Belarusians create an inclusive educational course for future and current parents

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Natalia Miranchuk (second on the left) and Natalia Gubar (second on the right) and their colleagues at the opening of the Inclusive Maternity open-air photo exhibition.

Natalia Miranchuk, one of the two Mama PRO co-founders, created an inclusive communication and educational platform providing current and prospective parents with numerous offline and online opportunities to talk to leading experts in health care, social protection and education. Both partners of Mama PRO have fully committed their professional careers to projects in support of young families that have or are expecting babies, including parents with disabilities. 

In 2018, Natalia took part in the USAID Community Connections exchange visitor program. Today, she is driving the project forward, focusing on the needs of different types of parents and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. During her visit to the United States, Natalia was most impressed by the equal access to services and information that people with disabilities enjoy. She was inspired by this experience in the United States, and expanded the project in Belarus while also making it inclusive. 

Following her exchange visit, Natalia led her team to collaborate with another Community Connections alumna, Natalia Gubar, BelAPDIiMI (Belarusian Association for Assistance to Disabled Children and Young People with Disabilities) Public Relations manager. Together, they developed an Inclusive Motherhood project. This project was a winner of the prestigious competition by the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund, supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Office of Alumni Affairs.

The Inclusive Motherhood project supports parents with disabilities from all regions of Belarus with information on pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum recovery, and baby care. The project informs parents with disabilities about their rights, informs about available social welfare and services, promotes a positive attitude to inclusive parenting in society, improves health care personnel’s inclusion of children with disabilities, and supports children raised by parents with disabilities.

In early 2020, the team held several inclusive conferences as part of the project. These efforts evolved into a real communications platform between parents and local families with maternity and childhood professionals. Through this forum, families could ask questions and receive clear answers on such issues as pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery for mothers, including mothers with disabilities, as well as the role of fathers. Medical professionals benefit from this program through learning the fundamentals of communication and mastering their skills in having a productive dialogue focused on the needs of moms and dads of today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for new moms and moms-to-be, along with Natalia and her team. Due to the pandemic, scheduled well-baby visits and prenatal care checkups became unsafe. All pregnancy and parenting classes for expecting parents at local clinics were closed as part of anti-COVID measures. In order to continue reaching these expecting parents, the team made a vital decision to move the training online, and continue to teach students through the platform.

All training courses were redesigned as video lectures, articles, and webinars, then made available online. Key issues such as pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, baby care, and first aid for babies were recorded as videos. Over 30 videos were converted into “Plain Language” by a BelAPDIiMI expert. Natalia Gubar led the development of a brochure in “Plain Language” containing advice on emergencies during the pandemic for people with difficulties comprehending written texts. In cooperation with the Ministry of Healthcare, its copies were distributed among the country's healthcare institutions where they could serve parents with intellectual disabilities and foreigners with only a basic understanding of Russian.

In the effort to improve information outreach on social benefits and other state support for inclusive motherhood and parenting, the team designed a brochure on financial literacy for prospective and current parents.  Now, new parents receive their copy when registering newborns in registry offices.

The Inclusive Motherhood project had a powerful finale with an open-air photo exhibition in two districts of Minsk. Photos told the stories of strong women who became mothers despite all stereotypes in society. Ten women with different disabilities let us learn about their difficult but inspiring journeys through this exhibit.

Natalia and her team could not stop at the end of the project. In March 2021, they made it into the final of the MTS StartUp Hub accelerator with their MAMA PRO mobile app, and are now launching a joint pilot project with MTS mobile satellite (Russia).

Aside for the numerous families and communities the program supported, the Inclusive Motherhood project contributed to the creation of the National Preparation for Birth Training Program. This has become an educational standard approved by the Belarusian Ministry of Healthcare. The program developed under the auspices of the UNFPA is based on the latest WHO recommendations and includes a full training course of 27 inclusive modules for expectant parents. The program will be used at classes for all pregnant mothers in the country.

In early 2021, the MAMA PRO team took part in the development of a USAID Belarus online educational program. More than 25 Belarusian professionals learned about the experience in the promotion of healthy parenting through online seminars with leading American health experts including pediatricians, OB-GYNs, psychologists, and leaders of local maternity and childhood organizations.

Since the start of the Community Connections program in 2006, more than 700 Belarusian professionals explored American best practices and experienced American culture in various U.S. communities. Every year, the program provides an opportunity for 60 Belarusian professionals to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills to contribute to the social and economic development of Belarus.

Last updated: September 13, 2021

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