Foley’s Reflections on WAIMH Congress Cape Town, South Africa

It is September and spring is winging its way here via the Tui’s who have re-turned, and who are now nesting and relishing in dawn song. Their singing accompanies ever-present memories of the WAIMH congress in Cape Town, captured in part by a photo, pinned onto my office wall. The photo was taken at the WAIMH congress dinner in the Nyanga Arts Centre, in the Nyanga Township. I am standing with WAIMH friends, and three women, referred to as “the mama’s” who are each dressed in bright orange. These three women are artists, chefs, and cultural ambassadors for their township.

I have looked into this photo often. It brings such warming and joyful memories, and it unsettles me. Amidst the blissfully unaware cheer of her visitors, one of the mama’s in orange seems saddened, perhaps weary? I project this affect onto her, knowing nothing about her, her story, or her dreams; it is just what I see: a complex picture of joy and weary wrestlesness.

This photo captures my experiences of the WAIMH congress where I was simultaneously uplifted and disturbed by what was on offer. For example, Professor Mark Tomlinson, presented a harrowing statistic: approximately 21,000 children died, every day, in 2010, with expected current statistics to be even more harrowing. This is an unbearable statistic requiring courage to hold in mind. In my endeavours to do so, the picture of the “mama in orange”, returns. Her presence intertwines with the stark statistics, keeping me awake. Awake with mindfulness of a global picture of infant mental health: of life and death and all that lies between health and struggles for our global infants and their families. It’s challenging, it’s uncomfortable, yet their collective message is clear and strong.

Alongside Professor Tomlinson and the “mama in orange”, Dr Astrid Berg presented a snapshot of her work with local colleagues, in the Townships. This is the work and life of every-day saints. Dr Berg’s capacity to hold the tension of multiple paradoxes with patience, generosity and efficacy, was extraordinary. It was a lesson for me from a voice-lived. These lessons tend to linger in consciousness over time as they soak into ones bones.

I thank Professor Tomlinson and the “mama in orange” for keeping discomfort close-by and my complacency somewhat at bay; Dr Berg and colleagues for their raw inspiration; and I acknowledge and treasure the deep friendships forged with WAIMH members, who are such good company to journey with, in the field of infant and family mental health.


Foley’s Reflections on WAIMH Congress Cape Town, South Africa


Foley, Maree,
Affiliate Council Representative,
New Zealand

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