Art is an act of creation, a story, dance or image.
Science is the basis of medicine. Yet art and science come together in the extraordinary possibilities opened up through Anti- Retroviral Therapy (ART).
Mother’s Heart’s first HIV mother and baby have heard that the baby is CLEAR! And the staff at Mother’s Heart are rejoicing.
During pregnancy, the mother to be receives regular blood tests and anti-retroviral drugs to inhibit the disease. She then has a Caesarean Section to prevent transmission at birth. Following birth, her baby receives ART as well as being exclusively fed on milk formula. Over the next 18 months the baby is tested three times for the presence of HIV. (Mother’s antibodies can show up in the baby, hence the multiple tests). It is only at the third and final test that there is certainty the baby does not have the fatal virus.
This process does not come cheaply. Although the ART drugs are government funded, the tests, Caesarean Section, formula, and sustaining the mother in vitamins and a good diet are not. Mother’s Heart bears the brunt of these costs. Through enormous commitment by the staff and mother over a period of about two years a baby has the freedom to have a life without HIV.
Mother’s Heart has six more HIV positive women on its programme, all hoping, together with the staff, that they can achieve the same results for these precious women and their babies. And that is worth writing a story about!
‘Why are you here today?’ politely inquired the dentist.
‘Ask Mother’s Heart’, his client bitterly spat back, as if somehow the staff at Mother’s Heart were responsible for the cavity in her tooth or the other multiple health issues for which the new mother required treatment.
Somphors, trained in social work and counselling at Mother’s Heart, has dealt with many women in her time. This client was angry, demanding and suicidal. And Somphors was giving her all.
Helping the mother to weigh her choices and make plans for her life, Somphors phoned, haggled and traipsed around businesses looking for work for this woman. When she finally found work with an ideal location and hours, the mother quit after just a few weeks. Nothing was good enough for her. She complained relentlessly.
Somphors spent sleepless nights knowing this lady was on a downward spiral. And then the woman disappeared.
The phone rang six months later. It was the same client requesting an appointment. Face to face with the staff later that day, she said sorry for being so difficult and how grateful she was for all they tried to do for her. She told them she was taking English lessons, looking for work, and learning independence – she and her baby together.
Thank you, she said, thank you.
Quite possibly, at Mother’s Heart this was the first time this woman felt safe enough to behave badly – really badly. Somphors and the staff bore this load without any promise of a hopeful outcome. And yet as this lady left the office, maybe…maybe a step had been taken for a safer future.
Somphors has learned some emphatic lessons over her time in Mother’s Heart. She reminds herself regularly that every person is different. She knows that change is made step by step. She has grown in confidence and is less likely to blame herself for her client’s choices.
She is determined to wear the shoes of these women and not take them off knowing that sometimes this means she will need counselling and care.
In a busy office, reflecting on this story, Somphors’ face lights up at the small achievements, yet giant triumphs made by some very vulnerable women and babies.
There is joyful excitement this month in Mother’s Heart as five young mothers graduate from vocational training courses provided by Mother’s Heart partner organisations Open Arms and SCARO and begin work with fair hours and wages.
This is no small achievement in a country where 30% of the population is below the poverty line and few favours are granted to women with a crisis pregnancy. Working extremely hard to overcome challenges in literacy and gain the ‘soft skills’ suitable for employment, the graduates are ready for work.
Most women entering Mother’s Heart have minimal education without work skills. Their best hope is often factory work or the risky life of Karaoke bars, where they can expect to work 10 to 12 hours a day, without holidays, for wages from $50 to $80 per month. These are harsh conditions for a single person let alone a woman attempting to raise a child.
Mother’s Heart funds its women to attend the training programmes of Open Arms and SCARO. Putting its motto “From Training to Enterprise -From poverty to Freedom” into practice, Open Arms trains under privileged young people in a variety of occupations. The Mother’s Heart women have just completed a 9 week cooking and 4-week cleaning course where they learnt a range of skills, from customer service and producing Western meals to personal hygiene and keeping a restaurant clean.
Two more Mother’s Heart’s women have completed SCARO’s one week cleaning course. The beauty of SCARO is that through its extensive employer network, it guarantees job placement and follow-up for each graduate.
A daunting moment for many graduates is the job interview. A Mother’s Heart’s staff member goes with them and asks the questions they still don’t quite dare to ask; ‘If my baby is sick am I allowed to ask for time to care for her?’ "What public holidays am I entitled to?"
Four Mother’s Heart graduates are beginning work in February while their babies are cared for at the Mother’s Heart Day Care (Little Lambs). They will receive starting wages from $90 to $100 for approximately 40 hours per week, two with organisations and three with private families.
One woman was spotted during her training to have the ability to teach other women and has been taken on as a trainer at Open Arms. Another will have the opportunity in the future to express her creative flair through learning to produce cakes and sweet delicacies.
Each of these women and their babies have a future vastly different to the one scripted for them. They are working and assured of providing for their babies and themselves.