In 2014, I turned 40 and I decided I wanted to be able to give back the baby massage teaching experience I had loved over the years. I started looking for a charity I could work with to provide free training and support to staff in baby orphanages so that they could provide the vital touch that the babies crave and is vital for healthy development.
I stumbled across some incredible sunglasses called LOVE SPECS. Love Specs turn any light into rainbow love hearts and more importantly, through sales at music festivals, they generate income for Love Support Unite Africa (LSU). LSU was founded by Alice and Nina Pulford, two incredibly inspirational and amazing women who I love, to provide sustainable education to the poorest children in Malawi. Their work has ensured powerful and lasting change, built on people rather than proceeds.
I decided to volunteer with my student Kathryn Marshall with LSU using my experience in infant and baby massage to benefit babies in orphanages who were not receiving regular touch. I provided free training to the staff at the Ministry of Hope baby orphanage, so the babies could receive the vital interaction they were missing. Massage provides so much more than touch; it helps to support the development of the emotional brain in children, teaching them about the world and human relationships. Babies thrive and grow on love and baby massage provides a window of gentle stimulation and nurturing experience.
Pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life, “the first 1000 days” are shown to be critical for the long term health of children and their emotional and mental wellbeing. It is this age group our project focuses on to make sure children get the best start in life and to have the greatest impact on their outcomes.
What we do also has an impact on lifting communites out of poverty. The work we do has the potential to fundmental change the health and wellbeing of the individual and society.
Investing in early childhood development is the most cost-effective strategy to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty. It creates social cohesion and builds human capitol. (World Bank, 2011)
Nurturing care means that babies and children have a loving and secure relationship with a care giver that ensures that their needs are met, they feel safe and secure, they are provided with care that supports their health and nutrition and they are protected from risks and violence.
Studies have shown that the long term benefits of this include better health and wealth outcomes, less social tensions and greater opportunites for education and learning (Lancet 2016)
Having seen the situation first hand I came home and researched the challenges faced by children in Malawi.
“Since the early 1990s, Malawi, a landlocked and predominantly agricultural and rural nation, has ranked amongst the world’s 20 least developed countries on the Human Development Index….Poverty hits children the hardest and threatens their most basic rights to survival, health and nutrition, education, participation and protection from harm and exploitation” UNICEF 2010
Severe poverty and lack of access to education has had a devastating impact. Malnutrition is the single biggest contributor to child death in Malawi. There has unfortunately been no change in children’s nutritional status since 1992 . Malnutrition rates remain unacceptably high. Deficiency in Vitamin A is particularly high (60% in under 5’s) which affects the immune system.
Approximately 47% of children do not possess three minimum material needs – a blanket, one pair of shoes and more than one set of clothing. HIV is a major issue with many babies born with HIV and treatment being rare for those in poverty. 1 in 8 children are orphaned – with many parents dying from HIV.
I set up the Little Blossoms Project (now Growing Babies With Love: Malawi Mother & Baby Health Initative) with Kathryn Marshall, working alongside Love Support Unite Africa Foundation, aiming to harness the power of parents, families and communities to improve mother and baby health and early brain development in children aged 0-3 years, through educational programs and nutrition. We use infant massage to provide the vital love, positive communication and attachment needed for healthy physical and emotional development, whilst providing women with skills and knowledge they can share. I have taught, funded and now support five infant massage Nurture Ambassadors to teach six women’s groups infant massage and safe motherhood. I was able to teach hospital physios, special needs massage, as many children have cerebral palsy as a result of premature birth, due to malaria. I also set up a sustainable farming project to provide food security.
As a voluntary project we have a volunteer trip for baby massage instructors and other childcare professionals. We aim to provide education, training and support to parents and babies, increasing the health and wellbeing of families, using infant massage, baby health care guidance and first aid techniques. Our main goal is to empower women within the community and give these babies the best start in life through nutrition, responsive care and stimulation.
What I hadn’t reckoned on, was exactly how much I could, and would, continue to give. Nor how much joy I would receive back from this trip. I went from being a curious volunteer to being a knowing participant to becoming a co founder with the original founders Nina and Alice Pulford. The Mother & Baby Health Initative is part of Love Support Unite’s 360 model to create sustainable change through a holistic model of empowering communities. The model means that all aspects of poverty are addressed to have the biggest impact on the community.
The Little Blossoms project has now grown and expanded to include wider health training so we have renamed it Malawi Mother & Baby Health Initative. The project now includes;
When you enrol with Blossom & Berry, I donate 10% of your baby massage enrolment fee to the project. Your education supports safe motherhood education and infant development classes in Malawi by supporting a Nurture Ambassador teaching in rural communities.
Our aim is to provide education, training and support to women within the community using massage and other skills training with Love Support Unite. We aim to help support parents and babies and increase health and wellbeing of families using infant massage, baby health care guidance and first aid techniques to empower women within the community and help give babies the best start in life. Our program fits with the 360 model of sustainable development that Love Support Unite implements in communites in Malawi to enable lasting change and empwerment. I am proud to be a co founder of the charity alongsde the orginal founders Alice & Nina Pulford.
We use infant massage to provide the vital love, positive communication and attachment that babies need for healthy physical and emotional development whilst providing women with valuable skills and knowledge they can share. We have created a network of teachers acting as Nurture Ambassadors who teaching the benefits of early infant care, positive touch and safe motherhood health education. Our teachers are now working in the community to train other women as teachers to pass the benefits on to more women. The groups that are formed “Nurture Groups” help to support new mothers, provide health and education and empower women within the community.
We also train orphanage staff how to massage the babies in their care to help provide them with the vital touch they need for their physical and emotional development. We have taught hospital staff how to use massage to support children with special needs and help manage pain.
We also support wider projects organised by Love Support Unite focusing on improving the lives of local communities through sustainable education, health checks, feeding programmes and clean water. We run a foster home for children in the local community to provide nurturing care.
In 2016 we built a Mother & Baby Hub with Love Support Unite for women to have shelter, a place to learn and to receive health checks. We are now working towards turning this into a nursery school for children and provide adult literacy for mothers. We also support sustainable farming projects to help provide food security for mothers & babies.
In 2018 we are providing health checks, vaccinations, hand hygiene and menstrual health training for the women in our program. Many of the women are moving into our adult literacy program to enable them to be empowered through education.
This project is one of my greatest joys to be able to give back in this way and transform lives in Malawi.
Trained women in hand and foot massage to provide an income.
Trained staff in a baby orphanage in baby massage so they can deliver baby massage to the babies in their care. We have also trained physiotherapists at ABC Clinic to facilitate massage sessions for parents and children with special needs.
Trained five Nurture Ambassadors in infant massage and safe motherhood to teach women in rural community groups. We have taught a number of “pop up” baby massage classes to mothers in Lilongwe. These groups are helping to support women and provide vital education.
Provided donations of “Nurture Packs” with post natal essentials to women at the local birthing clinic.
Provided micro loans to women to start their own businesses supporting the creation of a foster home for children in partnership with Squire Patton Boggs Law firm.
Built a Mother & Baby Hub for the community to provide shelter and safe motherhood education.
Provide safe motherhood education, hand hygiene training, menstrual health education and regular health checks.
Create a network of Nurture Ambassadors to help reach women in rural communities. This will be a sustainable project funded through the creation of women’s enterprise initiatives providing them with income to support their families and contribute towards their education. We have already had interest from community groups to extend the program and hope to work with the government in Malawi to develop the program.
Further training of hospital staff in massage for children with special needs.
Creation of sustainable feeding programs for mothers and babies.