Baby massage: A love story and fight for survival

& Why you already have one of the most important gifts you can give your baby

This is a love story. And it’s not mine, it can be as much about you and your forthcoming baby or existing child. Baby massage: A love story which is as much an ancient practice in many Eastern cultures, passed down from generation to generation, as it is increasingly relevant – I believe – to our modern and Western lifestyle and parenting approaches.

I fell in love with this practice when I was expecting our second baby daughter. I stumbled across baby massage as something I wanted to learn in my search for ways to ensure “cocooning” moments and connection with my new baby while otherwise running around with the rest of the family.

And so, it was, my love for this practice was ignited and this is what I found: Baby massage is so much more than what first meets the eye (or fingertips!).

Yes, it offers us cocooning time and relaxation with our baby – thanks to stimulating the “love hormone” oxytocin via skin-to-skin contact. And it brings us all the necessary elements for bonding with our baby: Eye contact, physical proximity and imparting your scent, touch, tuning in to baby’s cues, mutual observation and language communication if you sing or talk as part of your practice. Relaxation and bonding are wonderful benefits and so important to the wellbeing of our baby and our own motherhood or parenthood.

But the skin-to-skin contact we give through massage also brings a host of health and developmental benefits to support our baby.

Actually, “baby massage” is a label for the skin-to-skin contact and stimulation that has developed in a natural way over centuries, in response to intuitively nurturing our babies, stimulating their physiological systems and giving our babies some of the “vital touch” needed to survive and thrive.

Our skin is the largest organ in our body. It is absolutely a sensory organ – covered in tiny senses, searching for contact and stimulation from the moment we are born.

Have you ever observed a mammal lick its young? Perhaps on a wildlife program, or perhaps you have seen a cat or dog do this. Particularly after birth, we can note a mammal mother licking their young – this is to stimulate their baby’s skin and is critical to their young’s recognition of their mother (imparting scent) as part of a survival instinct so that their baby develops familiarity with their parent to stay close to them. Their licking also stimulates their baby’s digestive system and other physiological systems.

It’s the same for us humans – we have an instinct to hold our baby close to us when they are a newborn; to pick up our baby when they cry as an automatic reflex to soothe them since our touch is the ultimate pacifier.

We are designed to hold our baby as much as possible. A mother’s chest has an inbuilt thermal system which matches her newborn’s temperature to heat up their baby or cool them according to their baby’s body temperature.

Our touch is the first expression of our love; it communicates security and belonging to our baby.

But what if a baby’s skin is not stimulated; they are not held; they are not sufficiently touched in a nurturing way?

The effect of insufficient contact can have detrimental consequences on an infant’s development – both physiological and emotional.

It is often cited that the reason why almost 100% of orphan babies did not survive in the U.S. in the beginning of the twentieth century, is because they did not receive sufficient touch and caressing – they died due to “marasmus” (wasting away for no apparent medical cause).

Research studies of more recent infants from Romanian orphanages found that babies suffering from touch deprivation achieved only half the normal height for their age. These orphans also found it more difficult later in life to form close attachments to other people.

In particular, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami continues research into the impact of touch on human health and development. Its conclusions include that massaged babies often showing fewer postnatal complications, greater weight gain and decreased cortisol (stress) levels, which in turn can help aid sleep (“The Vital Touch”, Sharron Heller, PH.D.)

And so, this is a story of love…

…Of falling in love with this practice as a way to relax and bond with our baby.

…Of falling in love over and over again with our baby through this practice because massage gets our love hormones flowing. It can connect us in ways we cannot really explain in words, other than “true love”.

…Of falling in love with shared cultures where, for example, East meets West. Of Western life and motherhood meeting with ancient and still existing practices, including tribal practices, where mothers carry their baby constantly on their back, continually stimulating their baby via their movement and bodily warmth. Baby massage can help us stay true to our nurturing touch, from our baby’s first weeks and months and for years to come (a foot or hand massage to a toddler before bedtime can go down a treat!)

…This is also a story of falling in love with yourself as a mother (or father): Realising that you already have what it takes to give your baby one of the most important gifts possible – your caring touch.

…Of falling in love with your natural healing powers (massage strokes to help with teething, colicky issues, blocked sinuses or colds) and feeling empowered to be able to try these out first before heading to the local pharmacy.

