The following is a postcard from Charissa Murphy, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in Southeast Asia, about her recent visit to Mother’s Heart in Cambodia.
Rocking the baby, his breaths slow, irregular, and almost trapped within him, a terrified grandmother rocked him tightly in her arms as she explained how the baby fell two meters down stairs after an electrical fire erupted in their building the night before. This was not only what I walked in to witness at Mother's Heart at the start of the day, but I also observed the Mother's Heart staff walking into this same crisis as well. Before we even introduced ourselves to one another, the staff's unconditional care and support for the women and families it supports opened in front of me. They immediately asked questions to understand the baby's condition and the events that unfolded since the fire. Using their professional experience and training, they suggested that the mother and grandmother immediately take the baby to the only free prenatal care facility in all of Cambodia, accompanied there by members of the Mother's Heart team who would wait until the patient and family were provided guidance or care. Though the queues for this facility are usually very long and no one except for the family and baby would be allowed entrance, Katrina, Mother’s Heart founder, informed me that they should be given priority since the baby was younger than three months old and in a life-threatening state. Mother's Heart quickly called for reliable transportation and took the family for emergency help.
Although they deal with crises like this everyday and they are professionals in the support they provide, the Mother's Heart team members are also human. They worried about the baby's health and survival throughout the day. If I was looking for confirmation of the organization's impact on the women and families that it supports, I absolutely gained that today.
After learning about the services that Mother's Heart provides, including a) over-the-phone counseling, b) in-person counseling and its social work program, and c) its Pregnancy Support Program, and hearing the terrifying truth that one-in-five women have unwanted or unplanned pregnancies in Cambodia, the need for free access to support for these women was (heartbreakingly) clear for me. Mother's Heart system for evaluating, determining and offering awareness of options, and providing support was organized and effective. It is evident that they have developed programming that works, which is highlighted further by the number of stories they shared of women who were so empowered while receiving Mother's Heart's care that they now securing healthy (non-sex-related) jobs, reconnecting with their families, and choosing to live on their own or with family rather than in abusive relationships, while also being positive parents to their children.
With Mother’s Heart, I was able to visit a few of the mothers with newborns and one soon-to-be mother who was expecting her baby soon. I cannot explain how amazed I was with how much positive help Mother’s Heart provides. From counseling to medical support to living and baby supplies, to housing, transport, and after birth care, they do not ignore any potential needs. Gosh, I want to have my future babies under Mother’s Heart support! Each woman was overwhelmingly grateful to have Mother’s Heart by their side throughout it all, helping them stand on their own two feet as they help their own child discover theirs.
Upcoming Event on GlobalGiving - TODAY, this Wednesday, July 16th, is a Bonus matching day!:
Today, July 16th (Wednesday), beginning at 9AM EDT, GlobalGiving will match 40% of any donations (of up to $1,000 from any individual donor) to Mother’s Heart. There are $130,000 in total funds available for matching that day for all of GlobalGiving’s partners. To ensure your donation is matched before the funds run out, please consider donating early today shortly after 9AM.
I want to thank the Mother’s Heart for allowing me to visit!
A hair salon owner recently contacted Mother’s Heart to ask whether a woman from our program will be available to join her expanding provincial salon. This is great community cooperation, but what is really exciting is that Chantol, the salon owner, has herself come through a crisis pregnancy helped by Mother’s Heart.
An orphan, Chantol worked in a Phnom Penh Karaoke bar. Her longtime boyfriend was supportive, often helping her out with rent and a bit of spending money. She loved him.
But she became pregnant and her boyfriend found a wealthier girlfriend. He handed Chantol $200 for an abortion and broke up with her. Heartbroken, Chantol faced facts. She was going to be a single mum. She couldn’t work and raise the baby and she didn’t have a mum to help. She wanted an abortion also.
Chantol heard about Mother’s Heart from another client in our program and came in for crisis pregnancy counseling. The support and empowerment by Mother’s Heart staff and the earthy encouragement she experienced in friendships with the other single pregnant mums helped this resilient lady decide to keep her baby. Chantol attended classes at Mother’s Heart on pregnancy, delivery, and healthy relationships.
And gave birth to a baby boy.
The father of the baby visited her to see his son. They soon began to be in contact with each other again. Mother’s Heart staff helped them be reconciled and learn how to grow a strong relationship. He helped financially support her and their son by paying for her rent and even bought her a small motorcycle to ride to vocational training. While her son was at Mother’s Heart day care, Chantol studied hairdressing knowing that with this she could put her Karaoke life behind her.
Her relationship with the father of the baby continued to grow. At the completion of her 6 months training she moved with him to his province to live with his family where he helped her open her own hair dressing shop. She has excelled at it and has trained and employed four staff.
Now she needs another staff member. Chantol wants to help another woman in the same situation she was in. She and her boyfriend plan to marry once they have saved enough to pay for a wedding.
