Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s the cliché phrase we’ve all heard and used before when unexpected things happen to people we know and love. It’s hard to accept these unfortunate events, but sometimes there isn’t such a horrible ending.
An unexpected twist of fate happened to my aunt and uncle’s family, but out of it all, they turned a difficult situation into something worthwhile. My aunt and uncle are two of the most caring and kind people I have ever met. Never once in my life have I heard of either of them doing something wrong or unkind.
My uncle is an accountant, and my aunt is a stay-at-home-mom, but does some tutoring on the side. They had two boys, Luke and Matthew, but my aunt really wanted to have a girl in the family. My aunt specifically told me, “Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys, but I definitely need more girl power in this house.” So it was decided, they were going to try for a girl. At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, my aunt announced that she was pregnant and the whole family was excited to hear what the gender of the baby was going to be.
A couple months later my aunt found out the gender, and lucky enough, it was a girl. I have never heard someone as excited as my aunt was when she announced this news. The whole family was in a “baby hype” mode and couldn’t wait for her to come. Finally, after nine months of pregnancy, my new baby cousin was on the way. I was at my grandma’s house, waiting on the call from my aunt and uncle, but it seemed to be taking longer than we expected. We didn’t get a call until the next day, with some much unexpected news. When my aunt and uncle called, there was a sorrow feeling that swept over our family.
Kabuki syndrome (KS), is a disease that presents a child with unique facial characteristics, mental retardation, and socio-emotional delays. In other words, Amalie has disabilities that don’t allow her to develop and fully function like an average infant should. For the first 9 months of her life, she was put into a lower body cast after hip surgery to help set her hip bones and joints correctly. To help with the rest of her muscle movement, she had to go through extensive physical and speech therapy when it was time she started to learn how to speak. This was a very tough time for my aunt and uncle to go through. My uncle had to take time off of work to help take care of my other cousins, Luke and Matthew, while my aunt took Amalie to countless doctor’s appointments and therapy session.
My uncle said, “I have never been so stressed and so worried about someone in my entire life. At one point, I almost lost all hope because there was so much stress put on our whole family.” My aunt replied, “But we managed to get through all of this together.” My cousins helped by cleaning around the house and not causing any trouble when “baby Molly” was around. They came together as a family to support one another in this very difficult time.
Five years later, my cousin, Amalie, is now walking and improving her speech every day. My aunt has enrolled her in pre-school and is absolutely loving it. “At first it was hard for her to be in such a social setting, but now she loves it. She’s made some friends and doesn’t stop talking.”
However, there are some words that she struggles with, so Amalie is taking sign language classes to help get her points across to people. She does still have some developmental issues, like being too small for her age and not being able to carry on full conversations like an average five-year-old should be able to. Despite all of these setbacks, Amalie is one of the happiest five-year-olds any person has ever seen. “She loves to learn new things…math is one of her favorites”, my aunt says, “…and even though she has physical setbacks, she is always beating up her older brothers and is the toughest girls there is.” My aunt and uncle have given so much time and effort into helping their daughter live the most normal life she could, and I admire them very much for that. Not every couple could have done what they did, given the amount of stress that was added to their life.
Not to mention, my two other cousins, that helped out so much, even being as young as they were during that time. Due to their efforts as a family, Amalie can live a normal life and enjoy the life she was given, despite the hardships she has endured. Not many families could have come together like my aunt and uncle’s family did. Despite all odds against their daughter, they didn’t let it come between them.
This is a quality I truly admire because having to give up leisure time and work time can be very strenuous on a family, especially when there are two other young kids in the family. They took what they were given and made the best out of a difficult situation, and are now raising one of the most strongest kids I have ever known.
Their family is a perfect example of how to handle life’s unexpected events in a manner of grace and determination.
More college students are traveling and volunteering abroad than ever before.
I have volunteered with multiple organizations in multiple countries, seeking a combination of work and travel experience. My desire to see the world and work abroad is by no way unique; my generation, more than any previously, is interested in supporting initiatives that “better the world.”
