By Gustavo Aybar, communications field liaison coordinator
One of the smartest ways to help a child is to invest in a mom.
That was a central message at our third event in the Unbound Global Insight Series, which brought program coordinators Vincent Murmu from India and Rose Muiruri from Tanzania to share their perspectives as frontline staff.
The April 25 event at our Kansas City headquarters drew 193 people, while more than 2,500 online users participated via Facebook Live. The evening included presentations by each guest speaker, a question-and-answer portion and a “reverse” Q&A, in which the speakers had a chance to ask questions of the audience.
The coordinators’ accounts illustrated the benefits of entrusting the mothers of sponsored children to make program decisions. These women develop, sharpen and then utilize essential life skills to sustain their families, and they have endured and overcome obstacles that many would describe as insurmountable.
Murmu, coordinator of Unbound’s Dumka program in northeast India, has served families through the organization for more than 14 years. He’s worked as a counselor and social worker, and has provided advocacy or other services to families. He’s served in his current role of coordinator since 2010. The Dumka program includes more than 1,300 beneficiaries served through 13 local Unbound offices.
One of the innovations implemented on a small scale is a literacy program for mothers.
“Ninety-eight percent of mothers in Dumka are illiterate,” Murmu said.
As the on-the-ground expert, Murmu explained how teaching mothers to read and write has evolved into a true partnership among participants. The adult literacy program has been in effect for a year. The mothers receive tutoring from high school or college students, many of whom are the first in their families to achieve that level of education.
Many families supported by the Unbound coordinating office live near Murmu’s home village. His parents were illiterate, and he dropped out of school in the ninth grade because his family couldn’t afford school fees.
“And this is the case of most of our children, so the illiteracy leads to many other problems,” he said.
As a youth, Murmu sought help from local priests and eventually got his school fees covered by one of them, which allowed him to continue his education.
Murmu shared photos of Unbound scholarship students guiding a group of mothers in reading and writing. He also shared some of the challenges families face, such as alcoholism, child marriages and migration, among others. These challenges are harder to overcome without the ability to read or write.
The literacy program has accelerated in the past year by involving the students, who help out as part of the scholarship program’s community service component.
“We invest in the students and in turn they invest in the mothers, with the hope that mothers will be able to invest in many, many children,” he said. “We believe that mothers, even at this older age, they can learn and guide their own children.”
The goal is for the program to have a wider reach, so other mothers may benefit. One small, yet significant outcome has been the enhanced ability of mothers to conduct their personal banking. Before, they endorsed documents by using their thumbprint; now they can sign their names.
Sponsor Carole Surber attended the event and shared her reasons for sponsoring.
“You know, we can’t change the world but we could change the life of a child,” she said.
Her response connected directly with Unbound’s program approach and with Murmu’s comments.
The ability to pass on newfound knowledge is one of Unbound’s program tenets, and providing the youth with opportunities to teach ensures they develop leadership skills and boosts their confidence and self-esteem. This is also true for the mothers and reflects in how they are now beginning to teach each other to read.
In concluding his portion of the program, Murmu talked about a picture of one mother, with an enormous smile brightening her face and a notebook directly in front of her.
“With her expression, she must be saying, ‘I’m not illiterate anymore; I can read and write,’” Murmu said.
Murmu and fellow coordinator Muiruri, of Unbound’s Dar es Salaam program, challenged misconceptions that lead to negative portrayals of women and the poor as unwilling or incapable of providing for themselves and their families.
Muiruri captivated the room with her compelling stories of mothers who do what they can to support their families. From selling cassava and other vegetables door-to-door or breaking rocks for use in construction, supporting their families is their priority.
“Although [the mothers] may lack skills or capital or both, they do not just sit and whine about that,” Muiruri said. “They do whatever they can, however small it may be.”
The Dar es Salaam program has close to 3,000 beneficiaries, including sponsored children, youth and elders.
Along with other devastating effects of poverty, the lack of opportunities afforded to these communities has brought about heightened health concerns and an immediate need to learn new skills. The formation of an entrepreneurship training implemented by the Dar es Salaam program has brought renewed hope, along with the possibility to gain the skills and capital to become self-reliant.
“As Unbound we don’t just look at the challenge, we ask mothers what skills would you want to be trained [in],” Muiruri said.
The training is individualized. Some mothers choose to focus on entrepreneurial strategies, while others focus on how to raise animals, make and sell goods, or provide needed services in the community. The mothers learn simple bookkeeping and auditing skills, along with the value of building savings. In their mothers groups, they contribute about a dollar a month to a group savings, which is matched by Unbound. The mothers are then able to request a loan for their own income-generating venture.
Muiruri shared the story of Anna, a widow and mother of three children who is living with HIV and developed tuberculosis and other health problems in six-months breaking rocks for a living. Anna is now a vegetable vendor, nets a profit of $5 to $7 per day and plans to expand her business.
Both coordinators expressed their belief that families often don’t have a vision outside of their current reality, and shared how the mothers possess the capacity to solve their own problems. The guidance and stability Unbound offers helps mothers hope and think beyond their day-to-day existence. Efforts and programs such as those discussed by Muiruri and Murmu thrive because they are grounded in that belief. In their daily walk with our families and as they listen to mothers’ voices, the coordinators exemplify Unbound values and beliefs and show us how extensive investment in mothers results in the success of families.
Miss the event? Watch it now via our Facebook page!