who support me and I have Candida who has not only provided me health and nutrition advice but also provides moral support now that I am struggling with the loss of my husband.”

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