That very night, I decided I wanted to work with Mitch to turn m2m into an organization worthy of the African women that needed it so desperately. Two months later, my husband, teenage daughters, and two dogs gave up our lives in Los Angeles to move 10,000 miles to South Africa.
At that time, pediatric AIDS had almost entirely been eliminated in the U.S., yet 160,00 children under the age of 15 were infected in 2016, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The Mentor Mothers that m2m trained were achieving extraordinary results. Not only were they educating and supporting HIV-positive women to access lifesaving treatment, they were professionalized and financially independent, becoming role models in their communities and reducing stigma by example. Mentor Mothers also provided much needed support to medical staff at critically understaffed health centers. They became a third tier of medical care, forming trusted relationships with clients.
For inspiring women like Irene, the change was dramatic. She got married and felt confident and happy during her third pregnancy because she knew exactly what she needed to do to protect her baby from infection and stay healthy. Her daughter, now age 4, is HIV negative.
“Finally, the little girls in my family have the love that was missing in my life when I was their age,” she said. “They have a mother who they can be proud of — a woman who was once a victim but who is now a survivor.”
Although Irene and I grew up worlds apart, we share an incredibly important bond — by saving babies’ and mothers’ lives and creating healthy families, we built hope in our own lives. As we helped others access critical healthcare and treatment, we added to the joy in our own hearts.
Robin Smalley is an award-winning career television producer and director. After realizing that the legacy she wanted to leave had nothing to do with entertainment, she became the Executive Director of The Media Project before co-founding mothers2mothers (m2m), an Africa-based, global NGO.
To learn more about mothers2mothers, please visit m2m.org