Their young son is one and a half years old and growing.
To the average person, having a baby is about buying precious baby clothes and joyously expecting the arrival of new life. For those who have experienced pregnancy, they know that pregnancy also involves doctor’s visits and blood tests conducted to maintain the health of mom and baby. Yet despite all the medical achievements that have been made and all the danger signs that are examined, calamity can still transpire. Unfortunately, two Mother’s Heart clients faced such calamity during their pregnancy and delivery, but because MH’s exists through the help of supporters like yourself, Chanty and Vicheka’s stories do not end in fatalities.
Chanty and Vicheka both faced extreme medical complications. Mother’s Heart staff were called out in the early hours of the morning to take a seven months pregnant Chanty to the hospital as she was experiencing seizures from pregnancy induced eclampsia. Doctors performed an emergency C-section, as the eclampsia would have claimed the life of mother and baby. Today, Chanty is doing well, and despite weighing only 1.1 kg at birth, her baby continues to put on weight and grow.
Vicheka also came close to death when she began to hemorrhage after delivering twin girls (read the detailed version of her story below). If it had not been for the presence of MH staff rushing Chanty to hospital or advocating for Vicheka’s urgent blood transfusions, both of these women would have lost their lives unnecessarily.
We are so thankful to our donors for your generous giving. It is because of you that Chanty and Vicheka’s lives were saved. We rejoice that through you, we were able to help them overcome these crises and we will help them grow to a place of stability in their lives where they will be able to handle the next crisis without the need for our support.
How will you provide for them?
Vicheka found herself surrounded by a group of concerned women. Heavily pregnant, she would wash dishes, do mending, or help sell food, anything to earn enough to buy food for herself. At nights she settled down to sleep on the street. She had attracted the attention of some local women who worked and lived in the area. With compassion they collected some money together to give to her. One of the ladies allowed her to sleep in her home. Another gave her Mother’s Heart’s phone number.
At seventeen, Vicheka had arrived in Phnom Penh hunting for work. In the province, it was her mother’s aunt who had raised her. Her own family – mother, father, grandmother and younger brother had all died while she was a child. In Phnom Penh, Vicheka worked as a maid or doing odd jobs. It was not long before she met a boy…
Unfortunately, her partner was a savory character. Their first child died. Then Vicheka was pregnant by him again, this time with twins, yet her partner would not take responsibility for her or the babies.
34 weeks pregnant, Vicheka called Mother’s Heart and was taken into the pregnancy support program. She was found a place to stay until delivery.
The birth did not go well. Vicheka lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion. An impassioned scrabble ensued as Mother’s Heart social workers struggled to find blood donors. There is a widespread policy in Cambodia that in order to receive a blood transfusion, the relatives or friends of the sick person must donate an equivalent amount of blood before the transfusion takes place. Often doctors or staff will donate blood when there is no family. But Vicheka was giving birth on a holiday, there was hardly any staff around. A dear friend of Mother’s Heart was able to give 4 units of life saving blood for Vicheka.
Gradually recovering, Vicheka left hospital. Her stalwart neighbors urged her to give one or both of her babies away. “Yes but how will you provide for them? At least give one of them away.” Vicheka was very torn. She truly did not know what to do. It is so hard for single women with one child to survive but two, impossible!!!
With Mother’s Heart counseling, Vicheka was able to clearly evaluate whether or not she was able to keep her babies. Staff assured her it was her decision; they would support her in whatever she chose.
Vicheka has decided to keep both babies. Together she and Mother’s Heart staff created a plan for her future. She desperately wanted a job so Mother’s Heart staff set up an interview with a partner organization. At this interview Vicheka excelled and was accepted into their one-year program. Now she has a safe place to stay, a supportive community, and a job.
Vicheka, is proactive about the care of her twins, everyone notices it. She still gets help from Mother’s Heart; they provide her with nappies, formula to supplement her breast milk, and emotional support from the staff when she needs it. But Vicheka is succeeding to make a life for her small family in Phnom Penh.
She is an amazing, strong, and determined young woman and all involved in her life are extremely proud of her.
*These are pictures of Vicheka’s actual twins. To respect the privacy and dignity of our clients we do not post pictures of their faces.
Work at Mother’s Heart is fast paced and always moving forward. During the morning, staff are constantly in and out of the office as they take clients to medical appointments and job interviews, visit them in their homes, or journey to the province for an extended family assessment. Afternoons present more of a calm when staff sit at their desks catching up on paper work, occasionally chatting back and forth. This cohesive routine allows staff to do their jobs well. Over the past 3 months, MH social workers have counselled in 39 counselling sessions with clients in our counselling program, 15 new clients were accepted into our Pregnancy Support program, and 17 babies were born (amongst them a set of healthy twins). During those three months, stall also made over twenty trips to the province to meet with new clients, conduct family assessments, reintegrate clients back to the province, and follow up with provincial care.
