Sunday, December 30, 2012

Liquid gold

After Typhoon Pablo, there's an outpouring of support to the affected areas. Donations range from noodles, water and canned sardines to blankets, clothes, cash and medicines. And chain saws - to cut all the felled trees so that the lumber can be sold or used for rebuilding.

A young twenty-something mother and a few of her friends opt to collect another sort of relief good. These first-time mothers created an awareness and advocacy group in November to educate themselves and others about baby-wearing, cloth diapers (the enthusiasm for porte-bébés and couches lavables in la belle province has not yet spread throughout the Philippines), breast feeding and related baby matters. A natural extension of their education project is a milk letting drive.

At a milk letting drive, nursing mothers pump and donate breast milk. The set-up is similar to a blood drive:  preliminary medical screening, semi-private areas for mothers to pump milk, medical professionals who seal the collected milk in sterile milk bags, post-donation water or juice for donors. The intended recipients for this particular milk letting drive are the orphans of Typhoon Pablo in the eastern parts of Mindanao.
The organizers with their babies

The group's founder is Nadine. She's a confident, poised and educated woman. When she talks about breastfeeding, her face lights up and her voice becomes animated, drawing in the listener. She wants to pursue her passion as a professional and become a certified lactation consultant. Unfortunately, there are no such certification options available locally in CDO.

Three days after Pablo struck the Philippines, Nadine contacted the management at the Ayala Centrio Mall, the newest and trendiest of CDO's malls. They were receptive to the idea of allocating some space for the collection of this 'liquid gold for Typhoon Pablo orphans' and agreed to waive the usual exhibitor rental fee. The group is still responsible for paying for security and janitorial services.
Pay it forward CDO
Liquid gold for Typhoon Pablo orphans
(A milk letting drive)
Convincing middle class mothers at the mall to pump and donate a few ounces of breast milk is an arduous task. Nadine explains that breastfeeding is not strongly encouraged at the hospitals. Moreover, the prevalent attitude is that, for those families who can afford it, commercial formula is a desirable and maybe even preferable baby food choice. Of the nursing mothers she encounters at the mall, many decline to donate for fear they won't have enough milk for their babies. A possible, but unlikely situation.

It's a different story among women whom Nadine refers to as "marginalized". These women breastfeed. They don't need to be convinced of the benefits of nursing for mother and child. They nurse out of necessity. They nurse at home, at work, on jeepneys and non-air con buses, in churches, in carinderias (small cafeteria style eateries), in covered courts, in barangay halls, in wet and dry markets, outside roadside shops. But these women aren't at the mall.

At the end of the three day milk letting drive, Pay it forward CDO has netted just over three litres of milk and has raised an immeasurable amount of awareness. Given the limited number of eligible donors, the mall crowd's reticence to nurse and donate milk, and the minimal amount of event promotion, this is a remarkable achievement.

A laudable goal and effort by a caring group of young middle class mothers. Still, I can't help but wonder what results would a milk letting drive located outside of the mall, in a locale frequented by marginalized women, in a sitio devastated by last year's Typhoon Sendong, have yielded?

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