Part 1 of 2: Celebrating the Threads That Unite Moms Across the Globe

As Mothers’ Day nears, an American mom reflects on meeting Kenyan contemporaries

Members of a mother-to-mother support group. Photo: A. Zeller

Editor’s Note: Alyssa Zeller, a leader in our External Relations department and proud mom of two, recently returned from her first field visit to Kenya. As Mothers’ Day approaches, Alyssa reflects on the common ground she found with the moms she met on that trip. Today, in the first installment of a two-part series, Alyssa describes her thoughts as she travels to and first meets a group of Kenyan moms. Look for part two later this week.

I stared out the window of the massive all-terrain utility vehicle, as our driver painstakingly maneuvered the boulders and ditches of the rainstorm-crippled roadways. All that could be seen for miles was an arid, barren landscape of dirt and brush, except for the occasional person or two (often a tiny child, alone), wandering dangerously close to passing trucks to peer in, maybe find a handout.

All I could think about was how different my world back at home was from this one. My life in New York City seemed to have no tangible connection to this place less than a mile from the Ugandan border, in one of Kenya’s most remote districts, West Pokot.

This was my first visit to one of Action Against Hunger’s field programs in Africa. It was my chance to meet our workers on the frontlines, to see the wells and water pipelines they’ve built — to have my own direct experience with the work to which I dedicate my professional life, endeavoring to raise funds and other support back at home.

Immediately I noticed the poor state of the roads, which renders them practically impassable, and contributes to the immense poverty blighting this western region of Kenya. Commerce is impaired when people cannot connect directly to other towns and cities. As a result, these communities struggle to thrive economically and fail to attract schoolteachers, health workers, investors, and others who would contribute to the development of the community. Another thing I noticed was the extreme dryness of the climate. The Pokot people live in a constant swirl of dirt, dust, and sand, interrupted only for three months each year by a flash of torrential rains.

We finally arrived at our destination, an Action Against Hunger Outreach Center in Kitelarengan in the northern part of the county. We got out of the truck and, after the bumpy ride, took our first chance to down a few gulps of water before turning to meet a crowd of women and children, gathered in the bit of shade to be found under a few sparse trees.

Outside the car, I wiped the dirt off of my glasses and walked hesitantly toward the group. Today, our team brought us to meet with one of the many Mother-to-Mother Support Groups we run for women we serve throughout the county. Mother groups serve as a critical aspect of our approach to long-term sustainability for many of our programs. That is, by helping communities to form various groups and committees who take ownership of managing the resources and tools we share, we find dramatically increased rates of longer-term benefits.

I looked at the faces of the women and children assembled on the worn blankets, noting the apparent wear of labored lives. The babies and children seemed quiet and the grandmothers made the most noise, smiling and singing, perhaps more accustomed to the presence of outsiders.

Everline Atwala, who is a Community Health Extension Worker at the Tiinei Community Ministry of Heath, spoke to the women in local tongue, Pokot, and our nutrition officer, Jedidah Ngui, translated for me and the other visitors. I stood near the edge, trying not to seem awkward or to stare at the children’s bare feet, tattered clothing, dirty fingernails, and dirt-stained water cans, while at the same time taking a few pictures and smiling to convey my friendly intentions. Jedidah explained the purpose of our visit, the fact that my colleagues and I had come from the U.S. where we work to raise money to support water and nutrition programs, including groups such as this one. I could tell from the relaxation of expressions and happy noises that the women were becoming aware that we the visitors were on hand to help out, that we are in fact part of the team that helps bring these programs to life.

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