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Expert Voices

Self-Care for Mothers and Aunties in Jordan

Published November 29, 2018

What does it mean to be a mother? Ask the staff from SOS Children’s Villages Jordan, and the answers may surprise you. At the three Jordanian villages of this 70-year-old international non-governmental organization (INGO),a full-time caregiver – or mother – is assigned to look after a household of five to seven children. Some of the children are orphaned, others were born to unwed mothers and therefore legally deemed abandoned.

Once a year, mothers at SOS receive a compensated one-month leave. During this time, another caretaker – the auntie – assumes the mother’s responsibilities. That includes cooking, cleaning, gardening, grocery shopping, teaching and homework assistance, in addition to providing a safe place for the children.

CVT Jordan recently offered a three-hour self-care workshop for 16 mothers and aunties from SOS Children’s Village Amman. Topics included ergonomics education,physical exercises, pain education and relaxation techniques.“For these women, self-care is such a unique concept,” said Physiotherapist Farah Al Dweik, who led the training with a small team of other CVT physios and an interpreter. “Most of the activities the mothers and aunties do are related to caregiving and their children. It was a new experience for most of them to focus solely on themselves.”

Prior to the workshop, participants completed a needs assessment to give staff a better idea of how to arrange the sessions. Needs among the mothers and aunties were extremely high. Farah was stunned. It was clear that they weren’t taking care of themselves, choosing instead to invest their energy in the children. Farah and her supervisor adjusted the workshop materials accordingly, and developed a plan to teach simple self-care strategies and coping skills.

A significant portion of the workshop addressed movement and physical exercise. Although participants were initially apprehensive to engage in physical activity, Farah made the concept of exercise less daunting by portraying it in a way that seemedeasy to incorporate into an everyday routine. “We simplified exercises so they could work out anywhere,” said Farah. “Breathing is important, pacing is important. But you don’t have to use a machine; you don’t have to go the gym.”

The workshop also highlighted how mothers and aunties may enlist their children to help with at-home exercises, particularly those involving back work or gardening. Children learn by imitating their caregiver. When a mother practices good self-care, she sets a strong example for her children, who in turn influence their siblings and peers. Additionally, self-care better equips mothers and aunties to create a calm, stable home environment for their children.

When the workshop concluded, participants were emotional. Exploring the relationship between their bodies and minds was a new experience for many, and for some, a revelation. The women asked if CVT would consider providing the workshop weekly.Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, even hosting a monthly workshop would be difficult. But Farah disseminated materials outlining the concepts and exercises covered during the workshop, so mothers and aunties could embark on their own self-directed wellness journeys.

The experience was unforgettable for Farah and one she hopes to repeat soon. “I’m passionate about building external capacity,” she said. “Providing self-care workshops andbuilding partnerships with national organizations and NGOs is an important goal for CVT Jordan.” Bringing hope and self-directed healing to women who give so much of themselves was a successful and invaluable step in thatprocess.

Funding for CVT’s work in Jordan is provided by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

— By Sabrina Crews, CVT marketing communications specialist

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