Directly translated from isiZulu “umzanyana” means ‘umbilical cord’, an instrument of connection that allows the mother to give the baby what it needs. As an extension, it also refers to a close family member who acts as a wet nurse or baby sitter, who helps the mother take care of her new born child.
In Sub-Saharan Africa 74% of workers in the informal economy are women, of which pregnant mothers are most vulnerable. Due to a lack of income security, informal worker mothers experience high stress levels, which negatively affect both maternal and child health. Another factor which can contribute to this anxiety is the inadequate provision of workplace infrastructure and basic services for informal traders (e.g. shelter and furniture), making the workplace environment difficult for an expectant mother or their new born child.
The umzanyana is a multifunctional wooden storage box and work tool, which would be transformed into a temporary baby nursery. It would function as the existing storage furniture used by the informal worker mother to store her goods at night and would optimise on the potential to be used as a curbside nursery throughout the day (when it is usually unused).
This intervention would provide the mother with practical support, as a ‘helping hand’ which holds the baby at intervals, allowing the baby to be in constant close proximity to the mother, whilst she is working. It would also provide a surface and appropriate environment for nursing and activities between mother and child, such as changing diapers and playing etc.
Essentially, the intervention would be a locally produced kit-of-parts, such as a soft sponge for the baby to sleep on and line the inside of the box, sheets for the baby to sleep on, a mobile to stimulate the growing baby and a form of protection from the elements etc. This kit would be issued to the mother over a 6 month period, by a community health worker who would also act as a roving nurse, visiting the mothers with babies at their worksite.
The sustainability and value added by this infrastructural intervention would arise from the development a holistic program which incorporates the production of the baby boxes into the existing ecosystem. This could include manufacturing by the local carpenter, sewing of various components by local seamstresses, and soft resources such as community health workers and a general sense of community awareness of the baby to better support the mother and baby.
In acknowledging that for many women traders, bringing their child to work is the only option, it is critical to optimize the available technology and infrastructure to provide support to these vulnerable mothers.