Celebrating strong mothers from around the world

Elsa, a mother of three, fetches water from a newly constructed hand pump in Mussanga, Mozambique. Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib

On Mother’s Day, Oxfam salutes the powerful women we've met. From community activists to mothers recovering from natural disasters to grandmothers caring for multiple generations, these women are models of resilience, determination, and ingenuity.

The role of a mother can take many forms—birth mothers, grandmothers, aunts, older sisters, community leaders, women who adopt orphaned children in refugee camps. But nearly every mother has one thing in common: the willingness to place the needs of those they care for above their own.

Oxfam has a presence in more than 90 countries, so we know from experience that in times of hardship, women suffer the most. Almost 70 percent of the world’s hungry are women. When conflict or famine forces families to separate, it is often mothers who navigate their children’s safety as they face the uncertainty and dangers of being far from home.

We have seen mothers overcome unimaginable obstacles to protect their children. In honor of Mother’s Day, we celebrate their strength. These images, captured by Oxfam photographers, highlight inspirational women from around the world who go to incredible lengths to make sure their children are protected and loved.

Zarina Charan

Photo: Khaula Jamil/Oxfam

Zarina Charan is a farmer, social activist, clothes seller, and mother of four. She was born into a farming family in Nihal Charan village, Pakistan. Traditionally, it's rare for a woman in rural Pakistan to own a large plot of land, but Charan owns 12 acres. Charan grows grains and fodder crops—which are primarily for animal consumption—instead of cash crops, rationalizing that buying food items from the market might not be safe for her family’s consumption.

Charan is an active member of a group which oversees food security issues in her district, including water scarcity, price control, and market access for smallholders and female farmers. Through her work, she advocates for the rights of women so they can receive their share of the profits and be allowed to make decisions about which crops to use and how to spend their money.

Jennifer Pablo

Photo: Simon Roberts/Oxfam

When Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, hit the Philippines and decimated her house, Jennifer Pablo of San Jose, Tacloban, didn't have the money to rebuild. She was one of thousands to receive an Oxfam tarpaulin, which she used to fashion a small temporary home for her and her daughter Rose.

Mamata Karki

Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Mamata Karki lives in Sindhupalchowk District, Nepal, one of the areas most affected by a deadly 7.6 magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015. On that day, she recalls feeling like her entire village was falling down. "There was just dust everywhere," she remembers. "The only thing I could think of was my child. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to him." It was only after she saw her son wrapped safely in her father-in-law's arms that she felt like she could breathe again.


Photo: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

Rahaf and her son outside their home in Shatila, Beirut. She was pregnant when she fled from Syria to Lebanon in 2012. Rahaf’s husband stayed behind to look after their house; since then, he has gone missing, and is presumed dead. Their son was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine doesn’t develop properly, so he needs regular medical attention. Rahaf works as a primary school teacher in Shatila, a job she found via Oxfam’s partner Association Najdeh. “All I ask of the world is to look at the human inside each refugee,” she says. “We have ambition, we have rights, we have dreams, and we are entitled to enjoy these rights like the rest of the world.”

Valerie Mukangerero

Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

Valerie Mukangerero is a member of the Tuzamurane pineapple co-operative (Tuzamurane translates to “lift one another up”) in Kirehe District, Eastern Rwanda. Profits from pineapple sales are re-invested into the business and shared among members. Since joining the Tuzamurane cooperative, Mukangerero has saved enough money to extend her house, buy a cow and support her family, including her granddaughter, Innocent*. “I feel proud that people respect me and say ‘that woman is on top!’,” she says. “The thing that makes me most happy is that I have joined others and when I earn money, I feel happy. I buy things that I need with no worry inside myself."

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Virginia Ñuñonca Ccallo

Photo: Percy Ramírez

Virginia Ñuñonca Ccallo is a farmer in the mountainous region of Espinar, Peru. Some indigenous communities there live as high as 13,000 feet above sea level and are dealing with life-threatening consequences of climate change, such as rainfall shortages and extreme cold. She is pictured here with her daughter Elian and some of their livestock.

Felicia Ayaawin

Photo: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam

Felicia Ayaawin bathes her youngest child with water collected from a solar-powered pump. Ayaawin and her husband, Joseph, are the caretakers of the borehole in Kpatua, Ghana, which was built to help families become more resilient during dry seasons as well as farm all year round. With clean water, she says, this baby's birth was much safer than what she experienced with her older children.

Zahia* Hassan 

Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Hassan, 28, is pictured with her 4-year-old son outside the remains of their home in Husseini, Iraq. Her village was taken over by ISIS, including her house. After years of living as refugees, Hassan and her son returned to find parts of the house were blown up or burned down. As a divorced woman, Hassan also is subject to criticism from people in her village. People are quite conservative in her area and it is considered unacceptable to leave the house alone. But Hassan is defiant; she ignores what people say and lives her life with the goal of securing a good future for her son. She is reestablishing her business as a tailor and slowly getting her life back on track.

*Name changed to protect identity


Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Maimouna celebrates a long-awaited return home. She is part of a group of Muslim women who fled to Sido refugee camp in Chad three years ago to escape violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). By December 2013, clashes between militias in the CAR became part of daily life and ended up displacing thousands of people to Chad and Cameroon.

If you live in the Boston area, you can visit a gallery featuring these images at Workbar locations in Boston, Brighton, and South Station throughout the month of May. 

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