Moms Will Save the World–and Each Other

By Wendy Herman

Whether you stay home to take care of your children or you work outside the home, every mother is a working mother. From a buildOn Chicago Program Director to a community member in Malawi building a school with her child on her back, motherhood takes many beautiful and diverse forms.

Every day around the world, roughly 385,000 women give birth. Nearly 9 years ago when I was in labor, I had a moment where I thought I couldn’t go on (IYKYK). But then, that stat flashed through my mind. I thought of the hundreds of thousands of other women around the world giving birth at that exact same time. We were in it together. That sense of solidarity was the comfort and strength I needed in that moment, and in every day since. 

Chicago Program Director Andie Alanis at service with her students.

After my son was born, I was increasingly aware of and concerned about the disparities in motherhood around the world––the reality that not every mother has access to quality healthcare for herself or her children. Now, I’ll warn you––what I’m about to share is certainly devastating, but please stay with me. There is hope.

In high-income countries, approximately 11 out of every 100,000 births results in the death of the mother. But in low-income countries, that rate is 40 times higher, and mothers of color are particularly at risk. 

But access to quality healthcare is only part of the problem. Studies have shown that when a woman receives at least some formal education in her life, she is less likely to marry young, more likely to understand the nutritional needs of her children, and more likely to understand the importance and methods of disease prevention. In fact, a child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5 than a child born to a mother who is illiterate.

A Malawian mother lays the foundation of a buildOn school with her child on her back.

That’s why buildOn has been committed to gender equity from the very beginning. Before every school build, community members sign a covenant promising to enroll girls and boys in school in equal numbers. And in our Adult Literacy Program––where we provide lessons in literacy and numeracy to those who have never received an education––80 percent of the participants are women. 

What inspires me most is the determination so many women have to build a better life for themselves and their children. Women like Assèta Tirakoya in Burkina Faso. Throughout her pregnancy, she attended buildOn’s adult literacy classes, motivated to improve her living conditions and start her own business. And her motivation had no limits. In fact, on the morning of her final exam, she went into labor, and ultimately took and passed her exams from her hospital bed!

When my son was 3 years old, he spent a week facing an increasingly serious illness. Even when his pediatrician and emergency doctors had no answers for us, I continued to research his symptoms and I called them every day with updates. Finally, on day eight, he was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease––just two days before the condition would have become life-altering, or even life-threatening. Because I am literate, I could search his symptoms online. I could read and sign his medical paperwork. While he lay in his hospital bed for four days, I could comfort him by reading his favorite children’s stories. And because I had access to quality healthcare, he received the treatment he needed to make a full recovery.

The son of buildOn’s director of marketing assembles care packages for the unhoused.

At buildOn, we know that poverty and illiteracy are inextricably linked, and we’ve been breaking this cycle in the U.S. and around the world for over 32 years. Every mother, every child, every person deserves to live a healthy and fulfilling life and that’s why I’m committed to ensuring equitable access to education and opportunity for all mothers–no matter their socioeconomic status, skin color, or where they live. 

My experience so far as a mother has been the most rewarding experience of my life (and of course at times, the most challenging). They say that as a mother, you have decided to forever have your heart walking around outside your body. Every day I send my son off to school, my heart winces for a moment. I miss him, but I’m grateful for his opportunity to learn and grow. And I’m grateful that I get to put my time and energy into a job that is really making a difference in the world. 

Sometimes I wonder if buildOn’s Constructive Principles were born out of the image of a mother–the courage, resilience, empathy, solidarity, and passion for the possible that we all share. To every mother around the world, I’m here with you and I am rooting for you! Happy Mother’s Day.

Wendy Herman is buildOn’s director of marketing and most importantly, the mother to her 8-year-old son. If you want to join Wendy in supporting women and children around the world, please make a gift today in honor of a mother in your life.