mothers2mothers (m2m) celebrated Wonder Women across the US with a recent visit from Spokeswoman and Mentor Mother Relebohile Leoatha, who runs an m2m site at Nazereth Health Centre in Lesotho and is the mother of two girls, ages 13 and 6. The week before Mother’s Day in the US, Relebohile traveled coast to coast—from New York City to Chicago and LA—to share her experiences living with HIV, and how she and the other Wonder Women m2m employs as Mentor Mothers are supporting women and families in her country to stay healthy and thrive.
We asked Relebohile what she would remember the most about the trip: “The thing that impressed me the most was seeing people making donations to our programme. The Mentor Mothers in Lesotho know that we get funding from all over the world. And I know that one of the reasons that I share my story as a Spokeswoman is to raise funding for the organisation. But I didn’t really understand that until I saw people making donations. These people recognised what Mentor Mothers, like myself, are doing and the impact that we are having. It made me feel that I have to pull up my socks when I get back home and work even harder at my job so that they can be even more impressed with our programme and I can repay their trust. It reenergised me, and I’m going to share that with the other Mentor Mothers when I get back home,” she said. (To hear more from Relebohile about her trip, including why LA was her favorite city, please scroll down.)
During Relebohile’s first stop in New York City, she spoke at an event held at the home of m2m US Board member Paul Boskind, that was hosted by Paul and fellow Board members Laura Bartlett, Colin Freund, Kate Schachern, Donna Futterman, and Marjorie Hill. She told the gathering about her first experience meeting m2m Mentor Mothers when she was pregnant: “I felt at home because I finally found people to talk to, people who really understood what it feels like to live with a lifelong illness.”
Later in the week, Relebohile had the opportunity to meet Candice Swanepoel—South African supermodel, fashion entrepreneur, and mother of two young children—who had just become an m2m Patron. She also spoke with staff at Swarovski, together with m2m’s Emma France and Delia Burnett, about how our partnership with the Swarovski Foundation is creating empowerment opportunities for women and supporting families to stay healthy and thrive.
Next, she traveled to Chicago, where she spoke at a lunch hosted by the Princeton Club of Chicago and alumnus Jason Wortendyke that featured our first Princeton in Africa fellows, Steve Porter and Amy Saltzman. Later that day, Jason and his wife Ariel Knowles hosted a lovely event at their home, along with m2m Board member Terry Peigh, to introduce m2m to their colleagues and friends. Jason said he and Ariel were changed by their recent visit to m2m in Cape Town, South Africa, and wanted to create a new community of supporters in Chicago to help m2m achieve even greater impact. Relebohile brought that impact to life by talking about her role as a Mentor Mother: “I am now one of those giving hope to those who are HIV-positive.”
Relebohile wrapped up her trip in LA, where she and m2m Co-founder Robin Smalley met with m2m supporters and potential new donors.
Here are highlights of her trip:
Your first trip to New York was in 2017 for events around the opening of the UN General Assembly. What was it like coming back again?
I was excited to travel in the US again because it isn’t so often that I travel. When I landed, it was like I was seeing places for the first time. On my first trip to New York, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t really see anything. I was able to take more of the city in on this trip.
You shared your work and story at a number of events and meetings in New York City. What were they like?
The first event at Paul Boskind’s house was fantastic. The apartment had amazing views of New York City. People were gathered all the way up the stairs to listen to me. After I spoke, people came around me and asked more questions and showed appreciation for what I am doing. I also spoke at an event at Swarovski for their staff. For most of the people there, it was their first time hearing about m2m and they seemed impressed.
One of the highlights of New York was meeting the supermodel Candice Swanepoel, who had just become an m2m Patron. She is from South Africa so is familiar with African nations and we were able to share our experiences. She told me that she is a mother to two boys, and finds our programme so powerful.
What did you do on your next stop in Chicago?
I love Chicago because there is a lot of space so that you can see the views. It different from New York which has so many huge buildings that you don’t know where you’re going.
One of the highlights for me in Chicago was meeting m2m Founder Mitch Besser who was there for the events. I had always heard stories about him as the person who created the Mentor Mother Model, but I never thought I would meet him in person. I was surprised that given everything he has done, he is just a normal person and very easy to speak to.
You then traveled across the country to LA. What was that like?
In LA, I went to several meetings with Robin. The people we met were not that familiar with m2m. It was great to tell them what I have gone through and how I am now helping to change other people’s lives.
Which is your favorite city: NYC, Chicago, or LA?
I think I like LA best. I love that it is close to the ocean, so you can have both the city and the sea. I got to put my feet in the ocean for the first time in my life. I’ve seen the ocean on TV, but it was so nice to feel the water myself. In NYC, I feel like the buildings are so huge and the streets all look the same. I’m not used to places like that. That’s why I felt more comfortable when I got to Chicago, because the streets were so open and I could see the views. But in LA, I could even see the hills, which reminded me of my country.