And, finally, this is a story about the fight for survival: We need “touch” to survive. We always did and we always will, even when our modern lifestyles can make it increasingly difficult to take time together, to stay connected to one another, to even hold our baby as much as we may like throughout the day.

A little baby massage after work, or in between running errands and keeping on top of domestic tasks at home, can work wonders for both parent and baby!

Further benefits of baby massage

Beyond relaxation and bonding benefits, (mentioned above), here are some interesting specific health and development benefits that tend to be less commonly known.

Stimulation & development

Baby massage can encourage circulation of blood to the bones to support ossification/their growth, as well as joint mobility. Babies are born with about 100 more bones than adults; this is to help keep them malleable for passage through the birth canal. Massage can stimulate and support the process by which the skeleton takes full shape and strength.

Massage can help a baby’s immune system to mature: It can boost the flow of white blood cells/ “lymphatic flow” around the body, helping to fight off any toxins and waste products that might otherwise cause illness.

Massage can help keep the baby’s skin free from infection by removing dead cells. Stimulation of the skin glands (the sebaceous glands) gives off a waxy or oily substance, called sebum, which lubricates and makes the skin (and our skin hairs) more water resistant and helps to protect it. Massage also helps keep the skin’s pores open to enable it to expel waste and toxin products (the skin expels around a third of the body’s toxins).

Massage can help the development of a baby’s muscular system by increasing the flexibility of muscles. This is via the gentle stretching and relaxing of the muscle tissue in response to massage stimulation. This can help the baby in its continual learning and development of a wide range of physical movement and mobility.

Massage can support a baby’s digestive system. It can help to move wind through the bowel system. This is helpful because a baby’s digestive system is not yet fully developed at birth – the digestive tract for example may not be fully developed, which can cause wind to be trapped in the bowel.

Massage is good for their little brains! Stimulation of the skin through massage can aid the process of myelination of nerve cells, which facilitates the protective covering needed around our nerves to help to keep body and brain coordinated. Our touch also helps our baby be aware of their body and helps the messaging for brain/body coordination.

Baby massage in Luxembourg

Luxmama is happy to offer you baby massage workshops and courses.  Come and start your own baby massage love story with our Parent Prep Baby Massage Teacher Jessica Sicre! More details here: www.luxmamaclub.com/babymassage


About the author:

Jessica, originally from the UK, lives in Luxembourg with her husband and two daughters (both born in Luxembourg, now 1 and 4 years). By setting up her own Serenity Cocoon Baby Massage practice, Jessica aims to inspire others to discover, learn and benefit from baby massage. Follow Jessica’s baby massage tips, insights and ideas for “serenity rituals” here: www.facebook.com/serenitycocoon

Jessica loves being a mama of two and reaching out to others to help support one another in their parenthood journeys. This has led to her monthly “Serenity Café” meetups for mamas/2B via our Luxmama meetup group: Come join for their next meetup to exchange tips and experiences about staying serene as mamas/2B: Next date: Friday 18 January, Purple Sage, Bonnevoie

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Christmas traditions

 

Living in Luxembourg is such a rich experience, especially when it come to discovering different cultures and costumes. In many families Christmas comes with many traditions and this month on the blog, we are sharing some traditions from the volunteers. We would love to hear your traditions and welcome you to share them with us in the comments below.

 

Marise Hyman:

We like to build a little altar beginning December and then each family member will add little objects they find that remind them of the true meaning of Xmas pertaining to our family’s beliefs.
We’re also quite fond of the alternative types of non-sugar-laden advent calendars where we share a different cup of organic tea each day. Various tea brands stock these (e.g. Pukka, English Tea Shop etc we usually find them at Naturata).
On Christmas eve or Christmas day, we cook together as a family, these past years something vegetarian and yummy.
We also have a family ritual as we’re often away from our South African family during this time. Each of us get a chance to light a candle in front of each family member (we are 4: mom, dad and 2 girls born in 2011 and 2013). Then each get a chance to say what they appreciate about each family member as they light the candle and embrace/sing them something as they feel comfortable/inspired. Then each also get a chance to light a candle for all the family members back home that are not here with us and we enjoy the rest of the day together while the little candles warm our hearts.
Of course, there’s also some Skype sessions with our family back home and we also exchange small gifts with each other but try to keep these not the main focus as well as minimal and eco-friendly.

