Sonja Kama is a Canberra writer and mum to 14-month-old Victoria, and she is on a mission to tell stories of the lived experiences and wisdom of culturally diverse mothers in Canberra with her upcoming book, Capital Mums.
Sonja has received an ACT Government grant to work with 50 Canberra mums from 50 different ethnic backgrounds to produce the book, which she hopes will showcase the beauty and universality of motherhood with a chorus of women’s voices and reveal honest insights into their lives, emotions, ambitions and challenges.
“I hope to celebrate diversity and the rich insights of Canberra mothers,” Sonja said. “After all, about 30% of people in Canberra were born outside of Australia.”
New mum Sonja has a culturally diverse upbringing herself. With New Zealand Maori heritage and a Vanuatu upbringing, she now lives in Canberra with her husband Bal, who is from the province of Simbu in Papua New Guinea.
Sonja said it was the traditional practices involved in her wedding in Papua New Guinea that inspired the book.
In Papua New Guinean culture, the ‘mothers’ (grandmas/aunties) of a new bride come together before the wedding and share their wisdom of being a wife and mum, to help the bride as she enters marriage and motherhood.
“As a new parent, far from family, I can really appreciate the value of sharing life lessons and experiences – especially as it relates to motherhood,” she said.
“This tradition made me interested in learning from the diverse experiences and traditions from mums of different cultures. “
Sonja said since becoming a mum, she’s noticed a gap in the available motherhood literature as most material represents the western perspective.
She hopes her book will address this gap.
“Being raised in Vanuatu, I gained so much respect and admiration for how mothers raised their children.
“They don’t have all the baby books or blogs we have in Australia, or the white noise machines, lactation or sleep consultants, or disposable nappies.
“Yet the mums got on with life, overcame hardships, and the kids had the great outdoors as their playground.”
Sonja has connected with mums over Zoom during the lockdown and said she’s learned mothers want to tell their stories and hear from other mums.
“So often, society doesn’t provide adequate space for mums to tell their stories, let alone the stories of women from different cultures.”
A Kenyan mum told Sonja having a child was her big wake-up call.
After three months on maternity leave, the woman returned to work and noticed a breastfeeding woman selling ground nuts on the roadside outside her work. For the first time she could identify with the woman and bought all her nuts, realising that the street vendor, just like her, had someone who was relying on her.
A Timor Leste woman told Sonja her tragic story of losing her mother to a postpartum haemorrhage.
She eventually moved to Canberra, had her own baby and experienced similar significant blood loss after delivery, but unlike her mother, she received high quality medical support and intervention.
A Finnish mother told Sonja that Finnish babies were given naps in prams outdoors even in minus-20-degree temperatures, such is their belief in the power of fresh air.
An Israeli mother of three daughters moved to Canberra and gained a better work and family life balance, free from the 45-hour work weeks and additional family pressures that were the norm in Israel.
A Bangladeshi mother of two spoke to Sonja about the support mums, regardless of economic situation, receive from their families.
“When you have a household to help you, you have time to focus on you and the baby’s sleep and nutrition,” she said.
Sonja said telling diverse stories was her way to contribute to the current conversation of racial and identity consciousness.
“I feel that my book is a simple but powerful example of celebrating and creating unity in diversity,” she said.
Sonja plans to launch her book in mid-2021 and hopes to build on the project with a blog and video series.
To find out more about the Capital Mums project, visit their Facebook page or email [email protected].