Who is a mother around the world?

May 2, 2016

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  • Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

If there is one thing mothers everywhere have in common it’s this: Moms everywhere are working relentlessly to create healthy, happy, secure lives for children every single day.

From bathtime to bedtime, in every corner of the globe, mothers are stepping up to the challenge of keeping kids safe and clean, providing them with nutritious meals, getting them to school and, above all, giving them promising futures.

How do they do it?

Through the stories below, see what a typical day is like for mothers in other parts of the world, and find out how they’re overcoming tremendous obstacles to support their children, better themselves and transform their communities.

Justine in Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo: Liz Hummer/Mercy Corps

Caretaker: “As they say, water is life. So there is nothing we can do without water,” says Justine.

Nevertheless, this vital resource is not a given for Justine and millions of others living in war-torn DRC.

At 5 cents apiece, Justine can afford to purchase about six jerrycans — 31 gallons — of clean water from the tap across the street per day. It’s a small fraction of what her family of nine actually needs for cooking, cleaning, drinking and bathing.

But it’s a vast improvement from the days when her only source of water was a contaminated lake an hours-long walk away.

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Still, Justine must be inventive to conserve her limited water supply. "I'll do half the laundry, or wash half the dishes," she explains.

And every day at bathtime, she bathes her seven children from youngest to oldest in the same bucket of water, so not a drop goes to waste. Andre, 7, is second to last.

Learn more about how Justine makes the most of her water supply ▸

Rosa in Guatemala

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Nutritionist: “The dream I have for my family is that my kids are healthy and growing. I want my kids to move forward and improve themselves,” says Rosa.

Sky-high rates of chronic malnutrition regularly keep children from reaching their full potential in rural Guatemala, where Rosa lives. But she wants her children and her community to overcome that.

As a leader mother through our maternal and child health program, Rosa received training to host learning sessions and teach other moms how to prepare the safe, nutritious food their children need to grow up healthy.

It’s already paying off. Healthy mothers make happy families, hopeful futures ▸

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

“Since the program I’ve noticed that the kids are growing,” says Rosa. “The kids are stronger now than they were before.”

“I’m going to keep doing all that I’ve learned and I’m not going to let it go,” she continues. “I’m going to do everything I’ve learned in the program so I can change my family and the community.”

Lucy in Kenya

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Entrepreneur: “We still have so many people who have not discovered themselves,” Lucy says. “There’s so much still to be done.”

Lucy, a single mom of two young children, doesn’t just own one business — she owns three. She starts her day feeding the chickens she raises to sell for meat and eggs, then tends to her boda-boda (taxi) and IT enterprises.

Lucy was born an entrepreneur at heart. “I just knew I needed to be the best,” she says. And, even though she was up against discrimination and a lack of opportunities, Lucy never gave up.

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

She got involved in our youth program to learn business and leadership skills and access financing to get her ideas off the ground. Now, Lucy makes enough income to feed her family and send her kids to a good school.

And she uses what she’s learned to mentor other young people, so they can accomplish their dreams, too.

“I’ve not done anything yet,” she says. Learn more about Lucy ▸

Carmen in Colombia

Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Mentor: “I want them to go beyond and achieve what they are capable of. [I want them to] have a vision of being someone in life,” says Carmen of her students. “I want to give them a vision that they can overcome the situation that they’re in.”

Carmen has to leave her 2-year-old son in her mother’s care when she travels to work as a live-in caretaker at a boarding school in rural Colombia. Parting with him is the hardest part of her job, but she knows the school’s young students, who come from poor, violent and at-risk backgrounds, need her support and guidance.

School becomes a safe haven from violence ▸

Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

“My favorite part is the affection from the kids, and the trust they have [in] me,” she says. “They seek me out and ask advice, and I give them a hug and they can be happy. They say, ‘Teacher, you’re always with us. We don’t want you to leave.’”

Aisha in Lebanon

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Protector: “I was living in Idlib, in Aleppo [Syria],” says Aisha. “We left because there were no resources left in the city. It is a very dangerous place. The kids were very afraid of living there, and the adults too.”

Desperate to protect her family, Aisha fled the war in Syria four years ago with her five children in tow.

Photos: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

“We came to Lebanon and we used to sleep outside on the way. The kids were very scared and sometimes they woke up in the middle of the night crying,” she says. “We [had] no resources, but we managed to stay alive.”

Now the family lives in a rudimentary tent settlement in central Lebanon, where Mercy Corps provides water and sanitation services. The conditions are hard — but they are safe.

Nana in Niger

Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Leader: “I was selected by the people in my village to be a leader mother. They selected me because they knew that I am able to do something,” says Nana.

Nana was born in the village of Baura, in rural Niger, and still lives there now with her husband and seven children. A lack of education and resources keep families there from getting the food they need to thrive — and more than half the area’s children are malnourished.

Nana knows a better, stronger future is possible.

Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

She teaches others in her village about healthy eating and better child care practices — breastfeeding, household hygiene and the importance of proper medical care — that have never been taught before. It’s not easy changing long-held beliefs and habits, but Nana knows she’s leaving a legacy that will improve the lives of her children and, eventually, sound throughout the region.

“There is no greater benefit than learning how to take care of our babies’ nutrition and health,” Nana says. “The knowledge is in our village and will spread to even more people in other areas. This will help us for many, many years to come.” Read Nana’s full story ▸