Erin Plum:

Growing up in Canada, each year as a family we would to go to the local Christmas tree farm to choose and cut down our own tree. They would have a wagon ride through the farm explaining all the different types of trees (blue spruce, winter pine etc…). After we would drink hot chocolate at home and decorate the tree. Each year my sister and I would fight about who got to put the star on top of the tree, so eventually my mom wrote the year and either of our names on the box so there could be no more arguments! 😂 Now Stephan and I will decide together what we enjoy. It will be our first year (probably only year) without any family around to celebrate with. We are looking forward to making our own new traditions together.

 

Liza Ras:

Growing up in South Africa, Christmas is all about summer, sun and family. We would gather at a family members house, the people who lived far would sleep over and it would be a week long celebration of lots of food, family and big ‘Christmas beds’ (bed made up on the floor usually in front of the TV, where all the cousins would sleep). The night before Christmas we would have a big BBQ with lots and lots of salads. We would gather around the Christmas tree and exchange presents afterward the kids would be running around outside playing games or swimming. The night would always end with the younger kids falling asleep wherever they find a soft comfortable space (usually on an adults lap). Christmas morning everyone would be slow getting up and after breakfast there would be some singing and family games.

 

Emmy McNiece:

Growing up tradition – we ate Christmas dinner at lunchtime, so by 3/4pm we were all done, nice and full and sleepy feeling. So to help beat that lull (and give the adults some quiet time from excited kids!) one of the kids would find a clue left behind by a pirate, explaining that he had hidden some treasure and if we could find it, we could keep it!…dressed in full pirate attire, we would follow the clue around the corner to my grandparents house, and all around their house were little messages to help us find the hidden treasure. Slightly less conventional but we LOVED finding clues and extra presents hidden for everyone in the family and would victory march back to our house to distribute pirate gifts to everyone. My uncle still buys us all pirate themed presents to this day and we’re just waiting for the next generation to be old enough for the pirates to come back!

 

Veronika Meindl:

In Germany we have the tradition of the “Advent wreath”. Advent is indeed a very important time for us. It starts 4 weeks before Christmas and it is the religious tradition of the preparation to the arrival of the Christ. Today for most people the religious factor is less present but it still is a time to reflect, slow down, meditate and prepare yourself to Christmas the way you choose. On each of the 4 Sundays before Christmas we light a candle on the wreath. In my family, as long as I can think, this tradition has always been present and on each Sunday we accompanied the lightning of the candle with special Christmas songs. There are quite a lot of them (not speaking of the ones you hear all day long on the radio) and also special ones for the Advent. When I was a child, I remember that we even gathered on some evenings during the week, lit the candle, sang our songs and read Christmas stories. This was a way to finish the day in a slow and cosy way. It is something that marked me very much (in a positive way) and a tradition I want to keep up with my own family now.

Another tradition is the baking of small Christmas cookies. There are LOTS of different recipes and I love to try out new ones, even if there are some classics without which Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas! I remember my parent’s house full of the scent of baking cookies in the oven and myself helping my mother with the preparation.
Definitively my two favorite traditions 🙂

 

Christina Anyfanti:

Tradition in Greece was originally to decorate a boat with lights etc. instead of a tree (as Greece has a lot of sea and a nautical heritage). However, nowadays people decorate a Christmas tree as everywhere else.

The Greek tradition added has to do with food (of course)😉 We make delicious nut and almond cookies called ‘Kourabies’ and cookies dipped in honey syrup called ‘melomakarona’ . Both are delicious and usually they don’t make it to New Years Eve😁😁 We eat with the family on Christmas day which is special for me as it’s also my name day (in Greece its equal to birthday!). Usually in Greece presents are exchanged in New Years Eve not Christmas and Santa Claus come on the night of 31st Dec as well.
I must say that for Greek Orthodox Easter is more important than Christmas so I have adopted some foreign traditions in our household such as the Advent wreath that Veronika mentioned 😉 and of course the Advent Calendar that the kids love!!

