Supporting Women through Crisis Pregnancy

by Mother's Heart
Vetted

Admitting failure is scary because we fear judgment and blame. But mistakes are something we should embrace as they force us to see what we have done wrong and positive changes that need to be made.  

Safe staff.

Safe staff are vital for programs working with vulnerable populations. So Mother’s Heart takes strict precautions when we hire new staff (professional references and police checks), but these precautions are not guarantees.

We made the dangerous mistake of hiring someone who was unsafe.

At first this staff member seemed like an asset to the team. He came with a good reference and was willing to learn.

But soon the warning signs came.  He fell asleep during work ours, had very poor hygiene coming to work with dirty clothes and without bathing, constantly pawned his phone, went to coworkers houses to borrow money, and spoke gruffly to clients.  He also delayed in getting a background check – a requirement for all staff – saying he had put his ID card as guaranty at the bank.

Management met with him about his behavior and even had to draft a written warning.

One Monday he just didn’t show up to work. He didn’t show up the next day either.  Worried about him, our social worker went to find his home to see if he was ok.

He was a crystal meth abuser, had gone on a binge over the weekend, and was still coming down from the high. 

This story could have been very different and the alternate endings make us feel sick.

But that sick feeling is good if channeled correctly. We channeled that fear of what could have happened from our mistake into learning. We are as convinced as ever that our clients need to be safe and we will do what it takes to ensure they are.

Now, before we hire new staff we have a list of requirements: 1) Two references (one professional and one personal) 2) A background check 3) A character reference from the village chief 4) prospective staff must be willing for us to go make personal inquiries about them in the communities. It’s a lot. But it’s necessary.

And the staff member with the addiction? Our social workers told his family about a rehab facility and he is not getting the help he needs.

We hope others can learn from this too.  Do what it takes to know who you are hiring, especially for those working directly with clients. We’re relieved nothing truly terrible happened and have put systems in place to make sure it never does.

Mother's Heart Partnership with Little Lambs Day Care

It is such an amazing opportunity to witness single mothers learn skills and then work to support themselves and their child. That's why Little Lambs Day Care exists, to provide a child care service for single mothers so that they have the opportunity to train and find employment to support themselves and their children.

I have been working as the day care coordinator now for three years and it has been a privilege to see women thriving in their role as mum.  Being a single mother is not easy, but these mothers work hard at it, and do an amazing job. I love watching the mothers return at the end of the day and seeing the children’s face light up as they run to their mothers for a hug. It shows what a great attachment these children have with their mothers. Our children do not have attachment disorders (which is so common in children who grow up in orphanages). This means the children within our day care have a great start to life. They also have the opportunity to be part of our high quality early childhood program as well as receive nutritious meals throughout the day. We have five wonderful highly dedicated Khmer child care workers who provide the children with wonderful learning opportunities. It had been great to watch these workers grow in their understanding of child development and improve their skills in providing an educational early years program.

I remember one little boy who started at our daycare when he was 14 months old.  His mum had been working in the province but had come back to the Phnom Penh for a better training opportunity. When this boy started at daycare it was evident that he was slightly developmentally delayed; he had absolutely no interest in toys or playing and no interest in attempting to walk. He just sat and stared. Through lots of patience and perseverance from the staff we worked closely with him to encourage him to walk and helped him learn to play. Now he is a happy 2 year old child, he loves playing, running around and has caught up developmentally. His mother has almost finished her training course and will soon begin work.

The early years of a child’s life are very important and a high quality early childhood program provides a child with the foundation they need to succeed in school as well as in their life. This year we will have our first child leave us to start school. She will be attending a great local Khmer school.

At the moment the daycare is at full capacity; in our current premise we can only take 20 children. We need a bigger building as well as more childcare workers. It is our hope that we can eventually have 4 rooms for the different age groups, allowing for smaller group sizes and a better program catering for each specific age group.

Mother’s Heart does crisis pregnancy care well. However, we don't do medical care, mental health counselling, drug prescriptions, job search, vocational training … the list goes on. These are things for which we dependent on the work of our deeply respected partners.

 

SreyTouk*, three months pregnant, suffering from extreme morning sickness and a UTI, was referred to Mother’s Heart by the government maternity hospital. Mother’s Heart has become well known to hospital staff as we use them for all our client’s antenatal, delivery and post-natal care.

 

SreyTouk had been in hospital ten days yet was without any of the essential care (meals, bathing, purchasing medicines) that, in Cambodia, is the role of the family to provide. SreyTouk was surrounded by broken relationships. Lying, desperately demanding attention, experiencing emotional and mental health issues, claiming a black being was there to torment her, her family had had enough and although her older brother had dropped her off, none of her family had been seen since.

 

SreyTouk told Mother’s Heart counsellor that she had been gang raped. It was only later that Mother’s Heart staff found out the truth. In reality, SreyTouk had lived together with her boyfriend who she met while working in a factory. When she was three months pregnant, she left him, calling him abusive and saying she no longer loved him. SreyTouk was too ashamed to admit this to her family hence the story about gang rape.

 

Because none of her family wanted to help her, Mother’s Heart partnered with a shelter where SreyTouk might stay during her pregnancy. However, when she became suicidal Mother’s Heart called on two more partners; a shelter that had a mental health counselling program and a facility that was able to assist SreyTouk with medication for her mental health issues. SreyTouk’s emotions were all over the place. She said she saw ghosts. Sometimes she would yell and swear at staff, other times she was very cooperative. At the shelter SreyTouk was able to stabilize, she stopped seeing things, and even worked at sewing for the three months preceding delivery.

