Moms Against Poverty (MAP) is proof that a mother’s love extends beyond her own children. The organization, which helps children living in poverty, is active in more than six countries including Cambodia, India, Iran, Senegal, Sierra Leone and the United States.
The organization has established orphanages in order to provide children food and shelter in a safe environment. MAP collaborates with local partners to provide health care and meet basic health needs in rural and developing areas. Additionally, they have founded an educational outreach program that provides children with a variety of classes, including vocational options.
Delfarib Fanaie and Ladan Judge are two of MAP’s mothers-in-action and serve on its board of directors. They spoke with the Borgen Project about how they got started, why they want to help children and the importance of respecting the communities they wish to help.
Borgen Project: How did Moms Against Poverty get started and why is it so successful?
Delfarib Fanaie: The organization started at the kitchen table at a friend’s house. I came back [from Iran]in 2006 after the adoption of my third child. At that point, I knew that we could no longer ignore the issues impoverished children face on a daily basis. We began the paperwork and in 2008 we received our 501(c)(3) We knew that we all love to give back and wanted to help the children of the world.
I believe the strength of the volunteers and the passion behind what we are doing is what has made MAP so successful. Of course, let’s give a lot of thanks to the donors because they have really supported us. From the beginning MAP was about, and only about, the children.
Ladan Judge: The inspiration behind everyone involved in MAP is the children. We’ve built a strong, diverse community of volunteers. They come from different communities, ethnicities, cultures, business backgrounds, and financial backgrounds, but we have all come together for the children. We always hear everyone talk about MAP as a family, even though we started as a group of mothers, now we really are a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life.
BP: Why focus specifically on children living in poverty?
DF: When I visited the orphanages in Iran to adopt my children I saw firsthand the needs. We love what we do because we see the changes we can make. It truly comes from a place of love. We know that we’ve been a conduit for [children]them to get their needs met and their voices heard.
LJ: Part of our mission and what we believe in is that when you change the life of a child you change generations to come. When you mentally, physically and emotionally empower a child then they become an empowered adult.
BP: How does MAP decide where it will work? How do you decide whom you will partner with?
LJ: We began MAP with the goal and desire to support orphaned and impoverished children. As we began searching where and how to develop our work, Delfarib’s nephew quit his job and moved to Cambodia to establish an orphanage. He reached out to Delfarib about some of the issues in Cambodia therefore, we began to collaborate and work in Cambodia. We knew we wanted to work in Iran because it is our motherland and because of Delfarib’s story. We knew we would work in the U.S. because this is our home and we wanted to ensure the lives of children in our own communities are being supported.
DF: We want to be effective in the U.S. as well as other places. Our partner in Cambodia, my cousin that Ladan mentioned, lost his life because of this. He used to go to the garbage dump sites and bring the children in and bathe and feed them. He got a disease from those areas and he passed away at the age of 39. We choose people that always have the needs of children placed ahead of their own.
BP: Please tell me more about your educational outreach programs in Cambodia.
LJ: We hold classes after school and we teach computer science, English, music therapy, math and science. The art and music therapy is really big. It really has helped the children. The caretakers of our orphanage can take any of these classes and study English, computer science, or any of the other classes. We also chose teachers from the community to come teach the children.
Many of these children’s parents are too poor to provide them with any type of education or they prefer the children to go and work. There are various types of work—garbage dump work, factory work, or unfortunately, sex trafficking type of work that would provide food for the family. In order to avoid that, we provide rice and sometimes supplemental provisions to the family to make sure the family allows the children to come to school. We have a social worker involved that keeps a check on the families to make sure the kids are being treated well and continue their education. Right now we serve 120 children.
BP: From your perspective, why is it important to make sure children have access to medical care and an education?
LJ: We always say that if a child is hungry or sick they can’t thrive. You first have to provide a safe home for them, make sure they have food and are healthy. Once they have the basics then comes the education piece. We look at what types of jobs are appropriate within the community and then offer either vocational training or the educational piece that’s necessary. We also offer avenues for our children to reach higher education, because in Cambodia for example, or India or Iran, there’s a lot of wealth and our children have to compete with kids who have tutors and extra resources available to them helping them go to college and get professional jobs. If our children have the interests, propensity to learn and the community allows for them to reach higher education we always encourage that and provide tools for them to reach their goals.
DF: I always like to use examples of what changes can be made by educating the children of a community and the impact education has.
The village we built the school in never had a high school. Girls in that community were married off at the age of 13, 14 years old. Their parents had no choice but to marry them off, there was nothing else to do. Building a school over there gave these girls a chance and some of them get the chance to go to universities. By educating children you change the whole community. You change the essence of that community and you give them the chance to grow in the right direction. That’s what we believe in—that you really influence the community by taking care of the children because they are the future and they are the hope of the community.
BP: Have you ever been received negatively in any of these countries because you’re coming from the U.S.?
DF: Not to my knowledge. It is very important how you approach the community and from what angle you approach them. You have to respect the community that you’re walking into. In Cambodia, the elders have a lot of power in the villages and we work with them to make decisions.
When there was an earthquake in an Iranian community that destroyed the whole city we asked the ministry of culture and the people of the community, “What is it that you need for us to build you?” We didn’t automatically assume that we should build them a school or homes. We involved them in building their own community and they told us they wanted a cultural center because this is what they needed.
This is true internationally and in the U.S. We were introduced to Oakland schools and we asked the principals, “What can we do? Is it a program? Do you need it? Do you want it? Can you use it?” Like our nutrition outreach program, we offer to the schools in the U.S. right now. Even here you have to involve and include the community’s leaders and the individuals that live in that community.
LJ: Our nutrition outreach program came about in discussions with the school, the principal, and the school counselor, about the children that live in poverty within their school and some of the solutions they have. After discussions MAP decided to provide protein and vegetables to supplement all the other assistance that the families might get from food pantries.
BP: What would you like to see the American people do or what would you like to see Congress do with foreign aid and helping children who live in poverty globally?
DF: I would like the adults of this world to separate politics and their differences from the welfare of the children. For example, we have been denied grants on the basis that we support the children of Iran. Children are children regardless of where they come from. All the children deserve a chance and opportunity for a good life.
What I’d like Congress to know is please, when you’re looking at the humanitarian aspects of any country, put the politics away. Look at it from a parent’s point of view, not a politician’s point of view. If we look at it that way, if we look at these children and their needs and say, “What if they were my children? Would I want them to be hungry? Would I want them to be abused? Would I want them to suffer?” maybe the world would be a better place.
LJ: We need to put our differences aside and look at the humanity of the world. We are all human beings and as a community of human beings, we each are in a way responsible for each other and the next generation. It’s always through compassion and love that you bridge gaps, create relationships and change perhaps false views of each other on both sides—internationally and within the U.S.