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Advocates for women, children

By JULIEN NEAVES Sunday, June 19 2016

FOR almost a century the Mothers’ Union of the local Anglican Church has been supporting families and advocating for women and children.

And with issues such as child marriage and violence against women currently in the spotlight, the organisation will be raising its voice in advocacy once more.

Last Saturday while delivering the sermon at the celebration of the 95th anniversary of the Mothers’ Union held at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Tacarigua, Bishop and chief trustee of the local Anglican Church Rt Rev Claude Berkley, also patron of the Mothers’ Union, instructed the group to do research and issue a statement on child marriage in this country.

He reiterated the church’s position that the age of marriage should be 18 and called for discussions on the issue.

Sunday Newsday spoke with Mothers’ Union president Valerie West and chair of the Anglican Church Training and Employment Mission (ACTEM) and co-coordinator of the parenting programme, Elizabeth Sealy, at Newsday’s office at Chacon Street, Portof- Spain.

West, who became president last year, said the Mothers’ Union concurs with the Bishop’s statement on child marriage and will act on his admonition. She stressed that the Mothers’ Union has always been at the forefront of these issues, and in England over the last century, fought to increase the age of marriage to 16.

“We are always at the forefront on families, women and children,” she said.

She reported this year there is a violence against women conference planned and they will be joining with other organisations because they cannot work in isolation.

The Mothers’ Union began in 1876 in the village of Winchester in England by Mary Sumner, the wife of a priest.

Sumner realised young mothers needed help bringing up children both in Christian religion and in family life. The organisation spread all over England and then overseas, and currently has four million members in 83 countries.

In Trinidad in 1927 a Mrs Percival, a banker’s wife, began the local arm of the Mothers’ Union at All Saints Anglican Church, Queen’s Park Savannah.

West said in the succeeding years branches spread all over this country and there are currently 52. The local arm, which is part of the West Indies province, is run by a president and council and is separated into three regions: North, South and Tobago.

“We do a lot of work in Trinidad and Tobago,” West said.

Locally there are 1,000 members, men included, as there is the issue of ageing female members and a decrease in the number of young women wanting to join.

She explained that through the Anglican Church the organisation sets up committees, including social action and outreach, work in schools through homework centers, family programmes, liaising with organisations like Families in Action and those that work with people with HIV.

She also reported that they plan to do a programme for young men called “Boys to Men”.

One of their main initiatives is the Children’s Home, Pouchet Street, San Fernando, which was built in 2001 and caters to boys and girls from 18 months to age 12. West said there about ten to 12 residents.

She explained the children are “always moving” as it is a halfway home and children are sent from the Children’s Authority.

While the home is supposed to benefit from a government subvention, there have been none “for awhile” and the home appreciates funds from anyone who would like to help.

Sealy said the parenting programme is one of the areas the organisation has been placing a lot of focus on.

It began in 2005 with a pilot programme in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and in some African countries, and has since expanded to Barbados, the United States, the Windward Islands and a number of other countries.

Sealy explained that parenting “is one of the toughest challenges you would face”. She added that this challenge is not confined to any particular religion or any specific set of circumstances.

“The challenge of parenting is across the board,” she stressed.

One of the objectives of the Mothers’ Union is to encourage stable family life.

As a result, there are a number of trained facilitators in TT who have been strategically placed in different regions.

The union focuses on practical, everyday interventions parents can make to assist children and it is highly interactive and “not heavy technical stuff ”. Sealy explained that in a time of recession parents are advised on inexpensive activities they can do with their children to build a better relationship with them, such as going to the park or reading a book.

They also teach parents about child protection both general safety around the home, and how to protect against child abuse. The group is encouraged to share experiences and learn from each other.

Parents, she said, have many issues with teenagers and are “really grappling with how to manage them”. She explained that parents have to look at their children physically, psychologically and emotionally and it is not advisable to adopt an authoritarian style of parenting. She said they encourage dialogue and explaining why things have to be done but still have discipline.

Sealy recalled that before the course one of the participants would shout at her children and “fly in a rage”. At the graduation, the parent sent a message that she is calmer and does not shout at them anymore.

“I think that was a powerful testimony in terms of changes to the approach of parents,” Sealy said.

The organisation does not condemn parents but looks with a “Christian eye” that they may have ineffective parenting skills. The organisation has programmes for everyone, including people with no faith at all. West pointed out that the homework centres, located at Arouca, Tacarigua, Curepe, Couva and San Fernando, also take children of all religious denominations and have had good results.

She added that some children need some extra attention, energy and skills and this will help the community.

As part of their objective to uphold Christian teaching, the union gives religious instruction in schools and assists with Sunday schools.

It also renders assistance in times of disasters such as flooding, helps out in hospitals through its nurses’ fellowship, intercedes spiritually through its indoor members prayer circle, and its prison ministry.

ACTEM, which began in 1989 during a downturn in the economy, offers assistance to people with finding jobs, training, assessment of skills, help with resumes and getting them ready for the job environment.

“We are concerned with prayer, worship and service to humanity and community,” West said.

As advocates for women and children, union members focus on the protection of children. “People think is just Christian people doing social work,” she said.

But the organisation is taking a close look at violence against women and children and has been sensitising members on the subject and will be working with other organisations

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