When you’re left alone, who do you turn to? For these children, their grandmothers are the ones they can depend on to keep them safe.
Two-year-old Ellen lives with her grandmother, Maria, in a remote village in Chimbu, Papua New Guinea. Her mother left shortly after giving birth and her father, Gaby, moved to the city to take up a carpentry job.
The rough, dirt road makes the journey home long and difficult for Gaby so he only returns for major family events.
Maria also cares for her 70-year-old mother, Bimbi, her daughter Clara*, 6, her deaf and mute brother Waike, 40, and his friend Bainam, who is also mute. She wakes up early each morning to cook, wash, and tidy the house for the whole family.
“Every morning I cook for the children - fresh food from the garden,” Maria says.
“I bathe them, clothe them and make the family hot cocoa.”
Maria took part in a UNICEF-supported parenting program to help build her relationship with her daughter.
“Before my daughter would run off and play and I would get really irritated that she would not do her chores,” Maria says.
“But now that I am more positive with her and spend more time listening and communicating with her. She listens more and will do the household chores before running off to play.
“Now, if I tell her it is going to rain so she should come home early, she listens and gets home quickly.”
The program - which now runs in five provinces across PNG including the Western Highlands, Chimbu, Jiwaka, Mandang and Morobe - teaches parents how to use positive techniques to communicate with children, rather than using physical and verbal abuse which is common in parts of PNG.
It is focused on reducing domestic violence and building relationships at home, to ensure children have the right environment and support to learn and grow.
Maria says since attending the program, the children have been doing more chores together around the house and have a closer relationship.
“Her behaviour is much better - she is a good girl now and we get along well.”
Maria has even noticed the changes rubbing off on her granddaughter, Ellen.
“Ellen knows everything - she knows how to play, fetch water and cook the food on the fire,” Maria says.
“When we cook and serve it on the plate she prays.”
Tobia is a super grandma. She has six grandchildren that she cares for in her home in the PNG’s mountainous Chimbu province.
Just three days after her youngest grandchild, Brigid*, was born the family faced a tragedy. Brigid’s mother was rushed to the health clinic with a terrible headache. The centre didn’t have a doctor on call, so they drove the mother to Port Moresby, more than 430km away. She died a few weeks later.
Since then, Tobia has not only been caring for Brigid and her four siblings but also, another granddaughter, Quincilla, whose mother left.
“I have all these young kids under my care and I want them to grow up to be good people,” Tobia says.
“It is a lot of work and I don’t have a lot of time to even look after my own backyard. My garden has gotten all bushy now.”
“But I do it because I have to do it, there is no one else. The kids' mothers are not around so I do what I have to do.”
The greatest gift any grandparent can give their child is the chance for a better future. These grandmothers are doing exactly that, by ensuring their grandchildren have access to nutritious food, clean water, quality education and a safe and happy home.
*Names have been changed for privacyDONATE NOW
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