Fahmieda Barends saw the difficulties some mothers were having when she was at hospital with her baby.
The Surrey Estate mother of five was in hospital with her youngest child, who was born prematurely, and the experience inspired her to want to help other mothers so she joined the Zoe Project where she was trained as a doula.
“I always said I want to come back and help those whose experience wasn’t that great and that was the catalyst. I’ve gained valuable experience through this project,” she said.
Ms Barends joined as a doula last year when the Zoe Project started assisting mothers at the Mitchell’s Plain Midwife Obstretics Unit (MOU) (“Free antenatal classes at Mitchell’s Plain MOU” Plainsman November 2022). Doulas are trained and volunteer their services to support and counsel mothers before, during and after birth.
Zoe Project founder Tracy Aitken, of Lakeside, wants to open the project in every MOU and she came a step closer to this goal when she was given a dedicated space for the project behind the unit in Mitchell’s Plain. It is set to open its doors officially at the end of March when renovations are complete.
Ms Aitken was a young mom with a special needs child and it was this experience which inspired her to start the project that has been operating from Retreat MOU for 21 years
“My compassion for first time moms and teen moms, stems from my experience and how important it is to have someone who is not judgemental and who helps you. We want to make the birth experience a beautiful one,” she said.
The project does more than just train doulas. They also offer 10-week ante-natal classes which teaches new moms about nutrition, labour, breastfeeding and care after birth (“Zoe Projects helps expectant moms”, Plainsman, May 11 2022; “Breastfeeding – a lifetime gift” Plainsman, August 17).
Zoe means life, and the name of the organisation was inspired by Ms Aitken’s first counselling appointment in 2011.
“This is close to my heart, seeing women discover their true potential,” she said.
Natasha Fieliciano, from Portland, is a counsellor and antenatal facilitator for The Zoe Project. She started counselling rape survivors at another organisation before connecting with The Zoe Project.
“I am about empowering women. Helping people doesn’t cost anything, uplifting them and helping them see their potential. I enjoy seeing how they light up when we do a new class. They don’t want it to end. We bust myths in our classes too. We are able to make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Ms Fieliciano said they are very excited about the new space.
A mother who was part of the project, Melissa Ismail, said this was her fourth pregnancy and The Zoe Project made the experience a beautiful one. She learned so many useful things, from breathing exercises to breastfeeding.
“Teenage moms will benefit from this project,” she said. “This project deserves more support and more funding. I would love to volunteer to work with the women as I know how this helped me and my baby.”
Young mother Safiyah Cassiem, said her experience with the Zoe Project has been great.
“They’re so understanding and open to listen. It was a precious space for me and my fellow moms. You feel bad at the situation you’re in but once you’re in the class, they encourage you and help you through it. I am so grateful for it,” she said.
Provincial health department spokesperson, Monique Johnstone, said that between March last year and January this year, more than 160 babies were delivered every month at Mitchells Plain MOU. An average of 20 of those births were to mothers aged between 15 and 19.
The Zoe Project are in need of more doulas. Volunteers will need to go for police clearance and “need to have a heart for moms”, Ms Aitken said.
They will receive in-house training to qualify as a doula and get a pink scrub, she said.
They will have an doula orientation day on Saturday March 4, at the Retreat MOU.
For more information, WhatsApp Ms Barends on 072 834 3888 or follow their Facebook page.