The University of the Free State (UFS), in partnership with the Princess Gabo Foundation, has embarked on a community initiative to foster parenthood and addressing teenage pregnancy.The university’s role is via the Responsible Reproductive Health Education Project (RRHEP), a community service learning project. Lacea Loader, UFS director: communication and marketing, said the RRHEP initiative forms part of the credit-bearing curriculum of final-year midwifery students in the Undergraduate Nursing programme.It is done in cooperation with the office of Community Service Learning. The Princess Gabo Foundation is the brainchild of Princess Gaboilelwe Moroka-Motshabi.Through the foundation Moroka-Motshabi teaches teenagers about planned parenthood after being prompted by her own pregnancy health issues. She pointed out that her experience compelled her to help alleviate the suffering of mothers and babies, and to teach teenagers about the importance of planned parenthood. The community of Thaba Nchu had the privilege to get a behind-the-scenes look at the project in August at the Dr James Sebe Moroka Hospital. Strong emphasis was made that teen motherhood is not child’s play.Both Elgonda Bekker, coordinator of the UFS Midwifery Programme, and Prof André Venter, head of the UFS Paediatrics and Child Health School and founding director of the Mother and Child Academic Hospital Foundation, emphasised the big responsibility of having a baby and the importance of the first couple of years of a baby’s life. “Every baby deserves a good start in life. Having a baby is not child’s play and is a heavy burden on teenage mothers and fathers,” said Bekker.As part of teaching teen mothers about parenthood, the learners are given a baby doll for one week – with the consent of their parents as the experience can be quite disruptive. UFS students then send cellphone messages to these “doll parents” from their “babies”. For example, “your baby is crying, your baby is hungry, your baby needs to go to the clinic, your baby needs a nappy change”, going on for 24 hours a day. According to Bekker, the project has been so successful that it achieved an almost zero pregnancy rate at the two schools that are part of the programme.“When we started in 2015, we would have been happy to have saved one girl from an unplanned pregnancy. The outcome astounded us.” “When they are responsible for their baby dolls, learners are trained in sound parenting techniques that include breastfeeding, kangaroo care (where their dolls are tied to their chest), health and life skills,” said Bekker.To complement the school curriculum, learners are required to work out a budget for the baby from a typical South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant. “Not only does this teach them Maths Literacy, it also illustrates how expensive raising a baby is,” said Bekker.Moroka-Motshabi said her pregnancy health issues compelled her to help alleviate the suffering of mothers and babies. It has resulted in her involvement in a drive to supply mothers with a kangaroo care wrap that helps with infant health and improves mother and child bonding. “The wrap seems to not only benefit infants, but also helps empower teenagers to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” said Moroka-Motshabi.