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Puerto Rico program aims to ensure teen-age moms get needed prenatal care, matches them with parish ‘godmothers,’ mentors

September 13, 2010

Carmen Ramos was unique only because of her age: at 14, she’s young for the demands of motherhood. But in Loiza, a poor town in eastern Puerto Rico, girls like Carmen are not uncommon. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than a quarter of all births were to mothers aged 10 to 19.

 

Carmen was able to enroll in the first class of Canciones de Cuna, which translates into English as “Babies Songs,” a project of VIDAS, the Episcopal Social Services program run by the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico. Partnering with the Episcopal congregation of San Felipe and Santiago Apostole Mission in Loiza, the project aims to ensure that teen-age mothers in the community receive prenatal care, have an extended network of assistance and support during their pregnancy and gain skills they need to be good parents.

 

Girls accepted into the program learn about breast feeding, sexually transmitted diseases, diseases that can be transmitted from mother to infant, how to manage healthy relationships, and work on self-esteem. They also learn job readiness skills, so they can be better prepared to take care of themselves as well as their babies.

 

They are also matched up with “godmothers,” older women from the Episcopal parishes who serve as role models and sources of support for the girls during their pregnancy and after their babies are born.

 

In its first year, 20 girls graduated from the program. A second group of 16 began the program this summer.

 

One of the volunteers working as a mentor to the new class of girls is 15-year-old Carmen. “She’s not necessarily a godmother, but she is someone who serves as support,” said Yaritza Reyes, coordinator of the program, speaking through an interpreter. “She’s still in high school and still lives with her mother. But now she has a little more knowledge than these new girls do. She let us know that thanks to this program she’s been able to work with her child, and it was a positive experience for her. We helped her get through this difficult time, and now she’s gone from being a mother in need to being a mentor.”

 

Reyes says the bonds created between the teen-age mothers and their Episcopal godmothers have grown strong. “Some of these program godmothers have turned into actual godmothers,” she said. “They’ve kept calling on the girls after the births, giving them gifts. We enourage this. These girls need constant support, not just during the program but after they complete it, to make sure they keep doing what they’re supposed to do. As long as they have this support, the things we’ve taught them won’t get lost.”

 

The program fills a great need in the Loiza community and other underserved communities in east Puerto Rico. At present, it’s the only such program targeting the physical and emotional health of pregnant teens in the region.

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