16 August 2018 Photo Johan Roux
Teen motherhood is not childs play
Elgonda Bekker of the UFS School of Nursing is pictured with Gladys Magobe, one-day-old baby Neo, and Luvuyo Madasa, Executive Director at RelmagineSA and great-grandson of Nelson Mandela. They were recently involved in a Princess Gabo outreach programme in Thaba Nhchu.

To commemorate the Nelson Mandela Centenary, a group of delegates from the Bloemfontein community had the privilege to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Princess Project and got an idea of how teenagers are taught about planned parenthood. 

The Princess Gabo Foundation and the Responsible Reproductive Health Education Project (RRHEP) is a community service learning project at the University of the Free State (UFS) that forms part of the credit-bearing curriculum of final-year midwifery students in the Undergraduate Nursing programme and is done in cooperation with the office of Community Service Learning.

The big responsibility of having a baby

Every baby deserves a good start in life. Both Elgonda Bekker, coordinator of the UFS Midwifery Programme, and Prof André Venter, head of the UFS Paediatrics and Child Health School and founding director of MACAH (The Mother and Child Academic Hospital Foundation), emphasise the importance of the first couple of years of a baby’s life. 

Having a baby is definitely not child’s play and is a heavy burden on teenage mothers and fathers. As part of the Princess project learners are given a baby doll for one week – with the consent of their parents as the experience can be quite disruptive. UFS students then send cellphone messages to these “doll parents” from their “babies”. For example, “your baby is crying, your baby is hungry, your baby needs to go to the clinic, your baby needs a nappie change” … 24 hours a day.  

Stop teenage pregnancies

The project has been so successful that it achieved an almost zero pregnancy rate at the two schools that are part of the programme. “When we started in 2015, we would have been happy to have saved one girl from an unplanned pregnancy. The outcome astounded us.” When they are responsible for their baby dolls, learners are trained in sound parenting techniques that include breastfeeding, kangaroo care (where their dolls are tied to their chests), health, and life skills. To complement the school curriculum, scholars are required to work out a budget for the baby from a typical South Africa Social Security Agency grant. Not only does this teach them maths literacy, it also illustrates how expensive raising a baby is. 

Parenting is precious 

For Princess Gaboilelwe Moroka-Motshabi, the Princess Gabo Foundation is a calling. Prompted by her own pregnancy health issues, she was compelled to help alleviate the suffering of mothers and babies. Currently, her aim is to supply new mothers with a kangaroo care wrap that helps with infant health and improves mother and child bonding. The wrap, then, seems to not only benefit infants, but also helps empower teenagers to prevent unplanned pregnancies with the help of the foundation.

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