A Mother’s Strength

A lesson on how mothers go the extra mile for their children

By Dan Pearson

September 30, 2021 | 40 Years 40 Lessons

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I travel to Unbound projects frequently, and my trips usually involve home visits. I randomly select a list of sponsored children and their families before I travel and visit each family in their homes. Those visits are one of the best parts of my job. 

Sometimes the families I select live in very remote areas, and that was the case on this trip to Guatemala.  

We stopped the truck when the road became impassable and stepped out into the brisk mountain air. As we stepped out of the pickup, I asked the local community worker how long the walk to the family’s home would be. He laughed and said “un buen rato” (a good while). We were surrounded by beautiful views on every side, so a walk in the mountains sounded nice. 

But the hiking was steeper and more tiring than I expected. After an hour, I asked a woman we passed on the trail how far it was to the family’s house. She turned in the general direction I was walking, pursed her lips in thought, and said, “not too far.” After two hours, I started getting hungry. After three hours, I started thinking about how we would have to retrace each step we were taking to return to the truck. 
The mothers in the Unbound program are the strongest people I’ve ever met. One of the reasons they’re strong is because they don’t have any other choice. Unjust systems and beliefs place a painfully heavy load on their backs.


A rugged path  

When we finally arrived at the family’s home, I gratefully accepted the coffee the sponsored child’s mother offered. I was especially grateful for the bench she nodded for me to sit on. She shared that she was a single mother. We talked about her family and their experience in the Unbound program. She told us about some of the challenges she faced trying to provide for her children with only a small plot of mountainous land to farm. 

I asked her what she had used the sponsorship benefit money to purchase. She listed off things like school fees, seeds for her farming and clothes for the kids. She nodded toward a simple armoire sitting inside the home and said she had purchased it with sponsorship funds. Before that the family had to keep their clothes in cardboard boxes stacked on the floor.  

A few minutes later during a pause in the conversation I stared at the armoire and thought about the hours of rugged hiking we had just completed. 

“How did the store manage to deliver the armoire?” I asked.  “Oh, there wasn’t a delivery. I carried it,” she said. 

“How did you carry that huge piece of furniture all the way here?”  “It wasn’t too difficult,” she said. “Each of the kids carried a drawer and I carried the frame.” 

Fighting for their children’s success 

Her response astonished me, but it shouldn’t have. I’ve heard similar stories in every country where we work. The mothers in the Unbound program are the strongest people I’ve ever met. One of the reasons they’re strong is because they don’t have any other choice. Unjust systems and beliefs place a painfully heavy load on their backs.  

Those systems and beliefs need to change, and while we work to change them we also need to honor these women. Their drive and persistence are heroic. Their wisdom and ingenuity are inspiring. And their joy is both infectious and beyond my ability to understand.  

The children in the Unbound program face more challenges than they can count. But for the vast majority of them, there is one thing they can count on. They know without doubt that the person who will fight for their success more than anyone else in the world is their mother. These strong, wise, joyful, and heroic women have been showing us what they are capable of for centuries. It’s long past time for more of us to get behind them and follow their lead.  

Photo 1: Mirriam has two sponsored children in college. She serves as an officer for her local Unbound savings and credit cooperative in Kenya and helps other mothers in the program take loans and start their own livelihood initiatives.  

Photo 2: Decideria is the mother of sponsored child Joel, left, and his siblings (from left) Josue, Yesika and Franz. They live in Bolivia. In addition to raising her children, Decideria runs a small store to supplement the family income.  

Photo 3: This Unbound mothers group in Chile formed “Breaking Destiny,” an outreach dedicated to keeping the children of the community safe and on the right path in life. Other women in the community have now joined them.

About the author:

Dan Pearson leads Unbound’s international programs department. He travels extensively to support and evaluate Unbound projects around the world. He’s lived and worked in South America, Europe, and Western and South Asia.