 

Anne Louise Littlejohn:

Danish Christmas comes with many traditions and is the most important holiday in most families. Even if we grew up in Luxembourg, my parents tried to keep as many traditions alive as possible. Celebrations start with the Wreath (the Krans) to celebrate the 4 Sundays before Christmas eve with lighting the candles and being together. My sisters birthday is on 21st of December and in order to not deprive her of her celebrations, my mother made sure to only get a tree and decorate it after her birthday. On the night before Christmas eve, we eat Risengrød (rice porridge with sugar and cinnamon) and all children can already open one present. This was to calm the anticipation of waiting for father Christmas. What you would refer to as Elves or Santa’s little helpers in our traditions is Nisser. They are small elf-looking creatures that help father Christmas, but they are also really naughty. They live in the attic and it is important to put out some Risengrød for them so they behave. On Christmas eve we have a huge dinner, followed by singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Only thereafter can we open presents!! I have fond memories of dancing and singing around the house with my grandpa. I hope I can give the same loving memories to my children.

 

Merry Christmas everyone!!

 

What is sophrology?

Sophrology is a combination of techniques which aims to re-balance the body and mind: breathing, relaxation techniques, simple physical movements, mental imagery and meditation techniques.

Practicing sophrology will help you restoring or reinforcing the state of harmony between what you feel, what you think and what you do in your everyday life.

And it will also help you to develop new capacities, especially for well-being, stress-management and self-development.

How can sophrology help me during my pregnancy ?

Sophrology is widely used by midwives in France, Switzerland, Spain and more recently in other countries like UK.

It is a valuable component of pregnancy well-being and antenatal preparation for birth:

  • It helps relieving your anxieties around pregnancy.
  • It can ease many of the physiological discomforts of pregnancy, by enhancing your coping mechanisms, or by altering pain perception.
  • It helps increasing your inner confidence, strength and calmness for birth.

After the birth, sophrology can accompany you as you adjust to motherhood, enhance your relationship with your baby and partner.

When can I start sophrology ?

It depends on your needs and objectives. The techniques are adapted to each woman and each moment of pregnancy and motherhood. Sophrology can be started early in pregnancy, as repetition and practice are increasing its efficiency.

For birth preparation, it is highly recommended to learn and train with a midwife who is also a certified sophrology practitioner.

After baby is born, sophrology is recommended if you feel stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted. Becoming a mum is a major identity change and transition period, sophrology can help you during the different phases of motherhood to develop self-confidence, self-awareness and capacity to feel well both as a woman and a mother.

And more concretely, how can I practice sophrology?

You can learn the basic principles and techniques either in a one-to-one setting or in groups.

  • In groups, a program of six to eight one-hour sessions is recommended to develop new capacities and you are always encouraged to practice at home.
  • In individual sessions, the support is more personal. The first session is mainly dedicated to understanding your specific needs and defining your objective.

Discovering and practicing sophrology has personally given me a new way of living in harmony with myself, body and mind and enjoying my life journey as a woman and a mother.

I hope it does the same for you.


More about the Author

Nadège Ravoux is certified sophrologist, professional coach and co-founder of Socolibris sàrl www.socolibris.com

She offers a specific support program for working mothers, who are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by the stressful pace of daily life, or who are questioning their life choices.

She also provides coaching and training services in companies on topics like concentration at work, stress management, well-being and performance.

“We had a Birth Doula!” – Bianca & Flavio

479A6163-PTFirstly, it is very important to say – WE LOVE LOVE LOVE MIDWIVES! 

As part of our Birth Rights Awareness Campaign, Have a Choice 2 Have a Doula” at the Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl, we are interviewing families that hired/tried to hire Birth Doula Support to help illustrate the very well-studied benefits that continuous, known, exclusive, non-medical labour companions bring to the birth experience AS COMPLEMENT TO THE VERY IMPORTANT MEDICAL TEAM (MIDWIFE AND OBSTETRICIAN IN LUXEMBOURG). Our approach is to raise awareness at the level of the strongest voice collectively, the consumers. It is key that consumers understand their Human Rights in Childbirth which underlines their right to “choose the circumstances of birth” according to their individual wishes, regardless of what care providers may claim – e.g. “ you will only be ‘allowed’ 1 support person (the dad) in the birth room”.  Read more here about our campaign, your rights, how to hire a Doula and more! Lastly, did we mention we LOVE midwives? 🙂

”We had a Birth Doula!” – Interview with Bianca & Flavio, Luxembourg

Interviewed by Elfi Koufogeorgou

Elfi: When and where did you give birth?

Bianca: 7th December 2016 at CHL.