Any city-dwelling Cambodian is never far from the province of their childhood. This is the home of their extended family and an older rhythm of life. Mother’ s Heart’s Social workers are currently putting a lot of effort into provincial care; reintegrating clients into the support of their families and coordinating clinic and hospital services as well as partnering with regional NGOs, so that the women and babies continue to receive quality health care while being amidst the network of their families and community.
Face it… sometimes caring for a newborn baby can get on top of you. Rajana was under a lot of stress with bad and broken relationships, she’d got to the point of wishing her baby child dead. Social workers at Mother’s Heart spent long hours in counselling with her in Phnom Penh, helping her to regain emotional stability. While Rajana was on maternity leave, Mother’s Heart staff took her to her province so that she could spend time with her mother. The social workers saw in every visit that she was improving mentally and emotionally. She has gradually become more and more independent. Back in Phnom Penh, Rajana is completing the last of her training and starting work.
To be seen, truly seen in the midst of her situation and helped by Mother’s Heart staff is something for which Rajana is very grateful. She has become an empowered young mother.
The provinces are the future for another mother, Goriyan. Abandoned by her boyfriend, she was alone in Phnom Penh without help and losing hope. In Mother’s Heart she has received counselling, food, housing and entry into a beautician’s course. She is able to work while her baby is in day care. A great mom, Goriyan has even reconnected with the father of her baby who is showing that he is now serious about their relationship. Their plan to shift closer to his family in the province once she finished training, has now become a reality.
“In the hardest time of my life you helped me,” says Goriyan to the staff. “Thank you.”
*Due to the need to protect the privacy of clients of Mother’s Heart, names and images that might reveal their identity are avoided. Thanks for your understanding.
As in many countries, women in Cambodia face unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. While the stigma of being single and pregnant is beginning to lessen in western countries, women and girls in Cambodia are often judged as promiscuous or morally corrupt for being single and pregnant. They are also believed to attract misfortune meaning that community members ostracized them.
Many of the women and girls who find themselves at Mother’s Heart in search of support during their pregnancy are extremely vulnerable members of Cambodian society. Not only can they face discrimination for being pregnant, but they also come from backgrounds of dysfunctional families, domestic violence, trafficking, rape, and sex labour. Some of these women also have mental, physical, and emotional health issues such as HIV, hearing loss, depression, ect.
Over the past 6 months, Mother’s Heart has added 25 new clients to their existing number of 27 clients. Of these 25 new clients, 11 mothers have given birth to beautiful babies as 14 others are still waiting to meet their child face to face. This means that currently, Mother’s Heart is serving 52 mothers and 38 babies in their Crisis Pregnancy Case Management Program. Mother’s Heart has also performed 44 counselling cases with women looking for a safe, non judgemental place they can explore their options and find support during their crisis pregnancy.
A new program that Mother’s Heart is working on is Provincial Reintegration. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, promises many things to young Cambodians living in outlying provinces. Young women are encouraged by their families to leave the province and move to the big city in order to find a good job and send money back home. However, living in a foreign city with no form of social support proves to be much harder than imagined by family or girl. Her isolation in the city become even more apparent when she find herself pregnant with no mom, older sister, aunty, counselling, or grandma to guide her through her pregnancy and help her care for her baby. This is why Mother’s Heart is assisting women and girls who wish to return home with this reintegration process. Mother’s Heart social workers are present to facilitate reconciliation, locate maternal clinics in the province, and meat with village chiefs. Below is just such a story of reconciliation:
Pheap is an 18 year-old girl with an unplanned pregnancy. Estranged from her family in the provinces, she came to Mother’s Heart. All was normal during her pregnancy and she delivered a beautiful baby girl.
However things changed for the worse very quickly. On day 4 she was complaining of a headache and blurred vision. Despite immediately receiving medicine for high blood pressure, she suffered a small convulsion that afternoon. On day 7 she had a series of severe convulsions resulting with bleeding in her brain and 4 days in the Intensive Care Unit. Her baby was placed in foster care and then as Pheap had not recovered and doctors did not know her prognosis, the newborn was taken to the province by Mother’s Heart staff for Pheap’s stepmother and family to care for. This was very scary for Pheap as she did not know how her family would feel about their grandchild. Their relationship had not been good in the past.
It is nearly 6 weeks after the delivery of her baby and Pheap has fully recovered from her stroke. She is convalescing in Phnom Penh while doctors try to wean her off her hypertensive and convulsive medicines before she can return to her family in the province.
The family loves their grandchild and brought the baby back to Phnom Penh for the convalescing mother to bond with. The whole process has bought about family reconciliation and restoration.
We are so grateful for the wonderful care provided by the medical team, and all the thoughts and prayers of the people around us.
Life at Mother’s Heart is a creative story. And you never know… you might just catch them joyfully dancing…
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