IN PHOTOS | 'It's a lifetime duty': A day in the life of Africa's working parents

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On 30 January 2020, holding her seven-month-old da
"For too many families around the world, paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks, childcare and child grants, are not a reality."

In 2020, UNICEF launched a project documenting the lives of working parents in countries across the world and took a closer look at the level of support afforded by the family-friendly policies offered in public and private sectors by employers, civil society and the government.

Photographers Bournane Engelberth and Valentina Sinis travelled with UNICEF to 8 diverse countries to capture the experiences of working parents from different backgrounds and cultures. 

The photos were compiled in the form of a series, with captions that explained what these working parents experience in their average day-to-day lives, shining light onto the challenges they experience daily and highlighting how good parenting practices can give a child a better start to life. 

Working mother watching her son.
Fatou Ceesay, 33, watching her son, Ibrahim, while at her office near her home in rural Soma.

The aim of the series is to illustrate the ways in which the government can aid parents in addressing the childcare crisis by providing paid parental leave as well as accessible and affordable, high-quality childcare.

Given that family-friendly policies have been proven to be productive not only for women and children, but also for businesses and the economy, UNICEF launched the series in hopes that governments and businesses could be encouraged to redesign their workplaces for the future. 

Here Parent24 shares the experiences of working parents in the three African countries that participated, namely Gambia, Botswana and the United Republic of Tanzania. 

Also see: Working from home, is it working for parents?

Working mother walking with baby on her back.
Fatou visiting project sites with her 11-month-old son, Ibrahim, on her back.

One of the parents who was profiled as part of this project was Fatou Ceesay, 33, who is seen in the majority of the photographs in her series holding her 11-month-old son, Ibrahim. She and her husband have three children: Ibrahim, his 9-year-old sister, Fatou, and his 5-year-old brother, Omar. 

Fatou's husband lives a four-hour drive away with their two older children in the capital city of Banjul.

Fatou works as a civil servant and is employed by the rural Department of Community Development in Soma, central Gambia, wherein she visits project sites and reports on the progress and challenges. She carries Ibrahim to work and cares for him on-site. 

"He comes with me everywhere," she said. "Employees can bring their babies to work."

When detailing her experiences, Fatou explains that she knew it would not be easy, especially given the absence of daycare centers.

Mother breastfeeding baby
Fatou breastfeeding her 11-month-old son, Ibrahim, while she works on her computer at her office near her home in Soma.

The photographs of Fatou and her son at work not only showcase the struggles that working parents have to face daily due to a lack of childcare facilities, but it highlights the importance of having additional childcare facilities and family-friendly policies.

"As women in Gambia, we have triple roles, reproductive, productive, and social or community roles. We deserve to be helped," says Fatou. "Governments should create child-friendly policies that accommodate us. Taking care of your baby and working at the same time is not easy."

"Sometimes when I'm tired, I feel guilty, because if I'm tired, what about him?" She said.

Mother cuddling baby at work.
Aminata Ceesay cuddling her 11-month-old son, Moudou, inside her office at the Department of Education in Serekunda.

Aminata Ceesay, 32, is also from Gambia and works at the Department of Education in Serekunda on the outskirts of Banjul, the capital of Gambia. 

Aminata and her husband Alpha, who is a police officer, are parents to three children: Aisatou, 10, Maimouna, 6, and their baby, Moudou. 

Mother carrying son on her back.
Aminata with her son, Moudou, on her back on their way to the bus stop.

Aminata brings Moudou to work with her each day so that she can continue to breastfeed him. 

However, the dusty roads make for a dusty walk to the bus stop in the morning, where she must change buses twice to complete her four-kilometer commute which can take up to four hours during peak traffic times. 

"I cannot go on monitoring visits to schools with him, but at least our director is very understanding of us moms having our babies with us at work," says Aminata.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Aminata recalled how balancing work and family proved challenging, causing her to arrive late to work as she had to take care of her children in the morning before her commute. 

Aminata expressed to UNICEF that she believes that not only is the cost higher at childcare facilities, but that these facilities lack the care and attention that children need. 

Also read: Not sure where to start with homeschooling? Here are a few tips

Family sitting on bed
Mother, Keneilwe Ditsile, and father, Otsile Kgafela, holding their 7-month quadruplet sons, seated on the bed beside their three older sons, Phepa (far left), 8; Kgothatso (front right), 4; and Othusitse (back right), 14.