 

Following three months maternity leave, SreyTouk began work for an organization that had a day care attached where she could remain close to her baby while she learned how to make paper flowers and greeting cards. It was here that she connected with a man from another province who wanted to marry her. Unfazed by the presence of a baby, this man took her to visit his family where his mother really liked her and invited her to join their family. So SreyTouk married and moved to his province.

 

Now SreyTouk works with the family selling sugar cane juice with her baby girl nearby. Her new family are even helping the couple to buy a house. Five partners together with Mother’s Heart were part of this happy outcome!

 

*All client names are changed to protect their identity.

Falling in love doesn’t always go as planned. In the province, Thida was having a lot of emotional difficulties. Pakun, a family friend was asked to take Thida to Phnom Penh for treatment.  While there, they fell in love and started living together.

With treatment Thida began to recover, but meanwhile the mothers of the couple wanted things sorted. Thida’s mom wanted them married; Pakun’s mum did not. She said Thida was crazy. There was a lot of arguing until Pakun’s mum gave an ultimatum - either leave her or be ostracized from his family. Pakun chose Thida.

 Thida’s mum put together a little wedding ceremony for the two and they were married. Meanwhile stresses continued among the parents of the couple. Thida’s father had angrily yelled at Pakun’s mom because she was so cruel to Thida.  This turned out to be the last straw for Pakun and he left, despite his wife being three months pregnant. Thida’s mental health deteriorated. She made her way to Phnom Penh with the idea of jumping from a bridge.

Thankfully she rang for help and was referred to Mother’s Heart. Distraught and crying constantly, Thida came to Mother’s Heart very needy, demanding and dependent. Yet, somehow the arrival of her baby changed what was happening for her. With guidance from her social worker, she cared for her baby well, becoming stronger and more independent.

Mother’s Heart staff continued to encourage and counsel Thida where she learned better care for her emotional health. When Mother’s Heart asked her what she would like to study, Thida replied  ‘hair dressing’. Mother’s Heart was able to find a local business where she soon began to excel at her apprenticeship. She learns quickly, and is talented at welcoming and engaging her customers. Thida’s desire is to work in Korea for a few years so as to be able to save enough money to open her own hair dressing shop in Cambodia.  To make this happen she attends Korean language classes every morning.

While Thida is in class and at the apprenticeship, her mum cares for her baby using formula provided by Mother’s Heart. Thida’s mum is grateful to Mother’s Heart after having seen how much her daughter has grown in confidence and stability. Thida’s own emotional growth has even helped her to better interact with other’s emotions. In a grumpy mood one day the salon teacher spoke harshly to Thida. Undeterred, Thida wrote her a sweet note thanking the teacher for her help.

Thida has worthy and realistic plans for her future and is taking steps to reach her goals. She still struggles at times with her emotions. But these occasions now are short and infrequent. Not at all like how they were in the past.

Sometimes at Mother’s Heart we get to see our clients long after they are off the books. Soklone called in recently, bearing a basket of fruit for the staff and baby powder as a donation for other clients. What a different woman she has become, confidently in control of her life, assured as a mother and caregiver of her own mum and younger brother.

 

More than four years ago, Soklone became pregnant after going to a party with some friends. She’s not sure what happened, either drunk or drugged, but after the party she was pregnant. Her mother was very angry with Soklone. The two of them tried to press charges against the boy who hosted the party, suspecting rape, but dropped the charges when they received threats from the boy’s family. At the same time Soklones’ older brother died. Her mum blamed his death on Soklone, scolding her for being single and pregnant, and bringing bad luck to their family.

 

The two of them were referred to Mother’s Heart from another organization. Staff helped them find a room close to Mother’s Heart office and helped with food, rent, and medical costs. Soklone delivered two healthy twin girls.

 

When Soklone began cooking and cleaning training, she was very needy and demanding. She would say, “You have to help me. Can’t you see how hard my life is?!” Stressed at being a single mom, scolded by her family, haunted by suicidal thoughts, she took all her anger, hurt, and frustration out on Mother’s Heart staff – the only people who would listen.

 

Her social worker patiently listened to all her concerns and problems and kept encouraging her. She taught her how to be a good mum. It took a long time for Soklone to understand that she needed to start taking responsibility for the care of her babies and could not rely on Mother’s Heart for everything.

 

When Soklone visited, she apologized for her behavior while in our program. She certainly can see now how much Mother’s Heart has helped her. “If it wasn’t for Mother’s Heart I wouldn’t be able to stand today”. Soklone went from solely relying on Mother’s Heart, to taking on the full responsibility of caring for her twins, mother, and younger brother.

 

Her family is still hard to live with. Despite her support they still call her bad. ‘One day’, they told her, ‘she would end up in hell’. Her tart response was that living with her family was already hell. This is when she calls her social worker for help. She asked, “Am I really a bad person.” Her social worker responded, “Look at how far you have come. You are stronger and are such a good mom. You’re working a good job, your babies are doing so well, and you provide for your entire family. ”

 

Soklone has been referred to an organization that offers free counseling should she need more support. She also knows she is welcome to visit Mother’s Heart anytime.

 

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Organization Information

Mother's Heart

Location: Phnom Penh - Cambodia
Website: http:/​/​www.mothersheart-cambodia.org
Project Leader:
Katrina Gliddon
Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh Cambodia
$71,765 raised of $100,000 goal
 
205 donations
$28,235 to go
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