I have been at SACH for about a month and a half now, first as a full volunteer, then as a part time volunteer, and now as an intern in the Therapy Program. Living at the SACH house first allowed me to form close bonds with the children and the mothers, by having dinner parties with the moms and movie nights with the children. The focus of the Therapy Program is help support the families through their time at SACH, as well as organizing resources, grants, and research. Specifically, I have been working 1-on-1 with individual children identified as needing more personal attention, often ones who are here without a mother, and I also have been working on groups with the mothers.
Currently, at SACH house, we have one mother from Romania, a few mothers and older sisters from Gambia, several from Tanzania, and several from Zanzibar. I speak Kiswahili because I spent a semester in Kenya, and it has been useful here to communicate, especially with the mothers and older children, who enjoy helping me practice and teaching me new words. Many of the mothers talk to me about the anxiety they feel about their child’s heart surgery – whether it will work, whether it will be scheduled in time, whether their child will be strong enough to go home afterward. The goal of mothers’ groups is to bring them together and provide activities for them during this time of stress and anxiety.
Last week, I set up a mat outside behind the kitchen, a quiet area where the laundry dries, and brought out several different shades of nail polish. Many of the mothers immediately starting shouting colors in Kiswahili, some wanting a few for different patterns and designs. Mama George from Romania created a two color design, pausing and editing to make it perfect, and her son George joined us and had fun carefully painting his nails too. Mama George was called into the kitchen for a phone call, but returned a little while later and thanked me. Having a calm and peaceful time to do something for themselves like nail painting is not something the mothers often have the time for here, as they are often cooking, cleaning, and caring for their young children. I then brought the nail polish to a few of the Tanzanian mothers and older children sitting in the sun on the other side of the house, and Mama Salma said she was excited to paint her nails because she is going home on Sunday and wants to look nice. Hamidu and Rashidi, both teenage boys from Tanzania, took turns doing my nails, and Mama Abdul later joined in too. Hamidu had a laugh taking pictures of all of us smiling and doing each other’s nails.
The success of having a mothers’ group goes beyond personal time and distraction from stress, because it can bring people together. Mama Abdul and Mama Salma were talking about their feelings about Salma going home and Abdul’s upcoming surgery, all while painting nails. The nail painting is actually the least important part of the mothers’ group, the smiles and feelings of community it can create is what really matters.