My biggest fear about going to rural Guatemala with Save the Children was I would take one look at all those beautiful Guatemalan mothers and children and start to cry. I was right.
But my tears weren't fueled by pity so much as they were fueled by hope. Just two days of following trained volunteers around from door to door, clinic to clinic, opened my eyes to just how much can happen when people make an effort to help each other.
But I also cried tears of empathy. Because, with every new mother we visited, there in her simple dark home with dirt or cement floor, infant in her arms, often surrounded by her older children, or younger siblings, and little else, it became more clear that those mothers were just like me. And I was just like them.
Motherhood can do that to you. One moment you are a girl, a young woman, doing everything you can to express your individuality, the next you have a baby and suddenly life is about solidarity. And every mother you meet eyes with is another sister who knows what you know, feels what you feel, about the miracles and the struggles of being a giver of life.
And while the challenges I face may have no obvious comparison to the challenges a mother in a developing country faces, there is still a connection, a universal knowing that our primary concern is nurturing our children, assuring their survival, seeing them thrive.
I watched these Guatemalan mothers, so young and shy, hand over their babies to visiting health educators to be weighed and examined, checking for signs of malnutrition and or pneumonia.
I watched a whole community of moms spend their morning at a mobile health clinic, waiting to have their toddlers weighed and vaccinated. The sounds of children playing, laughing, and, yes, wailing from the indignity of stinging needles, was the same as any health clinic, only the waiting room was outside, with no magazines, surrounded by gorgeous mountains on all sides.
We stopped in a village called Media Luna, where I stood in the kitchen of a community leader, trained by Save the Children, to observe a nutritional education program. They were trying a new recipe, one that introduced greens and soy protein into their diets. (The rate of chronic malnutrition can be as high as 80 percent in rural Guatemalan children.)
And the moms were eager to learn, all gathered in this warm dark kitchen, babies on their backs, chopping , sauteeing, making and cooking corn tortillas.
When the meal was ready, the mothers all sat down in chairs to share food with their children. They also shared the food with us, the strange western women, dressed like men in pants and raincoats, all carrying cameras.
And before we left, some of the mothers, with the help of a translator, expressed their gratitude to Save the Children, and all the people who give their time and money to help them feed and care for their children.
The tears that came to my eyes then, felt perfectly appropriate.
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Million Moms Challenge. The opinions and text are all mine. Contest runs November 14 to December 18, 2011. A random winner will be announced by December 20, 2011.