“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” ~Oprah Winfrey
We live on a planet plagued by crisis. War, hunger, disease, exploitation, racism, gun violence—these are just a few of the headlines presented, daily, on news outlets worldwide.
It’s seldom when we hear on our televisions, or read on our news tablets, of the crisis that I advocate on behalf of: the orphan crisis. This crisis has placed its grip on an estimated 17.8 million children around the globe: orphaned and vulnerable children in need of our care and attention. And, where there are orphaned and vulnerable children—there are also vulnerable and marginalized mothers.
The continent of Africa is geographically some ten-thousand miles away from where I live, in California. Yet, the very heart of Africa is snuggled next to me, and sleeping, as I write these words.
My daughter was once one of the 17.8 million orphaned children in the world. She was born in Ethiopia. In 2010, when she was 10-months old, I became her mother. There is no sweeter gift than being the woman that my girl calls Mommy. Through her zest for life, I have learned to expand the horizons of my own capabilities. My daughter sees no limits to what she can accomplish in her life—no boundaries on her dreams. Every girl, every woman, should feel just as free and empowered!
The truth is—they don’t.
Women and girls remain vulnerable in countless corners of the world. Mothers are crying, dying, exploited, exposed, marginalized and left with little choice but to orphan their children. The exploitation and discrimination of women and girls are directly impacting an ever-growing orphan crisis. If the numbers of desperate, abandoned, and orphaned children are on the increase, so too are the numbers of desperate, abandoned, and isolated mothers. The two are intricately interwoven.
Can the world community not recognize the ways in which it is diminishing millions of women, widows, and girls? Can it not clearly see how marginalizing mothers directly impacts the well-being of their children? Indeed, as Oprah so eloquently states, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” A society cannot evolve if it stays unwilling to change; if it refuses to look at its own self-inflicted wound.
Our life-givers, our nurturers, our women, our mothers, our girls—they are hurting.
Evolving beyond the orphan crisis will require each of us to stop ignoring its root cause: vulnerable women, mothers, and widows who have been marginalized due to challenges that are impossible to overcome alone. Challenges like poverty, sickness, unfair cultural practices, bias, exploitation, and lack of education.
Every woman—no matter her nationality, religion, race, socio-economic level, or education level—every woman deserves the chance to empower her life and the lives of those around her.
A global report, in 2015, by World’s Women showed that two-thirds of the worlds illiterate adults are women. That equates to 496-million women around the world who cannot read. In addition, globally, there are an estimated 31-million girls of primary school age who are not in education. How do we ever reach gender equality, how can we make a significant shift in the orphan crisis, if women continue to make up more than half of the illiterate population in all regions of the world, and millions of girls are not being offered an education?
An article in The Guardian puts the world to a challenge, “gender equality and women’s empowerment need to be front and centre of efforts to combat poverty and tackle inequality and climate change by 2030.”
It is essential that we provide for the orphaned child. It is equally essential that we come alongside and provide for vulnerable women, wherever they may be. Until we help women, widows, mothers, and girls to rise over their challenges toward a way of promise and sustainability—both personally and professionally—there will continue to exist gaping disparity and an increase in the need for orphan care. A holistic approach to the orphan crisis is how we become what we need to be: a society that cares for every vulnerable soul. A world community that honors, educates, and lifts up all women, mothers, and girls.
I don’t have information about my daughter’s birth mother. I don’t know her story. I don’t know of the challenges that she faced that caused my girl to be orphaned. I only know that I am raising a daughter who embraces her education, loves to read, is filled with integrity, strength, and compassion. Every moment of my mothering I do in honor of the woman who gave my daughter life. She is with us every second of every day—in our hearts and in our prayers.
And, together Mama, we will rise.