A Quiet Force in Battling Hunger

Mothers’ Union members in Zambia help launch the Episcopal Relief & Development NetsforLife® program partnership for malaria prevention. Photo courtesy of Harvey Wang.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am inspired to share the story of a group of women who I believe are unsung heroes—or as the women in our office would say, “she-roes”—in the fight against hunger.

The Mothers’ Union is an Anglican organization begun in Britain in 1876 by Mary Sumner. Inspired by the birth of her daughter’s first child, Mary established a society based on prayer that would support women with their responsibilities as mothers. Over the next few decades, Mary’s connections in the Anglican Communion led to the rapid spread of Mothers’ Union branches nationally, across Britain and abroad. As branches multiplied globally, members became increasingly aware of the needs of families in developing countries. In 1936, the first funds were granted to address those needs through development work. Today, the Mothers’ Union has 3.6 million members worldwide, most of whom live in developing countries.

When many people in the U.S. think about fighting poverty in developing countries, they picture the United Nations or large international charities going in with shiploads of food. They probably have never heard of the Mothers’ Union. Yet this organization’s ongoing presence worldwide—indeed, as part of the very fabric of communities—is a major force in reducing poverty. Its quiet and diligent work is enabling women to help themselves and their families, which is vital in order to ensure truly sustainable development.

Episcopal Relief & Development is privileged to partner with Mothers’ Union branches in a number of countries. This partnership supports women in a number of ways: teaching sustainable farming techniques to help them in improving food supply; making micro loans for the purchase of goats, chickens or other farm animals to enable them to increase their income; providing malaria nets and training in how to prevent the disease; and more.

This partnership has made a world of difference for Bertha and her husband, who live in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi. The couple cares for ten children, five of their own and five who lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Bertha and her husband struggled to feed, clothe and school their large family on a modest income.

Each week, Bertha attends local Mothers’ Union meetings. Many of her fellow members face challenges similar to hers, and the women follow their weekly Bible study with candid discussion about the issues affecting their families. Through these meetings, the Mothers’ Union group came to a decision to ask for help. Working in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, they began receiving training in farming methods suited to the local terrain.

Bertha used her training to transform her family’s steep, rocky yard into a productive garden. She learned to terrace and mulch the land, and began composting household waste for fertilizer. She also began rotating her planting to improve the soil’s fertility. Bertha’s newfound knowledge has made an incredible difference for her family. She now grows enough maize and vegetables to feed the entire family—with surplus left over to sell at the market. The extra income helps her pay for the children’s school fees. The couple no longer struggle to care for the family. And Bertha is an inspiration to other Mothers’ Union members and neighbors, who are learning from her example.

This Sunday, as you think about and spend time with your own mother or other special women in your life, please remember to pray for mothers like Bertha who are in need. And pray for the Mothers’ Union as they continue to strengthen and empower women around the world to care for their families and communities.

Happy Mother’s Day!