What’s the best way of investing in the developing world? One organization is empowering families by investing in mothers.
Hands to Hearts International (HHI) is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide simple and cost-effective programs with tools for women, caregivers, and organizations to improve the early development of children surviving in orphanages, refugee camps, and severely impoverished or conflict-ridden communities.
Since 2004, HHI has brought nurturing care and empowerment to women across three states in India, reaching over 5,300 women and 32,000 children. In 2009, HHI partnered with Medical Teams International to bring education about early childhood development (ECD) and parenthood workshops to mothers and caregivers of orphans in the post-conflict regions of northern Uganda.
Development dollars invested in mothers
The concept of empowered parenting highlights the female’s capacity from within a society’s realm of gender roles and familial duty. For the vast majority of girls and women in India and Uganda, motherhood is a goal as well as a lifestyle reality. Marriage, childbirth, and parenthood mark a natural course of life.
Reaching development goals
Conversely, the marks of motherhood, such as the age of childbirth and number of children, are also factors used by development programs to assess courses for aid and progress. These once exalted occasions of life are at risk of being reduced to measurable socioeconomic indicators of a community’s developmental progress. Through maternal and ECD education, HHI believes motherhood can be celebrated while applying value to the role of motherhood within the parameters of development goals.
Numerous organizations- such as HHI, Medical Teams International, and Save the Children- are embracing maternal and ECD education as relevant components to women’s empowerment due to the invaluable tools given to successfully raise and educate the next generation. According to a 2006 UNFPA study, one-quarter to one-half of the world’s girls will become mothers before reaching the age of 18, thus exemplifying the holistic approach of addressing motherhood.
Don’t overlook empowered motherhood
Perhaps empowered motherhood has been avoided or overlooked because practices such as early marriage and early childbirth are focal points of aid. It appears that in lieu of empowering new mothers, many development programs target girls and women who have not reached this phase of life, hoping that education and entrepreneurial opportunities are sufficient factors for deferment.
But what of the others who were not able to fully embrace such opportunities? Women’s empowerment has proven to be an effort marked with incremental advances that slowly accumulate into inspirational achievements. If parenting and ECD workshops were a standardized within development agendas, women’s empowerment would progress in full circle by targeting women at every stage of life.
Empowering women: Most effective tool
The role and responsibility of motherhood should not be disregarded in the exploration of female entrepreneurship, innovation, and empowerment. In fact, commemoration of this powerful capacity of motherhood could further magnify the acknowledgement of women’s potential in the economic, social, and domestic sphere.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan most aptly stated:
There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, or improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and eventually, whole countries.
To embrace an encompassing empowerment model, we should strive to supplement international projects surrounding education and micro-finance programs with early childhood development workshops for the communities of caregivers and mothers.
I currently work in communications and grant writing for Hands to Hearts International, a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. I will soon begin graduate studies in International Development and African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. My interests focus upon women’s empowerment, African cultures, and Islamic studies- passions that I plan to pursue around the world.