Moving the Apostrophe in Mother’s Day: Helping Mothers Around the Globe

“It’s time to move the apostrophe so that it becomes not just Mother’s Day honoring a single mother but Mothers’ Day, an occasion to try and help mothers around the globe as well.”    

—Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

Moving the Apostrophe in Mother’s Day: Helping Mothers Around the Globe
Each year, the Mothers’ Day Movement selects one organization to support with its campaign. In 2016, it was The More Than Me Academy (pictured), a school in Liberia that uses education as a catalyst for transformative social change. (Mothers’ Day Movement)

In a column in The New York Times on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010, Nicholas Kristof made the case for moving the apostrophe in Mother’s Day so that it honors not just one mother, but mothers around the globe. Mothers’ Day was his solution.

He provided statistics about the $14 billion spent in the U.S. at that time on celebrations and gifts for mothers and how that money could be spent in more impactful ways, such as educating the 60 million girls not in school and essentially ending female illiteracy. (He hastened to point out that we could honor our deserving mothers at the same time.)

He also referenced a letter he received from “a woman in Connecticut, Eva Hausman, who was so appalled when she learned about obstetric fistulas that she e-mailed her friends and asked them to contribute at least $20.”

That letter from 2009 was the beginning of an incredibly fruitful relationship between Kristof and the “woman in Connecticut” who, along with her daughter Kim Hausman Athan, followed Kristof’s advice about the apostrophe and founded Mothers’ Day Movement in 2010.

Eva fondly recalled how the relationship with Kristof began. “Every August The New York Times devotes its magazine to a single issue, and in 2009, it was Nick Kristof’s and Sheryl Wu Dunn’s Half the Sky. I was living in Simsbury, Connecticut, where I taught high school social studies for 31 years. I made 40 copies of the issue and told my friends and family to come to my house to discuss. By chance, Nick and Sheryl had been on Oprah, and we taped it and showed it that night.”

Eva had not known much about obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury that destroys a woman’s life, leaving her with incontinence, shame and exclusion from society. Over a million women in Africa and Asia suffer needlessly from untreated fistula, which can be corrected with surgery that costs $586. She felt compelled to help.

In one month, Eva raised $5,000 for the Fistula Foundation. An acquaintance who worked for a foundation that allowed its employees to donate to their favorite causes gave $5,000, enabling Eva to send a check for $10,000.

“While the $10,000 I sent to the foundation might seem like a small amount, it literally changed the lives of 17 women,” Eva said, “and I was able to do this with just a few friends and little publicity. Think how much more could be done!”

Moving the Apostrophe in Mother’s Day: Helping Mothers Around the Globe
The funds raised by MDM’s campaign supported the work of Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, Fistula Foundation’s medical director, to help deliver one-on-one training to fistula surgeons handling increasingly complex cases of fistula. (Mothers’ Day Movement)

Eva’s daughter Kim agreed, and Kristof’s column about moving the apostrophe in Mother’s Day gave them the idea for the name: Mothers’ Day Movement. The mother and daughter were joined by Stephanie Norton, Trish Hazelwood, Wendy Bronfin and Dominika Jaworski.

Describing themselves as “mothers helping mothers,” the women set out with the mission to fight oppression in the developing world by providing support that will empower them to change not just their own lives, but the lives of their children and communities. They chose the word “movement” because they see Mothers’ Day Movement as a wave that will pick up momentum and grow to affect substantial change.

“We really wanted this name and URL,” Kim explained. “Someone owned it already, so we bought it. I want this to become a movement that everyone owns, with women across the country joining as ambassadors and starting their own fundraisers.”

They chose not to seek 501(c)(3) status because they were not interested in creating a large infrastructure and overhead. They wanted 100 percent of all donations to go directly to charities. The plan was that they would research small- to mid-sized 501(c)(3) charities in education, health care, and other areas helping women and their families all over the world. They would seek recommendations from within their circle, and then select one organization to support with a Mothers’ Day Movement campaign. They decided to focus on small nonprofits where a donation of $50,000 to $100,000 would make a real difference. They had to be large enough to handle donations during the week of Mothers’ Day.

According to Kim, their only goal is to shift the priorities of giving for Mothers’ Day. They urge potential donors to make a donation in honor of their mothers, friends, sisters or any special women in their lives.

For their first project to fund, the team selected Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) based in Nairobi, Kenya. Founded by Kennedy Odede, who grew up in Kibera, the most economically depressed area in Kenya, SHOFCO placed a free school for girls in the community to serve as a portal for large-scale social change.

