For UNICEF Moms, Helping the World's Children Is All in the Family

May 11, 2018

 

Mothers know best: For many UNICEF partners, being parents themselves helps fuel their passion for improving the lives of vulnerable children around the world. 

Folk wisdom says that becoming a mother means learning to live with your heart outside your body. So it should come as no surprise that so many mothers' hearts are so moved by the needs of children growing up amidst poverty, conflict and natural disasters. Mothers know all too well that every baby and child deserves a safe and loving home, good medical care, healthy food to eat, safe water to drink, a place to play and learn, a chance to dream and grow.

For Mother's Day, we reached out to some members of the UNICEF family to ask them how their personal experience as parents and their work in the field has deepened their commitment to helping vulnerable children around the world. Here's what they had to say:

Donia Quon, mother of newborn Sosha Mei

On a UNICEF field visit to South Africa before her daughter, Sosha Mei, was born, UNICEF Next Generation Assistant Director Donia Quon visited a UNICEF-supported Early Childhood Development center in Johannesburg. © UNICEF USA

"Before I even went into labor, I had support from every direction. My husband/partner, the nurses and doctors at the hospital who safely helped deliver our healthy girl, the support network of remarkable friends and family who have given so much to us during this time. I like to think I'm strong and can handle a lot on my own, but this is not one of those times. Accepting the help, love and support from our circle has gotten us through these early days. If I step away from my own birth story to think of the thousands of women who give birth under different circumstances, the darkness resurfaces. 

I've seen firsthand the remarkable lengths UNICEF will go to provide lifesaving interventions for women and children in the most vulnerable of circumstances.

"Through my work with UNICEF, I've met pregnant women and new mothers around the world whose support systems pale in comparison. I've seen firsthand the remarkable lengths UNICEF will go to provide lifesaving interventions for women and children in the most vulnerable of circumstances. My wish for Mother's Day is that they, too, can be surrounded by the love, joy and safety I have experienced." 

Jennifer Paradis Behle, mother of five

Jennifer Paradis Behle, a member of UNICEF USA's Northeast Regional Board, was inspired by the Syrian refugees she met in the Zaatari refugee camp on a UNICEF field visit to Jordan in 2017. © Tim Behle

"I met Tamam and her family in the Zaatari refugee camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border. In Damascus, her husband, Moussa, was a government employee; now he is a part-time farmer, and a lucky one since there are few available job permits for refugees in Jordan. Tamam cried as she recalled giving birth to her youngest child so far away from her mother: 'Our hope is just to go back to Syria. To go back to our families, to our land, to our soil, to our people. We are happy to go back and start from zero again.'

What Tim and I want for our kids is the same as what these parents and virtually every parent around the world want for their kids — that they be safe, thrive and have a future.

"As I sat next to Tamam, our legs touching while grief spilled out of her in a torrent, it struck me that she is the reason I flew halfway around the world. She's the mother I watched on CNN crossing the Balkans with her babies in the late '90s when I was pregnant with my second child and wondering if I could be that strong. She's the mother in Aleppo I saw on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, holding her child who was dead from starvation. She's the mother who has been calling to me to bear witness to the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

"What Tim and I want for our kids is the same as what these parents and virtually every parent around the world want for their kids — that they be safe, thrive and have a future. These are no longer people on CNN for us. We know their names, their faces, their stories and their dreams. These are our children. We've come home to develop opportunities that will powerfully move their lives forward."

Carlton DeWoody, father of Jackson, 4, Ginger Lew, 2, and Gray, 6 weeks

UNICEF Next Generation Los Angeles Steering Committee member Carlton DeWoody and his wife Sarah DeWoody (pregnant with baby Gray) at home with Ginger Lew and Jackson. © Felix Kunze

"Watching my wife, Sarah, become a mother has been one of the great privileges of my life. The transformation happens on so many levels physically, mentally and emotionally. Triggered by instinct and hormones, a woman's body and mind are achieving the impossible... it is pure magic. The job of their partner is easy. All we have to do is love and respect them, support and protect them, and hang out and raise these new little people.

Sarah and I will never hesitate to raise money and awareness for UNICEF and the magic it serves and protects. 

"During our UNICEF field visit to South Africa, it was clear that this mother magic is universal. But around the world, more often than not, mothers are not supported. It is for this single reason that the programmatic support for children and their mothers that UNICEF develops, funds and organizes is so important. UNICEF supplements the lack of resources that we have been so blessed to have. And that is why Sarah and I will never hesitate to raise money and awareness for UNICEF and the magic that it serves and protects." 

Emily Griset, mother of Genevieve, 3, and Teddy, 1

On a UNICEF field visit to Vietnam, UNICEF Next Generation Founder's Circle member Emily Griset made some new friends at a UNICEF-supported children's shelter in Ho Chi Minh City. © UNICEF USA

"In the field with UNICEF, I was awed by the strength of each and every mother I met — from the new moms at the hospital learning the power of breastfeeding to the mother whose young daughter was growing up with the genetic effects of Agent Orange, to the mother of a teenager who committed a minor crime and was given a second chance through job training.

