Since September 2012, EMBARAZO ACTIVO has been providing a physical activity programme for groups of female inmates at Prison Unit Number 31 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The programme has been developed specifically for pregnant women and those prisoners caring for babies under eight months old. The programme is delivered free of charge.
Mariela Villar, CEO of EMBARAZO ACTIVO initially developed and delivered the programme. In 2013 she trained prison staff who now operate the programme, with Mariela providing supervision and advice every fifteen days.
How did it start?
The idea of developing a programme for pregnant prisoners came to me when I was conducting research for my degree in Business Administration at the University of Buenos Aires in June 2009.
The objective is to create awareness about the health benefits of physical exercise and good habits during prison life, but importantly to achieve a better relationship between the mother and her baby. In Argentina, children can live with their mother in prison until they reach the age of four.
The programme combines physical activity, baby massage sessions, with education on topics such as nutrition, breast feeding and general hygiene.
We have created new programmes that were simply not previously part of prison life. Prisoners respect the work we are doing as we are seen as outside professionals who are there to make prison life for them and their baby, both healthier and more fulfilling.
This is a potentially difficult group of people to work with but the results are positive. We have helped to reduce the anxiety and stress levels of approximately 115 prisoners and help to build healthy habits and physical activity into their prison experience. Some are now also exercising, even on days when the programme is not taking place.
Other prisons in Buenos Aires are now looking to develop a similar programme – something we are very proud of.
We did not originally publish this story because we were unsure if this was a commercial programme being sold to the Argentinian prison service. Gymtopia is only interested in publishing genuine acts of generosity. Mariela Villar has confirmed this project is driven from her heart rather than her purse.
We have since learnt that Mariela won the Young Entrepreneur Award 2013, awarded by the Buenos Aires City Government for her social responsibility work with female prisoners and their children.
Mariela’s work will be helping to ensure that if a child must spend the first few years of life in prison, that at least this experience will be a healthier and more fulfilling one, both for them and their mother.