This Mother’s Day we want to tell you three stories that keep the original spirit of Mother’s Day alive – justice, protecting their children, and unity. It’s a far cry from the fancy brunches and greeting cards that fill in for Mother’s Day now and instead returns to the political history of the holiday: of women working in the 1850s and 1860s to improve sanitary conditions, lower infant mortality, and unite a once-divided country through pacifism after the Civil War when the idea of Mother’s Day first came about.
The mothers whose stories are below – Khaldeya, Maria and Tamaria – embody the spirit of Mother’s Day. Each of these women transformed their lives, and their communities as a result of their connection to movement organizations (all supported by Grassroots International).
Khaldeya lives in the Gaza Strip about a 10-minute drive from Gaza City. During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli troops stormed into her yard. When the soldiers came, Khaldeya, her husband and her seven children fled with only the clothes on their backs to her parents’ home. Her house was reduced to rubble. Her neighbor’s home, riddled with quarter-sized holes from the intense shelling, is still standing but uninhabitable.
Slowly Khaldeya has been rebuilding her demolished home. Because her husband has been unable to work for years, she struggled to put food on the table for her seven children. After Khaldeya saw her neighbor’s garden filled with vegetables, she saw an opportunity to end her family’s hunger and joined the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees’ (PARC) urban agriculture project.
After hard work preparing land that had sat idle near her home and with training from PARC, Khaldeya started growing onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and herbs. She built a small chicken coop between the main garden and the smaller plot she uses to test out new crops.
And her family is not the only one that benefits either. “Instead of letting our vegetables spoil, I share them with my neighbors, especially those in need,” she said. She sells any remaining vegetables in the market, supplementing the only other family income which comes from her eldest son, who is a farm worker. Every bit helps.
Maria lives in the community of El Estribo, Honduras. Most of the men in her village left to find work in the United States and Mexico and most have never returned. Maria’s husband left when she was pregnant with their youngest child. “I am mother and father for my children,” said Maria.
As a single mother of seven, Maria is always looking for work so she can feed her family. Usually she finds temporary, backbreaking work for wealthy landowners far from her home and family. Her last job was working 11-hour days in a melon field. After laboring in the field, she worked in a warehouse washing fruit or cleaning the facility.Maria joined a group of approximately 20 peasant women that decided they needed their own land to provide for their families. They received training from the Via Campesina’s Women’s Regional Commission.
After occupying one piece of unused land, Maria and the other women watched as the police demolished the crops they had planted to feed their families and burn down the homes they built. But they refused to give up. “We are poor and need land. And so far we haven’t accomplished our goal. That’s why we will continue fighting for land,” said Maria.
Tamarai’s husband died in an accident when he was climbing a tree to pluck leaves to feed to their goats and cow. The mother-of-three inherited 2.5 acres of land after her husband’s death. Tamarai and her sisters, who are also widows, are all small farmers.
Over 80 percent of women in rural India work in agriculture and although women, like Tamarai, are the backbone of agricultural production, they are not formally recognized as full-fledged farmer, but rather as “farm laborers,” with the tasks they perform put in the category of “unskilled labor.” Without formal recognition as farmers, women like Tamarai don’t have access to credit, compensation and relief benefits offered by the governments that their male counterparts receive.
So Tamarai started attending conferences and ecological farming trainings hosted by the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, which she has been able to put into practice on her land. She learned about seed banking, water conservation and other ecologically sustainable farming practices that have helped her make the land more productive in the face of a harsh climate. On her land she has cultivated millet, a variety of mung beans, rice, and sugarcane. She is also raising goats and cows whose manure she uses to fertilize the crops.
Just as vital, the Collective has organized Tamarai and other women to challenge discriminatory laws.