This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
Vontade is a Portuguese word that is poorly translated in English: the closest term would be “will,” but vontade is at the same time more and less philosophical than that, encompassing everything from grand ambition to daily decision making.
While a mother’s vontade is often overlooked in maternal health programming design, this last month I realized that for the adolescent mothers of Brazil, it is not just a critical factor in improving their own lives and those of their children, but absolutely fundamental before all else. The girls who come and live at Lua Nova come from incredibly broken circumstances, and it is only their own vontade to create a new life that stands between them overcoming substance addiction to care for their child, versus falling back into familiar and “easy” patterns of drug abuse and neglect.
I worked this month to get an income-generating project off the ground for the girls. Lua Nova already has a fantastic arts center where former residents work to sew and make dolls, bags, and other gifts to sell to support themselves and their children. We are now trying to introduce baby-carrying slings into the routine of the arts center, engaging the current adolescent mothers from Lua Nova’s shelter into the creation process. In being a part of this program, not only do the girls have the opportunity to learn the critical employment skill of sewing, but once the girls make the slings and they are sold through Lua Nova’s existing networks, all of the profits will return directly to the girls who made them. This would be a huge income boost for the girls, and could truly change their lives once they leave Lua Nova’s shelter and are forced to support themselves and their children.
The program started, however, with just three girls, as the majority simply have no vontade to learn to sew and spend hours making the slings. While some others simply prefer to work in Lua Nova’s two other enterprises to earn a living and gain skill-sets (a bakery and construction school), there are still too many girls who simply struggle with finding the motivation to do anything at all in terms of actively creating a new life as a new mom. Crack is a pernicious illness just as anything else, and it has stripped so many of the young mothers here of their ambition.
So what do you do in this instance? You return to the beginning. You work through the difficult emotions and stress. But ultimately you stop looking backwards and propel the girls’ vision forwards: help them see that there is a future for them, they have potential, and they can be active participants in creating a new life, new world, and new home for themselves and their child. Nothing is more powerful than that. Stripping away the disease of drugs and poverty and abuse of a person’s past and allowing the individual to actively design their future.
So that is what we will be doing in the weeks and months following. I didn’t stop the therapeutic sessions with the girls this last month, but I have a new goal in mind for them, and will start a more creative process in terms of taking a step-by-step approach to designing their futures, confronting the challenges they face, and finding simple solutions to those challenges. Help them rediscover their vontade and abandon apathy!