Thirty-nine-year-old Astou Sawane and her husband, Omari-53, had long dreamed of raising a family when they arrived in Cincinnati in 2009. Astou is now a proud mother to Djibril-12, Souleymane-9, Khadidja-5, and Hamza-16 months. She is a stay-at-home-mom who enjoys reading and crocheting. Astou has come a long way to get here!
Astou was born in Mali, a country located in West Africa, but she grew up in France, so her first big challenge when arriving in Cincinnati was mastering English. Astou was able attend English as a Second Language classes at Santa Maria as well as participate in the women’s group as part of Santa Maria’s outreach program. Luz Elena Schemmel, former Outreach and Wellness Director at Santa Maria, was impressed by Astou. “She was very motivated and wanted to continue her education,” Luz Elena said. She was inspired by Astou’s willingness to connect with other women and learn new things.
Within a year of arriving in Cincinnati, Astou was excited to welcome her first child, Djibril. When the challenges of being a first-time mother presented themselves, Astou knew exactly where to go for help. She sought Santa Maria’s assistance through the Every Child Succeeds (ECS) program.
The ECS program provides comprehensive home visiting services to help families optimize child health and development. It encourages early prenatal and well-baby care in addition to parenting education. Santa Maria provided home visits where Astou could share her thoughts about parenting, ask questions and receive valuable information based on her family’s needs.
Astou was later enrolled in Santa Maria’s Promoting Our Preschoolers (POP) program which also provides comprehensive home visiting services to optimize child health and development. POP works with 3 – 5-year-olds, providing developmental screens and parent support and education as well as advocacy and referrals. In this program, she now works with Regine Gordon, Santa Maria Family Advocate and Group Facilitator, to help her daughter, Khadidja, meet her developmental and health goals.
Regine loves working with Astou. “Astou is an amazing wife, mother, and friend,” Regine said. “She has a calmness and peacefulness about her that just amazes me.” Regine reported that Astou was an incredible first teacher for her children, and that didn’t stop when her children reached kindergarten. “She continues to help teach and encourage them as they go through school.”
The COVID-19 pandemic posed a challenge for the family because Omari was working fewer hours at his job. The family was able to receive free diapers, thanks to Santa Maria’s partnership with Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank. Santa Maria was also able to offer food assistance for the family during their time of need. That would not have been possible without wonderful partners like La Soupe, Last Mile Food Rescue and the Freestore Foodbank.
Astou is grateful for that support, as well as being able to achieve developmental milestones with all of her children with Santa Maria’s help. She said, “For people like me who are not from America, or had grown up into a different culture, it can be difficult to understand how the kid’s education works and how or what a kid should know before going to kindergarten. The people who work at Santa Maria are always willing to help.”
Astou has worked with several different Santa Maria staff members over the past 12 years. “They all have a place in my family,” she said. And the Sawane family has a place in ours!