Charity Awesomeness: The Mothers’ Day Movement

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I’m getting bombarded – deluged, really – with emails featuring ads for Mother’s Day gifts. Shoes! Cosmetics! Clothes! Math is hard!

Until a few years ago, I struggled to find a good gift for my mom. She’s not particularly into shoes, cosmetics, or clothes – and I could only buy her so much perfume before she ran out of surface area on her dresser.

Around the same time that I was running out of ideas, I heard about the Mothers’ Day Movement. It’s based on a column written by Nick Kristof – one of the authors of my favorite book, Half the Sky – for Mother’s Day 2010, in which he wrote:

Let’s think about moving the apostrophe so that it becomes not just Mother’s Day, honoring a single mother, but Mothers’ Day — an occasion to try to help other mothers around the globe as well.

A group of women took this idea to heart, and they created the Mothers’ Day Movement: a non-profit organization which, each year in honor of Mother’s Day, raises money to support a 501c-3 charity whose mission is to improve the lives of women and children. For every dollar in Mother’s Day donations, they match the amount and give the net sum to the selected charity.

They started their campaign two years ago, and Brandon and I were incredibly excited to donate to the 2011 campaign in honor of our awesome moms. We did the same thing last year for the 2012 campaign, and I have to admit: the 2012 and 2013 selected charities make me especially happy, since I’m fascinated by the issue of maternal and infant health in developing countries.

Maternal and Infant Health
Image Source: Doctors Without Borders (


This year’s Mothers’ Day Movement campaign will raise money for the Fistula Foundation, a nonprofit that helps give women new lives by repairing obstetric fistulas.

Now, to back up the truck for a second, we should first talk about what a fistula is (and as a warning, this is pretty gross stuff!): one of the most serious of childbirth injuries, fistulas occur when a woman has an obstructed labor — in other words, the birth canal isn’t big enough for the baby to pass through.  During labor, the baby’s head repeatedly pushes down on the mother’s pelvic bone during each contraction, which then causes a lack of blood flow to the soft tissue in the area.

The blood-deprived soft tissue then dies, leaving the woman with a hole between the birth canal and either her bladder or her rectum (sometimes both).  Women with fistulas are permanently disabled and are unable to hold their urine or bowel contents.

Because of this, they are often rejected entirely by their husbands and families.  In many cases, women with fistulas are left in the wilderness to die.  

Take, for example, the story of Mahabouba, who had lost her baby due to obstructed labor and developed a fistula (excerpted from Half the Sky):

“People said it was a curse,” Mahabouba recalled. “They said, ‘If you’re cursed, you shouldn’t stay here. You should leave.’” Mahabouba’s uncle wanted to help her, but his wife feared that helping someone cursed by God would be sacrilegious. She urged her husband to take Mahabouba outside the village and leave the girl to be eaten by wild animals. He was torn. He gave Mahabouba food and water, but he also allowed the villagers to move her into a hut at the edge of the village.

“Then they took the door off,” she added matter-of-factly, “so that the hyenas would get me.” Sure enough, after darkness fell the hyenas came. Mahabouba couldn’t move her legs, but she held a stick in her hand and waved it frantically at the hyenas, shouting at them. All night long, the hyenas circled her; all night long, Mahabouba fended them off.

She was fourteen years old.

This is routine treatment for women in the developing world who are saddled with obstetric fistulas through no fault of their own.

Despite the severity of the injuries caused by fistulas, they’re fairly easy to repair: $450 can cover the costs of a fistula repair surgery and post-op care.  

The Fistula Foundation – which received a four-star ranking (the highest possible rating) from Charity Navigator – provides funding to hospitals in the developing world where fistula repair surgeries are performed by partnering with productive, respected, and effective local hospitals and surgeons.

You can learn more about how the Foundation finds ways to blow through all the obstacles to repair surgeries in the developing world here.

So, while our lovely moms surely appreciate flowers and shoes, if you think your mom would get a kick out of knowing that you’ve done something unique, meaningful, and helpful in her honor, check out the Mothers’ Day Movement – and let’s work to make the world a better place for all the moms out there.