© UNICEF/UN063439/Schermbrucker

The long walk

Mentor mothers support and empower pregnant women in protecting their babies from HIV infection and staying healthy.

May 12, 2017 · 4 min read

It was a long walk home for Maria on that day in Malawi in February 2011. She had been trying for two years to become pregnant, and the nurse at the clinic had just confirmed that she was indeed pregnant with her first child! But the nurse also explained that she was HIV positive, and needed to take steps to protect her unborn child from becoming HIV positive, and for her own health.

© UNICEF/UN063448/Schermbrucker

Every step home from the clinic that day felt like a thousand miles as she thought about how to tell her husband, Davis. To her surprise, he was very supportive and even went to be tested for HIV. Maria and Davis outside their home in Gunde village.

© UNICEF/UN063444/Schermbrucker

Davis’ support was invaluable, but Maria was still depressed. A health worker encouraged her to go to the clinic and meet mentor mothers who help women live positively with HIV. A group of pregnant women at the Bvumbe Health Centre in Blantyre receiving a health talk from a mentor mother.

© UNICEF/UN063450/Schermbrucker

“The training with Mothers2Mothers changed my life and helped me to see how it was possible to live with hope.”

Maria became a mentor mother herself.

“I am able to feed my family. There is nothing we lack. I am busy building another house, I have saved for some iron sheets and I have managed to mould 1500 bricks,” said Maria.

© UNICEF/UN063446/Schermbrucker

Maria gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and four years later to a girl.

“When I got the results that my babies were HIV-negative, I immediately called all my relatives sharing with them the truth that although I was HIV-positive, my children were born negative,” she said.

Maria with Joyous, 6, and Eliza, 2, at home.

© UNICEF/UN063440/Schermbrucker

As a mentor mother Maria hopes to change the lives of women who face the same challenges she did six years ago. Most significantly, she hopes to show, through her own journey, that children can be born free of HIV. (Right) Maria at the Bvumbwe Health Centre in Blantyre.

© UNICEF/UN063442/Schermbrucker

“It is often easier for women and especially adolescents, to open up to the mentor mothers rather than to the clinic staff, and even their own families. The mentor mothers become mothers to all the women they meet,” Mothers2Mothers’ Jessie Kaume says.

Maria speaks with a pregnant mother at the health centre.

© UNICEF/UN063445/Schermbrucker

Maria and Joyous smile as Eliza tries her hand at cooking at home. In Malawi, the prevention of transmission of HIV from mother to child is implemented at clinic level. The program has reduced the number of babies being born with HIV from 6% in 2014 to 4.5% in 2015 by the time they are 24 months old.

© UNICEF/UN063449/Schermbrucker

Maria values her role as mother to both the women she meets at such vulnerable times in their lives, as well as to her own children. She loves being a mother. Eliza giggles in the lap of her mother on a grass mat at their home.

© UNICEF/UN063441/Schermbrucker

“For fun we have a memory card that we have loaded with music which we put into the radio. We get together as a family in the lounge, and we listen to gospel music together. I also love to cook for my children, we sit together and eat and have fun as a family,” says Maria.

Davis leads his family in prayer while they listen to gospel music in their lounge.

© UNICEF/UN063447/Schermbrucker

“I am an empowered woman and I can do anything,” Maria says. “My hope for my children is that they would have long lives, benefit from a good education and learn to stand tall on their own feet.” Maria picks up Eliza outside their home.

Learn more about UNICEF’s work in Malawi.

UNICEF photography advocates for children through visual…


Written by


Photography and social change

Written by

UNICEF saves children’s lives, defends their rights, and helps them fulfill their potential. We never give up. UNICEF, for every child.

Photography and social change

UNICEF photography advocates for children through visual evidence and storytelling in support of their rights. UNICEF saves children's lives, defends their rights, and helps them fulfill their potential. We never give up. UNICEF, for every child.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade
A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store