A Mother’s Day post by READ Global Executive Director Tina Sciabica
With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on three incredible mothers who changed the course of my life. My grandfather was killed trying to escape from a work camp in Italy in World War II, leaving my grandmother, my Nonna, a widow with four young daughters. Nonna only had a fifth grade education, but she soon became a successful business-owner in her small Italian village as it recovered from the war. A few years later, not speaking any English, she brought my mother and her sisters to the United States and worked two jobs as a seamstress, doing what needed to be done so her daughters could have a better life.
After my mother married my father, they brought Nonna into their home. Nonna took care of my brother and me when we were young, which allowed my mother to work. My childhood memories all have Nonna in them; I remember her as a strong woman who could do everything for herself. But over time, she became less fierce and independent, slowly going blind and almost deaf. She became completely dependent on my mother and father, who cared for her in our home until she passed away at the age of 94. Caring for Nonna didn’t seem like a burden for my mother; it just needed to be done.
Tina Sciabica with her family, including Nonna, at her college graduation
At the time my Nonna passed away, I was going through another transition. I had been practicing law, but I found it unfulfilling. While I had prestige and money as a lawyer, I wasn’t happy. I needed to make a change, so I left the practice of law, started a business, and began to travel. I went to Vietnam, and for the first time experienced the crushing poverty that exists in so many countries. Our local guide told us to ignore the beggars we saw on the street, so when an old woman came up to me begging in Hanoi, I walked away from her.
I had a hard time sleeping for several nights afterwards. How did this woman, who must have been 80 years old, end up on the street? Why was no one taking care of her, like my mother had done for my grandmother? And how was it acceptable that I had walked away from her?
I knew that I had to try to do something about the poverty I had seen, so I began volunteering for an organization that provides educational opportunities for children in Asia. I threw myself into this work, knowing that if you educate children, they will be better equipped to earn a living and won’t end up like the grandmother I saw in Hanoi.
But I soon realized that while educating children—especially girls—is absolutely necessary, it’s not the only solution. Parents living in poverty face difficult decisions. Many of them are subsistence farmers, and a daughter represents another pair of hands to work the field. Since daughters usually marry young and live with their husbands’ families, their education is not a priority and many of them never step foot in a school. This means there are millions of illiterate women in South Asia raising families. I noticed that many people spoke of uneducated women with a lack of hope—as if they weren’t capable of making good choices for their children because they had no education themselves.
It frustrated me that the world seemed to have given up on its mothers.
To get serious about poverty alleviation, one of the best things we can do is invest in mothers. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family, while a man only invests 30 cents. A mother will use her income to send her children to school and give them the right food to eat. A woman who becomes literate has better access to information about health, hygiene and nutrition, and can also help her children with their schoolwork. And an empowered woman will bring her family out of poverty today, rather than waiting for the next generation to do it.
I am now honored to lead READ Global, an organization offering a holistic form of rural education and development. We believe in the world’s mothers and have seen entire communities transform when women are empowered. When we partner with a rural village to establish a READ Center, all community members are given a safe space to gather and learn, regardless of gender, age, caste, or economic background. Mothers have a chance to learn new skills, build their confidence, and pull their families out of poverty.
Two years ago, when I was traveling in rural Nepal to visit our work, I met a 47-year-old mother named Chuna Devi, who once said that “being born as a girl is worthless.” Because her family didn’t think educating girls was a priority, she grew up illiterate, herding goats and cows, and was married at the age of 16. After taking literacy classes and accessing other programs at the READ Center, Chuna is now a confident woman who is earning her own money and teaches other women how to read. She glows with pride as she talks about the change she has experienced. Watch her story here.
Empower a mother like Chuna this Mother’s Day. Donate today.
Today, Chuna has started her own women’s reading group, so that she can help other women like her learn to read.
“I realized that all uneducated women suffer,” Chuna said, “I want to tell them that you’re never too old to learn.”
This is the beauty of women, and of mothers: once they experience this kind of transformation and empowerment, they want to share it with everyone.
People always ask me how I came to READ Global, and how I manage to do this work without becoming overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of global poverty. When I think about the sacrifices of my own mother and grandmother and Chuna’s story, I know that the work we do at READ is not even a choice—it’s just what needs to be done.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s remember that there are millions of mothers like Chuna in the world, just waiting for the opportunity to change, and let’s work together to bring this change to their families and communities.
Please make a donation today to help mothers like Chuna transform their lives: just $50 gives a mother leadership training and $100 teaches her to read.