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Motherhood around the world

From Mongolia to Senegal and outback Australia we meet five mums who share the same love, hopes & dreams for their children.

Motherhood around the world

MARI Missara, Senegal (Photographer Meg Hansen)


This is 17-year-old Mari. She’s holding her baby daughter, Aissatou, who is sick. Every mother wants their baby to grow up healthy. But it’s not always easy. In Missara, Senegal, lack of clean water and nutritious food mean children are falling victim to malnutrition. 

Mari was overjoyed when she fell pregnant. “I was very happy, very glad,” she recalls. “I had no worries.” Aissatou was born healthy, however she soon became ill. Suffering from constant vomiting and unable to put on weight, she is now severely malnourished. Aissatou’s suffering weighs heavily on Mari. When asked about her hopes for her daughter’s future, there is a long silence. Finally Mari speaks. “I worry about her health all the time,” she confesses. “I can’t think of her future, I worry more about today.” She adds softly, “I just pray for her to be alive and survive each night.” 

It hasn’t always been this way. Once upon a time crops were plentiful and there was enough food for all. “Now the soil is infertile – we cannot get enough food to survive,” says Mari’s mother-in-law. Senegal is one of five countries affected by the West Africa food crisis.

Motherhood in Senegal:

More than half of Senegal’s 11.9 million people live in rural areas. People in the country’s rural communities generally grow their own food (such as millet, cow peas or rice), which means they are vulnerable during times of drought.

World Vision is working with local communities in Senegal to help prevent future food crises, through improved agricultural practices and nutrition education.

In addition, World Vision is also providing medical assistance by running health activities in Senegal such as raising awareness among children and families on how to prevent diseases such as malaria, which remain a serious problem.

Many women living in rural Senegal give birth at home and have limited access to midwives or health services. Even when health services are available in rural Senegal, staff, beds and equipment are limited and they often service large areas populated with thousands of people. Therefore it’s not uncommon for new mothers to walk home just hours after giving birth.


HANNIFER Pilbara, Western Australia (Photographer LUKE PETERSON)


“It looks easy,” jokes Hannifer, mother to cheeky three-year-old Jordan. “But when you have a kid of your own, it’s a handful.” 

In the remote Aboriginal community of Jigalong in Western Australia, World Vision was invited to set up an early childhood care project to help kids get school-ready. At the heart of this is a community playgroup, which provides a welcoming space for parents to access early childhood support and for kids to learn through play. Playgroup is held at the local school in a classroom filled with toys, books, puzzles and coloured paints. An outdoor grassed area has play equipment and bikes. 

Activities run during playgroup are designed to stimulate sensory learning, literacy, numeracy, and physical development. Hygiene lessons, such as hand-washing, are also included. 

Hannifer was one of the first mums to attend with her son Jordan. She is now a playgroup volunteer, encouraging mothers to attend and helping to run activities. She is also receiving early childhood care training. “Our hope is she’s employed [as a playgroup worker],” says Yvonne, World Vision project facilitator. “So the local people can really own the space.”

Motherhood in outback Australia

The Pilbara region is situated in the north west of Western Australia and covers a total area of 507,896 square kilometres, extending from the Indian Ocean to the Northern Territory border.

From 2004 to 2008, the proportion of Pilbara Aboriginal women giving birth who were under 20 years old ranged from 15 to 27 per cent. Among non-Aboriginal Pilbara women the proportion was much lower, ranging from 2.8 to 5.3 per cent during the same period.

Babies born with a low birth weight (less than 2500g) have a higher risk of health complications. Between 2004 and 2008 the proportion of Aboriginal Pilbara babies born with a low birth weight ranged from 10.8 to 17 per cent. In each year the proportion of low birth weight babies was higher in Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal babies.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing, in indigenous communities giving birth is often considered a cultural rite of passage where knowledge, practices and beliefs are transferred from older to younger women.


TSETSEGMAA Bayankhongor, Mongolia (Photographer KEN DUNCAN) 


Tsetsegmaa is expecting her first child and is eight months pregnant. She is pictured here standing inside her ger. “Ger” means “home” in Mongolian, and traditional nomadic families live in the portable dwelling as they follow pastures for their animals.

Families move around three times a year. Moving day is a team effort; it takes about half a dozen people to dismantle the ger and nine yaks to transport it. At the new location it takes around two hours to set up home again.

Tsetsegmaa attends World Vision’s Positive Deviance (PD)/Hearth program at the health centre. The program is one of World Vision’s core project models in nutrition. It aims to reduce malnutrition in children in poor communities by using approaches practised by the mothers or caretakers of well-nourished children in the community. It provides education, training and support to pregnant women as well as new mothers and babies.

Attending the mothers’ group and learning about prenatal nutrition and caring for newborns means Tsetsegmaa feels more prepared. 

