Every year mothers2mothers (m2m) holds its annual Immersive Experience – a chance for donors and supporters to visit m2m in country and meet the amazing women who are running the show! This year, Global Giving Circle member Maartje Skare-Hessels shared with us her experience of getting up close and personal with the m2m programme.
Surrounded by the hills, or should I say mountains around Cape Town in the beautiful yet understated and very natural setting of Babylonstoren, we gathered at the end of the day for our first introduction to the intense experience awaiting us.
Frank Beadle de Palomo, President and wonderful CEO of m2m, and Emma France, Global Development & Strategic Engagement Director gave us a very warm, informative and also very funny welcome right off the bat to get everyone present excited about the next few days. Various chickens and other fowl made extremely timely noises as we enjoyed a game of trivia about the organisation which got everything off to an amazing start.
We were a very mixed crowd with some of us having been involved with and supporting mothers2mothers (m2m) for years while others were getting their first taste of this amazing organisation. Having been involved for at least ten years, I had no idea how much I would learn in terms of m2m’s development and growth over this time. Everyone who was anyone at m2m was at hand to answer questions and a very interesting conversation ensued at dinner between a few of us ‘old-timers’ with Dr Kathrin Schmitz (Director of Programmes and Technical Support) about their incredible new programme on Adolescent Health and Positive Youth Development. For me, after preventing the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child, keeping mother and baby healthy and on track in their Early Childhood Development programme, this seems like a wonderful, vital, and logical step for m2m towards closing the HIV prevention circle.
We all come with our own perspectives and tend to take certain views, culturally as well as morally, so it is essential to get a local perspective in order to fully understand what is needed in each different programme and country. Kathrin was able to illuminate our minds and broaden our understanding about the issues facing adolescents in South Africa, for example. The expertise m2m has built up over the years and interest they take in their clients and potential clients never ceases to amaze me.
The next morning we had the chance to see the wonderful Mentor Mothers at work in Town II Clinic, Khayelitsha. They shared their work on Early Childhood Development where in a ‘one-stop-shop’ they are able to monitor everything from the child’s growth milestones to behaviour to immunisations. The one-stop-shop approach also allows the mother to be seen at the same time for her medication, preventing her having to miss a day’s work. We heard some incredible testimonies from clients present at the clinic. As my friend’s grandmother always said, “we should be thankful not 24 but 25 hours a day for all that we have”!
The Mentor Mothers themselves are always for me the most inspiring part of m2m—the dignity they regain, the strength they exude, the love with which they do their job, the skills they acquire, and confidence it gives them is always a joy to witness!
After a delicious local lunch in situ we went back for a very intensive afternoon session under the trees back at the farm.
Split into two groups we heard from Marjorie Mbule and Fiona Burtt (Senior Technical Advisors) about Early Childhood Development and other topics, and were able to ask any question we had, even the really tough ones. The whole m2m team were incredibly well informed, enthusiastic, and open to suggestions. Many topics were covered and by the end of the day I felt I had been completely saturated with information… in a good way!
Later that evening, we were treated to a short debate between Frank, Emma, and Chief Operations Officer Chad Rathner. Fascinating facts came to the fore about future hopes and dreams as well as potential lurking difficulties and hurdles.
It was a true blessing to see a charity being so open and communicative about the issues they face. We went to bed dreaming of how we could be more useful and generous to such an incredible organisation! The icing on the cake was hearing Founder Dr Mitch Besser and Co-founder Robin Smalley in conversation after breakfast on the last day. They were humble about all they had achieved with the seeds they planted so many years ago and hilarious in describing some of the initial working operations and how sheer perseverance, a lot of hard work, hope, and some wonderful people along the way has given rise to the most effective charity I know.
It’s truly a Charity with a capital C!