HN 20 | Stronger Together: Empowering mothers, saving children


"Before FH [came] we didn’t have a place to learn, and now we gather every Thursday and have someone to teach us. We cannot just keep the training to ourselves, but we must go out and share it with other mothers. There is no stress now for mothers." - Vertus Marie Yoleine, Leader Mother

The moment a woman becomes a mother, her entire orientation shifts. Suddenly, she is responsible for the sustaining of another human life. It is a sacred trust, an ancient practice, an unparalleled challenge. 

Imagine the fear that could so easily overwhelm if you found yourself pregnant only to realize that you had no idea how to take care of your baby. Imagine there is no library full of baby books, no partner to help you weather these uncharted waters. 

Thousands of women in Haiti daily face this frightening scenario. That’s why Food for the Hungry (FH) is training up Leader Mothers in the community of Cachiman. These bold women are changing the culture of isolation, fear, and powerlessness, into a culture of solidarity, confidence, and knowledge. 

FH Canada Director of Philanthropy, Carissa Youssef, visited a group of Leader Mothers in 2016. After her return from Haiti, we sat down with her to find out just what kind of impact these women are having. 

“[When I was in Haiti] it struck me how fortunate we are in Canada to have access to all the health information we need. The moment a woman even considers getting pregnant, everyone is there to give her advice - doctors, nurses, friends, our mothers, even Google - we get so much advice it can be a little overwhelming! But in many communities, best practices on child-raising simply aren’t passed down, which results in real fear for a lot of these young women.

“So many moms don't have the education for how to care for their baby during pregnancy and those early years. It’s natural to have kids, but isn’t actually natural to know how to raise kids, no matter how much you love them.”

Leader Mothers invite other moms and neighbours to regular Cascade Group meetings to share health lessons, values lessons, and mothering advice. 

Many mothers in Haiti are not aware of what causes their children’s illnesses, or equipped to help them when they get sick. For example, it’s common in Haiti for family livestock to come into the home, causing unsanitary conditions for small children. Many mothers also don’t know that it’s best for their baby to only have breast milk until six months, leading to malnutrition in young children. 

Leader Mothers tackle practices like these, and many others, in Cascade Group meetings. They take the inexperience, the no-fault ignorance of other moms and transform it into life-saving knowledge.

Every Thursday, the local FH Health Specialist, Thamarre Jean Pierre, visits the Leader Mother group in Cachiman to work through a flip chart featuring visuals that teach that week’s health lesson. The practical advice she shares is complemented with emotional, social, and spiritual applications. Cascade groups seek to nurture every part of a woman’s health, not just her physical needs. 

“Leader Mothers make a lonely mom feel and know and have faith that SHE is the best mom for her children, that God has put her there for her kids.” Carissa speaks from her heart, “As a mom, myself, I can see how any mother needs to hear and believe that.” 

The role of FH staff and Leader Mothers is to walk alongside these overwhelmed moms, with all the odds stacked against them, and to equip them to be the best mothers they can be. That becomes especially meaningful when you consider the array of women who attend the meetings - teens, grandmas, pretty much all female neighbours. “I asked why there were so many of the community’s teens at the meeting and found out that most of them were already mothers. 

"Evidently, it’s very common for girls to become mothers before they’re married, and long before they finish school.” 

This poses a significant challenge to FH staff and Leader Mothers in the community. How do they gain community support to change a normalized practice that causes so much damage to young women? While practical family planning is taught in the groups, at the heart of these unplanned pregnancies is a skewed values system. “Ultimately, it’s not stand alone health lessons that change behaviour, but a spiritual transformation that comes through relationship,” 

Carissa passionately interjects. “Girls have to know they deserve to finish school and have healthy families because they have intrinsic value from God." 

To get their messages across to such a diverse group of women, Leader Mothers are quite creative. In addition to colour flip charts, the women teach through song, role playing, and skits. “I thoroughly enjoyed the heart they put into it! Their love for their jobs and their community was definitely evident.” In addition, the women often wear T-shirts that advertise health tips on the back - they’re serious about these messages getting out!

Equipped with practical knowledge that has the power to prevent illnesses, curb infant mortality, and increase child growth, these Leader Mothers are now experts in their community. “They have a role with meaning and honour, and they take so much pride in being community leaders.” 

“It was their commitment to each other that impressed me most,” Carissa reflects. 

“It’s one thing to say you support mothers, it’s entirely another to actually walk with a young mother, week after week, offering love and support in spite of her situation. That’s genuinely transformative.”




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Food for the Hungry: HN 20 | Stronger Together: Empowering mothers, saving children
HN 20 | Stronger Together: Empowering mothers, saving children
Food for the Hungry
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