Elfi: The support from women to women during labour is age old, but the term Doulas in Luxembourg especially is not yet well known. How did you find out about the role of a doula?

Bianca: I did a ton of online research to help me prepare, and came across it on brazilian websites.

Elfi: Why were you interested in Doula support?

Bianca: Since this was our first time giving birth, we wanted as much support as possible. We also wanted a natural birth, so having the support of the Doula would help support us.

Elfi:  How did you go about finding and hiring your Doula?

Bianca: On the Facebook Luxmama group.

Elfi:  What kind of support did she offer prenatally?

Bianca: We met three times before the delivery. The first meeting was to get to know each other, break the ice and align expectations. The second time we went over the birth plan; and the third time was closer to the due date, so we focused on the pain-relief exercises and went over overall logistics. Throughout this we were in constant contact via WhatsApp.

Elfi: During your labour and delivery, how did your Doula support you and your partner’s birth experience?

Bianca: Our Doula was on call from week 37, so as soon as we got some signs of labor, she was the person to go to for doubts and questions. On the 5th of December some contractions started, we went to hospital and came back home on our own. On the 6th stronger contractions started, so she came over to our house and stayed with us throughout (more than 24 hours!).

Elfi: What kind of support did she offer postpartum?

Bianca: The Doula kept in touch, suggested ways in which to overcome the early difficulties (sleeping, breastfeeding, etc..)

Elfi: Question for Flavio specifically – Did you as a couple ever feel like the Doula was interfering with the role of the partner*? And Flavio, how did you as a partner feel about having a doula there? Did she support YOU as well?
Flavio: My role during labour was to be emotionally available for my wife, to help her navigate the roller-coaster of emotions, doubts and concerns that the experience brought her. No doula, nurse, midwife or doctor could ever interfere with that role. Instead, the doula brought comfort, a calm head and prior experience that neither of us had, much like nurses and doctors bring clinical and medical assistance. She helped clarify doubts when nurses weren’t available, or when we didn’t fully understand them. She supported me in supporting my wife.

* Many people say that if you have your partner as continuous support, why would you need a birth doula as well? 