“For that inaugural campaign in 2011,” Eva was proud to report, “we raised over $135,000, including a $10,000 grant from the Oak Foundation. Over 2,000 individual donors wanted to celebrate the mothers of Kibera and make Mothers’ Day more meaningful. With this money, SHOFCO was able to build a new school that now houses the Kibera School for Girls.”

Once again, Nick Kristof used his New York Times column to showcase Mothers’ Day Movement:

“In a Mother’s Day column in the spring, I suggested that readers commemorate the day not only with flowers but also with a donation to lift up women around the world. Readers showered one group that I mentioned, Mothers’ Day Movement, with more than $135,000 that was forwarded to a slum empowerment group in Kenya.”

“We introduced Nick to SHOFCO,” Eva said, “and since then SHOFCO has grown ten-fold, moving beyond the school to holistic community services in the areas of health, community empowerment, clean water and sanitation. He and Sheryl featured SHOFCO in their 2015 PBS documentary A Path Appears which brought them much deserved global attention.”

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Since 2011, Mothers’ Day Movement has raised over $700,000 to help women and children. The beneficiaries have dramatically improved the lives of women and their families in the fields of women’s health, education, infant and maternal mortality, clean water and human trafficking.

Moving the Apostrophe in Mother’s Day: Helping Mothers Around the Globe
Since 2011, Mothers’ Day Movement has raised over $700,000 in the fields of women’s health, education, infant and maternal mortality, clean water and human trafficking.

Nick Kristof has remained a staunch supporter of Mothers’ Day Movement. In a 2019 column titled, “For Mother’s Day, Save Women’s Lives,” he praised the movement for its role in saving mothers’ lives:

“Americans are expected to spend $25 billion this Mother’s Day on flowers, earrings and meals. Go ahead: These women are worth it and more! But let’s remember that a tenth of that sum would save large numbers of lives of moms around the world. The Mothers’ Day Movement is a worthy effort to honor mothers in part by saving mothers’ lives.” 

For its 2021 campaign, Mothers’ Day Movement selected DigDeep as its 11th beneficiary. This nonprofit works to ensure that every American has clean, running water forever. More than 2.2 million Americans still don’t have running water or basic plumbing, like a flush toilet; 44 million more don’t have clean water that’s safe to drink.

Moving the Apostrophe in Mother’s Day: Helping Mothers Around the Globe
DigDeep’s community-led projects bring clean, hot and cold running water into American homes. (Mothers’ Day Movement)

“While our focus was initially global,” Eva said, “we recognized the needs in the U.S. Last year, during COVID-19, we focused on maternal health in Puerto Rico. This year we decided to continue to support nonprofits in the U.S., especially with the ravages of COVID-19 impacting the disadvantaged the most—people of color, including Native Americans. We are raising funds for DigDeep’s Navajo Nation Water Project.”

For Eva, the letter she wrote to Nick Kristof in 2009 started something she never dreamed possible: a relationship with a major changemaker, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and widely read columnist with millions of loyal followers.

“We love Nick,” Eva said with emotion. “We met him the year we launched Mothers’ Day Movement. He and his wife, Sheryl Wu Dunn, won the 2011 Stowe Prize, recognizing fiction or non-fiction that illuminates a critical social justice issue.  I served on a panel with Nick and Sheryl at Stowe Center.”

In December 2019, right before COVID-19 hit, Kim and her family had the experience of a lifetime: They went to Kenya and saw for themselves the school for girls built by SHOFCO with the funds Mothers’ Day Movement raised.

“During the pandemic,” Kim explained, “SHOFCO has stepped up to provide emergency food support to the girls’ families, jobs for parents making personal protective equipment (PPE), screening for the disease, and direct cash transfers. They are also responding to increasing cases of gender-based violence, another tragic consequence of the pandemic. Mothers’ Day Movement is proud to be associated with this nonprofit that is making a difference in the lives of women in one of the world’s worst slums.”

To find out more about Mothers’ Day Movement and contribute to the 2021 campaign, visit Mothers’ Day Movement.

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Elizabeth Titus has been a journalist, an English teacher, an advertising executive, a communications director (15 years at American Express in New York City), and a freelance writer and communications consultant. Her work has appeared in publications including Narrative, The Humanist, and Women’s Voices Now. She volunteers with groups that support the education of Afghan and Indian girls and women and has sponsored an Afghan woman in the U.S. through high school and college. She is also an active volunteer with PennPAC, working with other graduates of the University of Pennsylvania who donate their time to nonprofits. She was connected with Days for Girls via Catchafire, a digital platform that "strengthens the social good sector by matching professionals who want to donate their time with nonprofits who need their skills.