We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

One Hundred Mother's Days

Today is the 100th birthday of Mother’s Day (North American Mother’s Day, not to be confused with Mothering Sunday celebrated in the UK). I was reading about it in a National Geographic article and was struck by its story. You can read the whole article (click here) but I am focussing now on its early (happier) beginnings. The roots of this day go back to a woman called Ann Jarvis in America in the 1850’s. She held “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to “improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination.” These clubs also worked to both care for and remember soldiers who fought in the Civil War. And after the war, with Mothers’s Friendship Days, they worked to bring unity and peace between former enemies. I think we could do with some more of these Mother’s Friendships Days today. In 1870, a "Mother's Day Proclamation" called for women to take an active political role in promoting peace. It was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who officially set aside the second Sunday in May for Mother’s Day in 1914, this initiated after Ann’s death, by her daughter.

I was particularly struck by those early Mother’s Day efforts to improve sanitary conditions and lower infant mortality, something needed so very much in many places today. Here in Mwanza, Dr Bernard tells us that the number of infant and mother deaths in childbirth is far too high, above the national average and government targets. I read one statistic stating that 1 in 24 women in Tanzania will not survive childbirth. According to official estimates quoted this year by the White Ribbon Alliance “more than 20 women die of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications every day in Tanzania.” For these women, their first mother’s day is their last.
As we have seen particularly on the islands here and also in our experience in the villages surrounding Iringa, one of the big difficulties is just getting to a health facility. Given the fact that a woman suffering from obstructed labour, heavy bleeding or fitting from high blood pressure (eclampsia) may have only two hours to live, the distances needed to travel and the lack of transportation can be a fatal problem. Our friend, Azizi in Itunundu, walked well over an hour in labour, in the total darkness of the night to get to a clinic to birth her baby. We have seen women struggling in labour as they walk long distances in searing sun or sitting uncomfortably through labour on the back of bicycle, bumping along dusty, pot-holed roads.

Death comes far too easily for these new mothers. And often too easily for their babies; reports from Save the Children say that more babies die on their first day of life in Tanzania than in any other country and 1 in 20 are dying before their first birthday. While I don’t know these statistics firsthand, I do know from talking with Dr Makori, that the problem is very real here, particularly on the islands where there is very little healthcare. I have heard too often the stories of the baby that didn’t survive delivery, or the baby twins that lost their mother. And I know that no pregnant mother here will talk about her pregnancy; here there is no talk of babies or “due dates,” there are no baby showers, no showing off the bump. Women carry their babies inside silently. The celebration comes later when a healthy child is birthed.

Baby Joy: A survivor of a difficult pregnancy


A new addition to Emmanueli's family, our Masai friends in Magozi 

Neli, in the Magozi Stoves Group, with her little ones

Mama Loveness (Susanna),
also from the Magozi Stoves Group
Many people, doctors like Bernard Makori, local groups, and other NGO’s are working to help these women, these mothers and their children. And things are improving. But today, I for one am inspired by this one mother, Ann Jarvis; inspired one hundred years later to see “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” which would seek to improve sanitary conditions and access to clinics and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease. And today, when we still see so much strife and division, to see “Mother’s Friendship Days,” where women are working together to bring unity and peace. Are you inspired? Share your thoughts; I am still wondering how this all works out in practice! And as part of this day in support of motherhood, we have the opportunity to do as Ann Jarvis’ daughter wanted, to celebrate our own mother, in thanks for all she has done. For me, I am blessed to still have my mother and I can thank her (albeit without flowers and from afar) for all she has done for me (thank you so much, mom!)

Me and My Mom!
Whose sacrificial love is given here in a toilet seat! And whose attitude to life is inspirational!

But for many, I know this is a difficult time, and you must celebrate a mother no longer with you. Other mothers have lived to lose a child, and this celebration of motherhood intensifies your loss. For many of the children and families whose stories lie behind the statistics I have written about, they too must celebrate the life of a mother no longer with them. A mother who died becoming a mother, who gave her life for her child.  
May we thankfully celebrate our mothers and the sacrifices they made for us. And whatever our situation, may we be inspired to do what we can wherever we are to help mothers, particularly those in need and to take active roles pursuing peace!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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