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Mothers connect in the field

Indonesia, May 11, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Dillan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mother around the world all want the same thing: happy, healthy children. Mercy Corps' Mothers Support Groups help new moms with skills and support to be the best for their kids. Photo: Jennifer Dillan/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Lisa Cicala/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps Creative Director Jennifer Dillan speaks with participants at one of the Mothers Support Groups we facilitate in Indonesia. Photo: Lisa Cicala/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Dillan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Jumasih is seven months pregnant and walks two hours from a neighboring village so she can share tips and friendship with fellow moms at the Mothers Support Group. Photo: Jennifer Dillan/Mercy Corps

Portland, Seattle, Taipei, Jakarta, Brebes, Kutamendala. After 44 hours of travel my colleague and I wander into our final destination — a secluded village in the jungles of Java. We have come to make a video about some of the women who participate in Mercy Corps’ Mothers Support Group.

Because infant mortality remains high in Indonesia, education about breastfeeding, sanitation and health plays a crucial role in reducing illness. The women learn about improving the health of their young children by exclusively breastfeeding them for the first six months of their life. Since the program started in this village, breastfeeding rates have risen 23%.

As Creative Director at Mercy Corps, I work hard overseeing our creative output, but in a predictable work-week sort of way. This is not that. This is the surreal experience of walking through the photographs and stories plucked from the pages of our materials, like Alice in Wonderland. But very, very real.

Sleep deprived, sweaty, bogged down with heavy gear, I feel the happy pulse of adrenaline that new experiences bring. Our welcome is warm and the women’s animated chatter in Bahasa is rhythmic and soothing. Food is offered: fritters, sweet tea, bananas and a hairy red fruit straight from Dr. Seuss called rombuton.

Nearly all of the women have babes-in-arms — on their hips, openly feeding at the breast, in a sling or a lap — and the babies aren't too keen on playing a supporting role. I look longingly at the cherubic faces and instantly connect to the shared experience of motherhood.

I left my own two kids at home. They are considerably older than these babies — 10 and 15 years old — but I miss them now just like I did when they were little. I think my job as a mom is to nurture my children wholeheartedly so that they can thrive and transform into amazing beings (yes, even when they take me to my personal precipice of patience).

Likewise, mothers adore their children in every corner of the planet. In the jungles of Indonesia or in Portland, Oregon, the drive to be the best mom possible doesn't vary.

Some of the participants travelled further than others to attend the meeting. One woman, Jumasih, is seven months pregnant and has committed to walking two hours roundtrip along slippery, narrow paths from a neighboring village.

When I ask her what motivated her to come so far, she tells me that she enjoys learning new things and connecting with fellow mothers. She also mentions that she feels isolated at times. I remember how profoundly isolated I felt from my community when my own son was first born. I needed support more than ever and didn’t know where to get it. That was 15 years ago and a continent away, and yet I know exactly how she feels in that moment.

During our conversation, the women share their enthusiasm about the program. It has enriched the well-being of their children and themselves. They learn important information, foster a needed community and are inspired to spread the news to other young mothers.

It's a comforting realm women inhabit to nurture and get nurtured. The maternal warmth here in particular reminds of the shared human experience that connects me with the work that Mercy Corps does all over the world. While I can't wait to get home and hug my kids, I am so happy to be here, surrounded by healthier babies and happier mothers. I could have stayed for days.