Evidencebasedbirth.com addresses this concern:
“How is a doula different from having your partner/spouse there?
Some people think that they do not need a doula because their partner will be with them continuously throughout labor. It is true that the birth partner is an essential support person for a birthing person to have by their side. However, the birth partner will need to eat and use the bathroom at times, and they are having their own emotional journey that requires support. Also, many partners have limited knowledge about birth, medical procedures, or what goes on in a hospital, while doulas have knowledge and experience about all of these things that they can use to inform and support both the partner and
birthing person. Ideally, doulas and partners can work together to make up a labor support team. 
In one landmark study that evaluated the effects of doulas and fathers working together, researchers found that combining a supportive partner and a doula significantly lowered the mother’s risk of Cesarean compared to just having a supportive partner alone. In 2008, McGrath and Kennell randomly assigned 420 first-time mothers to have routine care (including a supportive partner) or care that also included a professional doula whom they met for the first time during labor. All of the women in the study were classified as having middle- to upper-class financial income levels, having supportive partners, and in the care of obstetricians.
During labor, doulas provided continuous support, including encouragement, reassurance, and physical support. They helped the partner support the laboring person, and were careful not to take over the partner’s role.”
The Doula Book, by MD Marshall H Klaus, MD John H Kennel and Phyllis H Klaus elaborates:
“When two people share an emotional bond and an ongoing relationship, it is very difficult for that companion to remain continuously objective, calm, and removed to some degree from the mother’s discomfort and fears or any danger to her. In most cases – and this cannot be stated too often – the father will have the unexpressed but deeply felt question, will everything be all right?  Also, a father often has had little or no experience with the birth process.
For these reasons, woman in labor should have the option of not only the partner but also a nurturing, experienced person – a doula – who calmly and skillfully help her cope with labor and be a reassuring and constant presence for both her and the father. The doula gives a level of support different from that of a person who is intimately related to the woman in labor. 
These two kinds of support complement each other.  Very often the couple worry that an outside support person will take over and control the labor experience, as many individuals providing labor assistance have traditionally done. The training of a doula is quite different, emphasising quiet reassurance and enhancement of the natural abilities of the labouring woman. A doula is constantly aware that the couple will carry the memory of this experience throughout their lives.
The needs of Fathers during labor and delivery: In asking fathers to be the main support, our society may have created a very difficult expectation for them to meet.  This is like asking fathers to play in a professional football game after several lectures but without any training or practice games. Couples sometimes get the mistaken impression from childbirth classes that by using a number of simple exercises, the father can be a main source of support and knowledge for the entire labor when the nurse is unavailable.  This is true for a small number of fathers, but most fathers-especially first-timers-do not get enough opportunity in the classes to observe and practice. 
Often the dilemma for childbirth instructors is how to get fathers to be more a part of the experience and appreciate what actually lies ahead.  Fathers entering into this new role often feel nervous, joke frequently, and consciously or unconsciously wonder whether they belong in this whole obstetrical arena. Dr Martin Greenberg, an experienced physician who has done research with new fathers, commented “I didn’t realise until later how frightened and angry I felt at the staff for being left alone with my wife when having our first baby. 
In no other area of the hospital is a family member asked to take on such a significant caretaking role as in childbirth. When working in the obstetrical unit, we have often been struck by how terribly relieved fathers are when an experienced nurse or midwife enters the room and remains with them. This feeling of relief enables fathers to be much more relaxed, loving and emotionally available than when they bear the burden of responsibility alone. 
We therefore want to enable the father to be present at his own comfort level and to remain emotionally connected to his partner and child. Few fathers want to be – or should be – the sole support person in the room.  The mother gains more assured, steady emotional support from her partner if he is less worried about what he is supposed to do and if they both can relax. As one father noted “I’ve run a number of marathons, I’ve done a lot of hiking with a heavy backpack, and I’ve worked for forty hours straight on call, but going through labor with my wife was more strenuous and exhausting than any of these other experiences. We could never have done it without a doula, she was crucial for us.” His wife added “I want the doula there to assure me that everything is fine and to comfort me. I want my husband there for emotional support.” 
A labouring woman’s rapid changes of mood may alarm an inexperienced father and compound the mother’s fears. Although fathers have many positive feelings and great anticipation, these negative feelings can get in the way and, in turn affect the progress of the labor itself. Over and over again we have been impressed by the calming influence the doula has for both the mother and father as she explains what is happening, uses her experience to help the mother, and supports the parents in having the kind of experience they originally desired.”

Elfi: Please share anything you feel other women should know about your birth experience with a Doula.

Bianca: The biggest support we got from the Doula was the feeling that someone neutral, was there informing us of options.

After, there are a few other aspects that we valued, and think should be considered when choosing a Doula:
Empathy: we truly felt like she cared about us and having an outcome that suited us, which is why the 3 meetings beforehand were super important.
Professionalism: I wanted a 100% natural birth, but due to long labour and slow dilation, we had to adjust as we went. The Doula was super important to help us understand our options (for instance, having some minutes to think and decide before taking oxytocyn).
Energy: our Doula was with us through the whole process, starting at 8pm on the 6th until the birth at 11pm of the 7th; she kept strong and focused only on us. She didn’t change shifts.

Elfi: In 1 sentence, how did it make you feel during labour, having an independent, support person, looking out for your best interest by your side, continuously?

Bianca: I felt more in control of the situation, safer and less worried

 

 

More about Bianca 

Bianca Lopes is a Brazilian first time mom living in Luxembourg with her loving husband and daughter Mia. After working in Brazil and Colombia as a DSC_0412 LOPEZ DOULARecruitment professional, she decided to move to Europe with her husband and got a career break devoted to family after the happy news of being pregnant. She is still figuring out how this parenting world works, while enjoying her little baby giggles and smiles.

 


More about the Author

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Elfi joined Luxmama Club as a volunteer in 2015.  Along with her full time role in an international organization and raising her daughters, she is passionate about writing stories and helping other people share theirs. Stories that empower, inspire and create the ” you are not alone” feeling.  You can see more of her work in her recent blog koufelef.wixsite.com/elfiswritinglab but also in http://www.themamagers.gr (articles in greek) and http://www.newdiaspora.com (articles in english).

 

Sharing and Teaching the Joy of Giving

Since 1990, more than 124 million boys and girls in over 150 countries have experienced generosity and love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child worldwide, a Samaritan’s Purse project. We asked Jessica Mills to tell us more and explain how we can get involved.

Luxmama: Can you tell us about this initiative?