We are concerned with increasing the welfare of people globally, invested in philanthropic societies and ideals. However, while we are avid supporters of good causes, we hardly ever criticize the programs and organizations that serve them. In an era when we are so focused on development and volunteerism, it is important that we look at the ideologies that are driving certain programs, and the program’s unintended results.
The generally held belief is that money invested in impoverished women is more likely to be invested back into the family, as women are “instinctively maternal” and will want to improve their family’s well-being.
Sounds good right? These programs seem to be empowering women, and directly focus on families in need of additional income. However, if we investigate the ideologies and theories driving these programs, there are serious weaknesses in the way in which development has been conceptualized and implemented. Maternal altruism is one of the persisting limitations with development ideology and practice particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Maternal altruism, as defined by Richard Schroeder, is the “ideology that stipulates that women are, by virtue of their identities as mothers and wives, ‘naturally’ predisposed toward nurturing and self-sacrifice,” (Schroeder, 9).
Maternal altruism is the driving force behind many women-centered development programs.
The inherent assumption of maternal altruism is that women’s own aspirations are heroically neglected in order to prioritize the needs of their family members.
Further, by characterizing women as a homogeneous group defined by selflessness, “maternal altruism” also erases class, race, or any kind of individuality that may influence women’s motivations to take care of family members or perform traditional work. It is an ideology that encourages the ascription of sameness. The elimination of diversity of body and belief amongst women in developing nations makes all hundreds of millions of them a single uniform group.
Does she have something balancing on her head? A baby strapped to her back? Is she standing in a field? Holding a bucket of water? All of these images portray a woman defined by maternal altruism. These are the only pictures we see of “African women” in development campaigns. I do not believe these pictures are staged; women do fetch water, they do take care of children, and they do preform agricultural work.
My problem with these images is that development organizations and the public are taking them at face value. No one is asking why. Why are you preforming the agricultural work? Is it really because you only have interest in ensuring that your family has something to eat or is it because it is your ethnic custom? Is it because it is your only source of income?
If it is, would you rather be doing something else? What would that be and what do you need to do it? Many development non-profits invest in women’s agricultural work to better ensure family food stability. While full stomachs are a noble cause, these programs need to be asking if women aspire to do something else.
When I volunteered at Give a Heart To Africa (GHTA) in Moshi, Tanzania last summer, I worked for an organization that focused on women. GHTA’s school aimed to give local women the tools and skills they need to open their own small business. My students had widely different interests; Mariamu wanted to expand her current business, Esther wanted to open a fabric shop, Tausi wanted to be an English translator, and Faraha wanted to be able to read English books to her kids at night.
Each woman had an invested interest in their family, but also had interests of their own. The diversity of aspiration in one small school shatters the notion of maternal altruism. We would never expect women in the US to universally forgo personal interests for those of the family. We would never categorize US mothers as a homogeneous group.
There are bad mothers, ambitious mothers, childless women who do not fit the idyllic category put forth by the ideology. The fact is, there are bad mothers, ambitious mothers, and childless women in developing nations, so why do we hold them to a different standard?
Why do some development organizations throw the blanket of maternal altruism over all of these women? Because we, as non-profit supporters, volunteers, and fundraisers, allow them to. As consumers on the development market, we can use our “purchasing power” by investing in organizations that have well-constructed programs; programs that do not ascribe homogeneity to their recipients, programs that give people the power to make their own choices.
We, as college students, are the largest group ever to be invested in development initiatives. Whether by volunteering, fundraising, or raising awareness we often support the operations of organizations without truly understanding the ramifications behind their actions.
We receive the benefit of feeling good about contributing to “bettering the world,” and walk away before we witness the aftermath, or look too closely at the labels we place on those receiving a program’s benefits. By turning a critical eye to non-profit organizations and their work, we can influence the way in which future programs are constructed.