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Doll parent project exposes learners to real-life issues of responsible reproductive health
2016-11-01

Description: Doll parent project  Tags: Doll parent project

Princess Gaboilelwe Motshabi,
Princess Gabo Foundation, Maki Lesia,
School of Nursing, Zenzele Mdletshe,
Internationalisation office, Masters of
Education students from Rutgers University
and study leader.


With the alarming rate of teenage pregnancies in secondary schools, a concerned teacher approached University of the Free State (UFS) School of Nursing in 2013, and in 2015, the Reproductive Health Education Project (RRHEP) was established in collaboration with fourth-year Midwifery students, the Princess Gabo Foundation and the UFS Community Engagement Directorate.

Empowering learners to make responsible reproductive health choices was the primary objective, which got final-year nursing students involved in the Doll-Parenting Project as part of their Service Learning Module. To simulate parenting, boys and girls in Grade Eight were given dolls to take care of as their “baby” for a given period of time. After an information session with parents and guardians, the project took off at Moroka High School in Thaba Nchu and Lekhulong High School in Mangaung. The Princess Gabo Foundation, an NGO operating in the Thaba Nchu community, which supports maternal health programmes, provided the dolls, kangaroo wraps, and diaries in which learners recorded their daily experiences of caring for a baby.

Teen parenting – a challenging experience

Learners were required to calculate how much it would cost to care for a baby, the cost of buying nappies, formula milk (if not breast feeding), doctor’s visits, and medicine. The project was supported by teachers in various subject classes, and learners were encouraged to express themselves through writing of poems or essays about how it feels to be a teen parent.

Dr Delene Botha, lecturer at the School of Nursing, said there was a need to establish a sustainable research project that would attract funding. By adding some of the missing components and drawing on other disciplines such as Sociology and Psychiatry, the project was expected to be extended to meet the needs of other stakeholders including teachers, parents and the community at large.

With cellphones and data provided by the Community Engagement office, the “parenting practice” involved receiving SMS messages from nursing students during odd times of the day to remind them about the needs of the baby; such as wet nappies, the “baby” not feeling well and to be soothed.

Sensitising learners yields success

In evaluating their performance, appointed “police learners” became the eyes and ears of the community to observe and report on how “parents” treated their “babies”. Statements from participants and feedback showed Incidences of negligence and the feeling of embarrassment from being a teen parent. The report indicated that learners felt that having a baby while still at school was not a good idea. The project concluded with a debate on the subject.

As part of the programme, a group of postgraduate Education students from Rutgers University in the US, visited Chief Moroka High School and received first-hand information from their interaction with the learners from which they created digital stories of their Community Engagement experience and took these back with them.

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