My friend Theresa lives in Estonia, where she and her darlin' hubby are expecting their first baby. Theresa has just (Friday!) gone on maternity leave.
In Estonia, you get 4 months leave, paid for by your company, at full salary. Then, the government pays you a "mother's salary" for 18 months: that is, your full salary up to a certain amount... Theresa should continue to get her full salary.
If I understand correctly, you may then take a further 3 years as a mom, at 70% of your former salary. If you decide at any time to return to work, your company must take you back at the same level or higher. You also get a government bonus for each child.
What lucky babies! What lucky mommies! And daddies too!
Theresa and her husband are sensible, well-educated people, and Theresa has experience emergency-babysitting for me at a time when I was stressed, overworked, and considering trading in my husband for something more useful. Like, oh, a toaster. Theresa was really great with the boys, and knows how to tell when a baby is ready for nursing before he is screaming his head off. So I think this baby is going to be one of the lucky ones, and will go through life with a really strong foundation.
My first baby was born in England, and the care, money and everyday help AT HOME I received from the government was wonderful. Chas was a long, complicated delivery and a difficult baby, and I am sure that the help I had set the stage for reasonably patient, loving parenting on my part. Breastfeeding was established in spite of my total ineptness, pain and screaming baby.
This week, I also got my first calls for the term from SERVOL. This really made me think about the differences between countries who treat parents and children with the respect they deserve, and those who do not.
SERVOL is a Non-Governmental Organization, dedicated to improving the lives of those in need. They run schools all over the region, which teach disadvantaged youths the skills they need to better themselves.
Their first semester courses include adult literacy, communication, self-awareness, and ... Parenting. Among other things. Once a person passes the first semester, they can get into the skills training program where they learn the trade of their choice: nursing, welding, baking, you name it. SERVOL graduates enter the workforce qualified and respected, thus breaking a cycle of poverty. You can search online, for more on SERVOL.
Where do I come in? Well, at about week 9 or so of every term, "parenting" class has covered contraception and childbirth and has arrived at "Breastfeeding". I am a Breastfeeding Counselor with TIBS, another NGO, and got a call one day, about 5 years ago : would I come and talk to a bunch of teenaged boys about breastfeeding? I filed it under "so crazy it just might work" and went. There were, in fact, two girls in the class, about 15 years old, along with 20 or so boys. One of the girls was pregnant with her second child.
The kids did not know what to think. "who the hell is this white lady and how does she think she can come and tell us what to do?" was the vibe I got. But soon they seemed to realise that 1) I speak their language, and 2) I am not here to tell anyone what to do.
I started with a question, "what is the big deal about breastfeeding? Why all the fuss?" and took it from there. I expanded on every answer, so that "its healthy?" became "yes! And here's why!" I drew pictures on the board, and asked one boy who was giving me attitude "what? You not interested in boobs?" which brought the house down.
The class was a huge success. But the real clincher for me was when the young mom asked me "if the baby falls off the couch, is it okay to hold him? It wouldn't spoil him?"
Here we have a young mother who never had any love, and has been told that holding the baby will spoil him. Her face was full of hope that I would tell her " your instincts are good. Hold your baby. " of course, I did. I expanded on the benefits of holding a baby. The boys were impressed.
Since then, I have visited as many SERVOL buildings as humanly possible. The response has been great, I am told that the guys do go on to be present fathers, using their breastfeeding counseling skills to help their partners. They feel that there IS something they know about babies, and they know why they need to be there. They know what else a father can do. The cycle of neglect is broken. Families are whole.
I am honoured to be trusted by the well-organized, honest, successful establishment that is SERVOL, and I will continue to do my best. I will do as much as I can. In a couple of weeks time, when I am driving from Chaguanas to Couva to Claxton Bay and back to Port of Spain, when I am tired from giving 3, hour-long, talks in a day, when I drive into Beetham Estate and notice my car being appraised, I will remember that one girl and her new baby. I will think of my own kids and their future, and all of the other kids who need only a good start with a mom and dad, to keep them from crimes of poverty and desperation.
I wish I could do more. I would like to take on the politicians next, but I need a clone of myself.
I have asked for help, I have received kudos and applause for my SERVOL work, but people are afraid to go there. They feel threatened and intimidated by the type of teenager who attends SERVOL. They don't have time. This is crazy! By helping these people, we help ourselves. Why not volunteer? Someone, you know who you are, you can do this.