събота, 16 февруари 2019 г.

Training with a baby - in the world of human rights and international activism with a newborn

This article was written two years ago for the blog of the University of youth and development EuroMed in Tunisia. I realised today that so many things have changed when it comes to international work and activism, but still motherhood is a bit unclear- do you quit when you are pregnant, do you just pause for 1-2 years, how do you proceed when baby is on the way? And honestly that is 50% of the deal- how do institutions and NGOs treat you while you are pregnant or with a newborn if you want to still function as an activist or a trainer on an international level? Are there any inclusive policies in practice that you should know? And last but not least- does it make you a bad mother to travel with your kids, are you a burden for others, does it make you a quitter to stay at home or does it make you a better parent to pause your international freelancing for the baby's sake?

So many questions, so little honesty and transparency on the topic. I m sharing this article, because I believe that even if one policy officer of a big NGO, or one EU-institution employee realises why many women-activist disappear  in their early 30s , than this is a meaningful article. In the past 10 years I have worked in 37 countries on topics of social inclusion and human rights and in most of those contexts I was accompanied by my children, when they were newborn or under 2 years old- not all of them at once, but still :))
And just to make it clear- my choices reflect who I am and who I want to be, it doesn't mean it should be in line with your values or that I  expect all young parents to travel 24/7.  But they should have the opportunity to do so, if they want to contribute. And yep, I said parents, not mothers only :)


Tunisia, July 2017
I m Maya. The trainer with the baby going around the MedUni in Hammamet, Tunisia.
I was not sure if I wanted to write this article or not, but within the last 3 days so many people, especially young girls approached me with the sentence “Oh, my God, you are so brave! I never thought you could actually do that-  do a training with a baby!”, that I though It may actually be a good idea to share what it is to be a traveling, working mom and how parenting has helped me to be a better trainer and vice versa.  

First of all- I have three children. My oldest son is 6 and he has actually been to Tunisia in one training 6 years ago, again as part of my work. I have a daughter, who is nearly 5 and you’ve met my youngest son – a.k.a The Batman Baby, who is 1 month old. I work as a freelance trainer, I am part of the European youth forum pool of trainers,  and I am a founder of a social start up in Bulgaria, where we mentor and employ youngsters raised in orphanages. My work life is what I have dreamt of - it perfectly combines some policy and training work on international level and grass root work focused on inclusion and social innovation back at home. I love it! Truly! I have dreamt of having that kind of working dynamic and I am very, very, VERY happy that after of years of efforts it is real.
When I had my first kid, I was 25. Both me and my husband were not exactly adults. University –graduates full of dreams and hopes. And questions - especially for the kids. Many times when somebody said – you should not do this or that because you have kids now, we questioned…People were surprised when we went camping with a baby. Then people were surprised when we traveled by plane with the baby. And people were quite surprised when we decided we wanted to have another baby.
Mom advice/ trainer’s advice 1- People judge by their own values and perceptions- camping, flying, number of children all of that is subjective. And you can never be OK with everyone around. So don’t try. From a trainers point of view that is like- there is never an energizer that is good for everyone in your group. Get over it :D 

Back to baby topics:
I want to underline that taking risks and being irresponsible is nothing close to what I m sharing with you! All of our decisions were influenced by reading, asking questions to our pediatrician and observations. For example we asked : When is it safe for a baby to be a on plane (generally it is after 2 weeks). Our doctor said – after 2-3 weeks it is OK, but aren’t you afraid? And I said, but doctor, you just said it is OK, why should I be afraid? And he said ”I don’t know, cause it’s a baby”. More or less that is the case with all fears- “I’m pretty sure I should be afraid, even though I don’t really know what of…Just in case, I ll be afraid then! Done, feaaar!”.
Maybe because I became a mom relatively young, I was still rebelling against norms and fears and I decided that just because I m a mom now, it doesn’t mean my professional life is on pause and I should stay at home. I started to do trainings with my son in a sling tied around my bosom, as you have seen me around Hammamet youth centre. Why?  Well because the first few months generally babies sleep and eat…and ok - poo. That’s all. If you are healthy and the baby is healthy, if you feel fine and you want to work - you are more than fine to do so. Is it necessary- no, of course not. If as a parent you want to stay at home and relax- that s totally fine with me, but just keep in mind that there are also other options. For me it was an option that was worth exploring- I had no idea if it would work, but it seemed so- my son was calm and sleeping when I was giving speeches or doing presentations.  He would wake up each coffee break to eat and go back to sleep for the session. From a logistical point of view If the baby is breastfeed only, that means you are very mobile as well, because all you carry around for food is…yourself. And yes, that’s convenient. 

Question wisely what society tells you to do as a parent. Both parenting and trainers design should be based on you being informed and happy with your decisions
Sometimes I think media and society are over-complicating things. I’m not saying taking care of a baby is easy- on the contrary – it is not. But sometimes media and marketing specialists are trying to convince us we need   expensive and enormous amount of stuff for the newborns: you need humidifiers, sterilizers, you need wooden hand-crafted toys, fashion baby socks, etc. Honestly, you don’t need toys until the first year. We had so many and most of the time the baby would just enjoy the company of his own toes in his mouth. Don’t focus on providing things, but on providing attention, time and love – with your partner and with the child. If my husband was not encouraging me to do my trainings with my baby-co-trainer, maybe I wouldn’t – I was full of doubts based on nothing. Just on the fact that nobody else was doing it, so there should be something wrong with the idea. Nope. Nothing wrong.  

Raising Children and having a family should be based on individual decisions, not on what somebody else is doing or not doing. There is not right or wrong there- there is you as parent with your own needs, routines, habits, desires, dreams and wishes and there is your partner with his or her own. There are not two families which are the same, nor two babies. So to say that something is good or bad for a family is close to naive. As from trainers point of view I have only one quote “taylor- made trainings”.
Last but not least I want to tackle the questions of is it hard to deliver a training with a baby 24/7, am I brave, is it unbelievable or not to be doing a training with a 1 month baby in Tunisia? 

Yes, it is difficult- staying focused on a session with 20+ people while you woke up 4 times tonight, eating half of your plate because baby needs to burp now, watching the time for the group while you are trying to be on time with breastfeeding. It can be difficult sometimes. Maybe, I’ve forgotten how scared I was when 6 years ago I came to Tunisia for the first time with my first born son. It is brave, not because it is hard physically ( even though going around with 5 kilos on your chest all day is not a piece of cake), but it is brave because you question society norms and borders. I don’t consider myself brave, but I am in a position to do brave things I think that we should encourage more girls and women to be what and where they want to be. And we as activists have the responsibility to practice what we preach- so yes, I am sending a message by working with my 1 month baby, yes I want more activists and trainers to be around with their babies, when they become mothers, because motherhood should not be stigmatized as something that needs isolation. Parenting is in need of peace, dedication and integrity, not isolation. How do you find your own peace depends on you- I find mine in Tunisia during the Annual meeting of the EuroMed Network. 

PS If you are a trainer or participant with a newborn or child under 2 years old- ASK what kinds of policies exist for the organisers of your event. Many times they would be OK with you coming with your baby and cover the extra 30-40 euros for plane ticket or even sometimes hire a nanny or pay for a companion to join you so you can implement your responsibilities in a quality and non-stressful way. Salute to the European youth forum, National youth forum of Bulgaria,  Catalan youth Council, JEFF Europe, CET-Platform Bulgaria, YEN and all other thoughtful people who have helped me be where I am now

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