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The Peer Counsellor Programme in South Africa, part 2

Loraine Hamm
Gauteng, South Africa
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 4, August-September 2001, pp. 92-93

Sophia Blows was recruited from a community support group and after completion of the Peer Counsellor training course, she became interested and involved in other LLL activities. Sophia signed her Statement of Commitment at the 1998 LLL Area Conference social supper. Sophia is very involved in PC training and is also involved in the Breastfeeding Liaison Group and BFHI in her area. Sophia gave the following contribution to a panel discussion at the LLL Area Conference, Kempton Park, 1-5 July 1998. Thanks to Loraine Hamm of Gauteng, South Africa, and Rachel O'Leary of Great Britain, the retiring Division Publications Administrator for the International Division, who compiled and edited the original article. For more information on the Peer Counsellor Programme in South Africa, see the June- July issue of LEAVEN.

I would like to begin by saying what voluntary work means to me as a person, apart from the fact that it is very fulfilling. Fulfilling in the sense that I am now experiencing things that I have never thought about. I am going out in the community and being of some assistance to people that I do not know at all. The greatest pleasure for me is when I help a mother who has a problem. Baby is crying, the mother is stressed, and nothing seems to be going right. I would let her sit down and very carefully, I would go about finding out what the problem is. This is one such story.

One Sunday my phone rang. There was a woman crying, asking me to come and help her because she felt her baby was not getting enough milk from her. I went to see her after trying to calm her on the phone because I realized that the phone was not a good medium at this stage. When I got to her house she opened the door and started to cry again. She said that she expected that I would not come until the next day. We went inside and she invited me to sit down and we started to talk. Then the baby woke up and I asked her to put the baby to the breast because I wanted to see how they were feeding. There was no problem with her positioning the baby at the breast. I started to compliment her on that and she started to cry again. Then I realized this was a problem of a different kind. I looked around the room, a lounge cum bedroom, then said to her you have a very nice place, because at this stage, I did not know how to handle the situation.

Then she started to tell me about herself and her family. She was abused by her father as a very young child and her mother blamed her. She said it was the girl's fault that her father messed with her. As time progressed she ran away from home. The father found her and took her back and things continued as before. At the age of fifteen she ran away again, this time to family. Time went on until she met a man, married him, and became pregnant. Her mother said to her that she would never make a good mother. All the while I just nodded and let her do all the talking. At the end of all the talking and crying, all I could do for the mother was put my arms around her, hug her, and try to give her some self-confidence and self-worth because she had gone through so much. All she needed was someone to whom she could talk and who would not condemn her. By the time I was ready to leave, I can assure you she was a very different person from the one who had opened the door to me earlier.

This was really not a breastfeeding problem, this mother needed somebody to listen to her. It was an inner cry for help and understanding. We still phone each other from time to time. The feeling that I get from the community at large is they are very grateful to the Peer Counsellors for the assistance they receive from us. It always feels very good when you have been able to help a mother in a positive way. The smile of relief on a face when the mother's nipples are no longer sore because she has learned to latch on properly is reward enough for me, or when I have helped show a mother how to express her milk and the breast doesn't hurt anymore.

Peer Counselor Program Purpose

To develop support systems within targeted communities that will provide ongoing access to breastfeeding information and support by training those interested in helping mothers to breastfeed through learning more about breastfeeding promotion, management, support, and techniques. These courses are ideal for those who wish to support, protect, and promote breastfeeding such as nurses, midwives, dieticians, childbirth educators, doulas, social workers, teachers, corporate human services personnel, health-care service office personnel, mothers, grandparents, and breastfeeding peer counselors.


Commitment

Trainees have to attend courses satisfactorily. In one group of PCs, three of the twenty-one did not attend satisfactorily, and by mutual agreement with the whole group, they did not receive certificates. Completion of the course does require real commitment on the part of the trainee. The mother may have a small baby and as with LLL Leaders, it takes some time to adjust to the idea of following a course with little babies and toddlers around.

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