I am humbled and honored to support UNICEF, which works tirelessly to support these mothers and others like them around the globe.

"Now, being a mother myself, I can honestly say that these women are among my biggest inspirations. I am humbled and honored to support UNICEF, which works tirelessly to support these mothers and others like them around the globe." 

Purvi Padia, mother of Rehan, 9, and Reven, 6

UNICEF Next Generation Founder's Circle member and UNICEF USA New York Regional Board member Purvi Padia, shown here with her children, Rehan (left) and Reven, worked with UNICEF to implement Project Lion, a holistic three-year program to protect children living in institutions in India. © Leshem Loft

"When you become a mother, you really see firsthand how vulnerable and innocent children are, and it's impossible not to see the gravity of the fact that so many children around the world have no support system. I think about how much my children need me and need a community of love and strength and guidance to have a shot at life. So many children in developing countries don't even have a sliver of that. So I started Project Lion.

I think about how much my children need me and need a community of love and strength and guidance to have a shot at life. So many children in developing countries don't even have a sliver of that.

"In its first three years, Project Lion and UNICEF India will serve 200,000 Indian orphans to ensure they have legal paperwork, adequate nutrition, basic healthcare and access to education. It will also work to get children out of institutionalized care and into longterm family care and will create alternative models for nontraditional family care with a child-centered approach. I consider myself so fortunate to be in a position to make a real difference in the future of India's most vulnerable children and to empower them to rewrite their futures."

Jenna Bush Hager, mother of Mila, 5, and Poppy Louise, 2 

Left: Former First Lady Laura Bush with her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Right: Henry Hager, Founding Chair of UNICEF Next Generation Jenna Bush Hager, Poppy Louise, former President George W. Bush, Laura Bush and Mila. © JBH Archives

"I come from a long line of strong women. My mom has the unbelievable gift of quiet grace. After college, I moved to Latin America to intern for UNICEF, where I met mothers and children who taught me to never take a single day for granted. My mother and those mothers taught me how to be a mom. Now I appreciate the importance of giving back and showing compassion even more since I had my own precious daughters, Mila and Poppy Louise.  

No mother should ever have to wonder if her child will have a future.

"I am now part of a global club, a moms' club, with an inherent mission: wanting the best for our children, always, no matter where they are born, where they live. As a member of this club, I thank my mother and grandmothers for showing me the way. I try to raise strong girls who understand that the luck of their birth holds a great responsibility to make change and to be a voice for those without one.

"I remember meeting a mother in Guatemala when I traveled with UNICEF. I asked her what she hoped for her son's future, and she started to cry. She said no one had ever asked her that before. Her wish was for him to have a future. It broke my heart. Every mom should have big dreams for her kids. No mother should ever have to wonder if her child will have a future."

Bettina Barrow, mother of India, 2

Bettina Barrow, Founding Co-Chair of the UNICEF Next Generation Los Angeles Steering Committee, met with mothers and community health workers in Ethiopia when she traveled there on a field visit. © UNICEF USA

"I will never forget the way I felt when I walked into the neonatology unit at the Yekatit 12 hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There were empty beds next to some of the mothers in the postpartum area, empty not because the babies were elsewhere in the hospital, but because they had died shortly after birth.

When I think about the fact that the neonatal intensive care unit saved my daughter, I want to make sure that other babies around the world do not die needlessly from childbirth-related issues.

"Becoming a mother profoundly deepened my connection to those mothers at the hospital in Addis. My own baby was whisked away from me because she wasn't breathing well. I was inconsolable. She was monitored constantly and she had all the advantages that modern medicine and technology could provide. When I think about the fact that the neonatal intensive care unit saved my daughter, I want to make sure that other babies around the world do not die needlessly from childbirth-related issues. I wish every child had access to that kind of medicine, technology and support, and I will keep working to make that a reality." 

This Mother's Day, make your mother proud by helping UNICEF support and protect the world's most vulnerable children. 

 

Help mothers and babies

 

Give the Moms in your life a gift that gives back: Shop UNICEF Market's Inspired Gifts.  

Read more about Jennifer Paradis Behle's UNICEF field visit to Jordan.

Top photo: Mothers wait with their newborns at the UNICEF-supported maternity health center in the village of Nassian in Côte d'Ivoire in 2017. The babies will receive basic vaccinations to protect them against yellow fever, rotavirus, measles, influenza, tetanus, hepatitis B and tuberculosis. The mothers will be given mosquito nets to keep their families safe from insect-borne diseases. In Côte d'Ivoire, one child out of 10 dies before the age of 5. The vast majority of those deaths are caused by easily preventable and curable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea. © UNICEF/UN061403/Dejongh