In Botswana, Keneilwe Ditsile and Otsile Kgafela are the parents of seven boys, four of whom are quadruplets.

Keneilwe is the family's primary breadwinner and works as an administrator at First National Bank (FNB) in Botswana.

Mother playing with quadruplet sons
Keneilwe playing with her quadruplet sons.

Keneilwe's day starts at 5 am as she makes sure that all her babies are fed, bathed and dressed before she gets herself ready for work.

"I have to check everyone is okay, from my eldest to these babies. It’s not easy," says Keneilwe. "Sometimes I feel like crying. I don’t have a choice though – it’s a lifetime duty."

The policy for statutory maternity leave in Botswana allows mothers six weeks of maternity leave before birth and six weeks after, so when Keneilwe went back to work, Otsile stepped in as the stay-at-home parent.

"When I first went back to work I couldn’t cope because I worried about them so much," she said. 

Family standing in doorway
Kelebogile Kemo stands with her five children in the doorway of their one room house in Maun, Botswana. The children are (clockwise from right): Mooketsi, 12; Pretty Tshegofatso, 5; Gogontle, 4 months, held by Priscilla, 10; and Dimpho, 13.

Kelebogile (Kelly) Kemo was also profiled in the project documenting the lives of working parents.

Kelly is a single parent and works as a live-in housekeeper for Wilderness Safari in the Okavango Delta region.

Mother going to work
Kelly leaving her family to catch her transportation to work.
Employee getting on plane
Kelly embarking on a propeller plane to get to work.

Kelly's work is only accessible by a 30-minute propeller plane ride or a nine-hour drive from her home in Maun, meaning that she spends nine weeks at a time at the lodge followed by three weeks of paid leave at home with her family. 

While she is away for weeks at a time, her mother takes care of her children. 

When Kelly gave birth to her last-born son, she was given four months of paid maternity leave by her employer, Wilderness Safari. "It was important to have four months off with my son," says Kelly. "I was able to bond with him and make a connection."

Though Kelly expressed enjoying her job, she also expressed how emotional the experience can be. "It takes me two weeks to get used to it. It’s very hard. I just think about my children and I worry. But I don’t have a choice, I have to get used to it," Kelly said, adding that she knows even her children "feel pain" when she has to leave.

Must read: The lockdown is lifting but the pressure is still on for working moms

Mother and kids
Hosianna Mtaita photographed with her 20-month-old daughter, Leona (left) and her 4-year-old daughter, Myra (right) at their home in Dar es Salaam.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Hosianna Mtaita lives with her husband and their two daughters: 20-month-old Leona and their four-year-old daughter, Myra. 

Hosianna, who is a client manager at a bank, and her husband, who works as a business entrepreneur, both work full-time jobs.

Mother walking daughter to school.
Hosianna walking her 4-year-old daughter, Myra, to school.

When Hosianna and her husband are at work, Myra attends nursery school and Leona stays at home with her nanny, Elizabeth.

 "When I had my first child, balancing work and family was not easy," Hosianna says. "Telling your boss you can’t come to work because your child is ill makes you feel guilty, but my employer has been flexible for my second child. My supervisor grew with me. Taking care of your children is important. They are a priority."

Mother and father and baby
Albert Monyo, 32, and his wife, Beatrice, 31, who is holding their seven-month-old daughter Audrey.

Also in the city of Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, Albert Monyo and his wife Beatrice live together with their daughter, Audrey.

Albert works at the Association of Tanzania Employers and Beatrice works as an Employee Relations Manager at Stanbic Bank. While they are at work, Audrey is in the care of her nanny, Esnat.

"A good father is responsible and gives time for the family. You have to make yourself available, you have to dedicate time." Albert said. "If you always work, you don’t have time to be with your children, to teach them about values, culture, norms, things we do and don’t do."

Mother leaving for work.
Hosianna and her two daughters, Leona (left) and Myra (right), getting read to go to work and school.

The theme that shone through throughout the photo diary was how important it was that companies, as well as the government, incorporate more family-friendly policies.

Good family-friendly policies are considered a luxury when they should be considered a tool for productivity and sustainable growth.

These policies not only ensure that children are getting high-quality education and childcare which contributes massively to their development, but they also help working parents be productive members of business, society, and the economy, knowing that they and their children are being taken care of.

See the original photo diaries here


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