Jessica: I have the great pleasure to work with so many generous families and individuals in and around Luxembourg on this project. We pack shoeboxes with new, useful and fun items (and lots of love) for needy children aged 2-14 so we can bring hope and help them feel special at Christmas. There are 15 of us that co-ordinate the project in homes, businesses, churches and collection points in Luxembourg.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief and development organisation working through local churches to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love amongst communities in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

 

Luxmama: How did you get involved?

Jessica: ‘Christmas in a shoebox’ (‘Weihnachten im Schuhkarton’) has been running in Luxembourg for many years and I became involved about 10 years ago. I was inspired by the idea of the teaching my children the joy of giving in a practical way by packing a box for a child of their age and I even encouraged them to budget pocket money to contribute. Giving and making gifts is a real passion of mine so this project was particularly appealing.

The project in Luxembourg has grown exponentially, largely by word of mouth. Last year, we sent 1488 boxes to the children. For us, it’s about being positive and bringing hope and ultimately changing the world one life at a time.

 

Luxmama: Who receives the boxes?

Jessica: Our boxes go to very needy communities in Romania and Moldova. These children really have very little and are so thrilled to be given a box just for themselves. In many cases, it is the first gift they have ever received. Local churches and social workers with the organisation assess where the need is the greatest and ensure that the boxes reach the children.

We encourage people to include a card/letter and a photo to make the gift more personal and these are often treasured by the children. I have spoken to people who received boxes as children many years ago and they all remember being overwhelmed that someone was out there who had taken the time to pack a box just for them.

 

Luxmama: How can our members help?

Jessica: There are many ways that you can get involved and every little bit helps:

  • Pack a box and encourage others to do so.
  • Donate contents (only new items).
  • Donate wool for the hats we knit or knit hats, socks or scarves for children.
  • Donate new or never-used cuddly toys (15cm or less).
  • Raise money for the transport (€8 a box).
  • Pack a box online at www.shoeboxworld.co.uk
  • Volunteer to help check boxes or help at collection points in October.
  • Co-ordinate a group at school/work/your community to pack boxes.
  • Buy a packed box from us (22 Euros for contents and 8 Euro for transport).

 

Luxmama: What items should we give the children?

Jessica: Remember that these children often have nothing. We want to give them things that help them realise how special and important they are and that’s why everything must be new. Donors decide to give to a boy or girl and then choose an age group: 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14. We always receive fewer boxes for boys aged 2-4 and 10-14 and so it would be great if we can get a few more for these boys this year.

We want the children to receive a full box and so each box must include essential hygiene items, a cuddly toy (these are always precious to all age groups – yes, even the boys), other toys, small items of winter clothing, milk chocolate, school stationery items (for ages 5+) and a card plus €8 for transport. For ages 5+, we also ask for an A5 exercise book in every box with a few other stationery items. Many of the children have to write in pencil so that their work can be erased and the book re-used.

The full list of categories and all the other details, including deadlines and collection points, can be found on our website (address given below). We ask donors to kindly follow the website instructions as it is such a shame when we have to take unsuitable things out of boxes.

 

Luxmama: So, if we would like to make up a gift box, what should we do?

Jessica: The best thing is to get all the information by going to our website or by emailing me. Then you’ll need to find a box – a “normal” sized shoebox – and cover both the box and the lid separately in Christmas paper. You can order a box from us if you don’t have one.

 

Luxmama: And when does all this happen?

Jessica: Very soon! All the boxes and donations need to be handed in at the collection points by 28 October and they are then carefully checked. We have to make sure that every box adheres to customs regulations and that everything is new and age-appropriate. For example, we cannot send any sweets containing gelatine as this is prohibited in Muslim communities. Boxes are given to all children regardless of their religion. Although Samaritan’s Purse has Christian roots, the box is simply a gift with “no strings attached”. The distributions are need-driven and the organisers are sensitive to the beliefs of the local communities.

 

It really is a lovely, personal and direct way for people to make a big difference to a child who has almost nothing.

 


More about the Author

Jessica Mills is originally from South Africa and has been in Luxembourg for 20 years. She is passionate about education and is a qualified high school teacher and is very active in the local and international community in Luxembourg.

She is married to a South African and has three teenage children.

For more information please visit www.lux-shoebox.weebly.com or email Jessica