Motherhood in Mongolia

Mongolians believe girls should be educated because they’re not as strong as men and it’s traditionally the man’s role to care for and herd their animals.

Women commonly get married around age 20 – although there are some girls that marry as young as 16 and some women who leave it a lot longer. The education divide is becoming a problem as increasingly women don’t want to marry uneducated boys.

Families in Mongolia don’t prepare for a baby’s arrival by buying clothes, toys or other necessities, or even selecting a name. They feel to do so is premature and could result in bad luck, so there’s a flurry of activity once the baby is born.

Once the baby has arrived families traditionally hang a small grey felt fox on a string above the baby’s head when they sleep. The fox is said to protect the baby from bad dreams and stops them crying at night. Mongolians believe a fox comes to the dreams of newborn babies and takes the mother away, which makes the baby cry.


VIRGILIA North Potosi, Bolivia (Photographer Steve Fraser)


Virgilia frequently swaddles baby Edwin in North Potosi, Bolivia. The local custom is thought to help keep a baby’s back strong.

Bolivia, a landlocked country in west central South America, borders Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. When World Vision arrived in the area over 15 years ago, the arid environment meant families could only grow potatoes. Children were missing out on vital nutrients; their growth was stunted and malnutrition was at a staggering 70 per cent. 

With World Vision’s support, the community embarked on a project to build a dam to funnel water down from the mountains. The water reaches more than 150 family farms, meaning they can now grow a variety of vegetables. Children are greatly benefitting, with cases of malnutrition more than halved. 

Another issue with the region is lack of education. Girls rarely get the chance to finish school – one of the first steps to breaking the cycle of poverty. World Vision is working in rural Bolivia to strengthen gender equality. Part of this is teaching fathers to value their daughters’ education.

Motherhood in Bolivia

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. More than eight per cent of Bolivians are unemployed and about 60 per cent live below the poverty line. Income distribution among Bolivians is extremely uneven; in 2010 the country had the seventh highest income inequality in the world. As a result of this poverty, child malnutrition rates are high throughout the country. The World Vision World Food Program estimates that about a quarter of Bolivian children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth.

Indigenous and rural communities have limited access to healthcare services and many Bolivian families do not have adequate sanitation. In the mid-1990s, Bolivia’s infant and maternal death rates were among the highest in Latin America. It was particularly difficult to deliver services to those living in Bolivia’s rugged terrain. Economic problems in the 1980s had also forced cutbacks in health services. But since the late 1990s, the Bolivian government has made cutting child and maternal mortality rates a central part of its health strategy.


SHASHIDA Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photographer KEN DUNCAN)


Young mother Shashida is pictured here with her daughters, nine-month-old Jannatul and three-year-old Akhi. Married at 14, Shashida is determined her own girls will not marry young.

Shashida lives in the slums in the capital city of Dhaka. The houses are made from corrugated iron, the rooms are single, about two by two metres, and are laid out side by side. The roofs are low and the ground is dirt. The temperature in the rooms exceeds 40 degrees in the summer. There is a communal cooking area, water pump for washing bodies and clothes and a shared drop toilet. The slums are crowded, narrow and ramshackle.

Motherhood in Bangladesh

Early pregnancy and early marriage is common in Bangladesh, particularly among the poor. People living in poverty who cannot afford to keep their daughters at home may marry them at a young age as they are then the responsibility of their husband. A lack of knowledge and education are common causes. Girls often marry between the ages of 14 to 16 and some are even married as young as 12.

There are many health complications for girls who become pregnant too young. Babies are often born with a low birth weight, and stunted growth and malnourishment is common.

Poor maternal and child health is a big issue in Bangladesh. The majority – 85 per cent – of Bangladesh women give birth at home with a traditional birth attendant, who is experienced in deliveries but doesn’t have any formal medical training.

World Vision is tackling child malnutrition through its PD/Hearth program, which educates women and men about the importance of a nutritious diet. It also includes pre and postnatal check-ups, as well as immunisation education and delivery.

About the project:

Ken Duncan was first touched by World Vision’s work in the early 1990s when on assignment to photograph projects in Bangladesh, Thailand, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and Romania. This experience shocked and moved him to raise money for World Vision through his first book Vision of Hope: Children of the World (1994). In 2010, Duncan joined World Vision Australia’s CEO, Tim Costello, on a trip to India where he was again inspired to create another book to tell the story of mothers and their children. World Vision embraced Duncan’s concept and in 2012 he retraced his steps to Bangladesh and visited Mongolia for the first time. The other photographers in the book also generously donated their time and expertise to the project and proceeds will go towards helping World Vision’s development work around the world.

Vision of Hope: Mother & Child, celebrating the special bond between mothers and children around the world is available to order at:



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