Imagine yourself dancing alongside local tribal women to a deep, resonating drumbeat until sweat is pouring off you. These are the same women you have sat with on the tarp to pick out pieces of rice, stirred porridge over the fire, held their babies and sat in their smoky mud and wattle houses. The women encourage you to jump alongside with them in the dance steps. Finally, you need to sit down.

In February 8 of us spent almost 2 weeks with Lightness and her projects. We painted the walls and dug foundations for 3 houses to replace the fallen, mud hut, these single women of 4 to 6 children live in. It is not really possible I think to understand what these houses mean to these mom’s.

We found Sarahda, having been dumped at the main road in Tiruvannamalai. She could not walk, and spoke the language of Kerala. She told us she was waiting for her family to pick her up again, which they promised, when they left her.

The 4Walls Project will be part of this year’s Imagine RIT.

Imagine RIT showcases the most innovative and creative projects of RIT students, including their project to create roofs for 4Walls houses.

I was fascinated to discover recently that the roots of the modern Mother’s Day celebration lie in the battle cries of early peace activists and public health pioneers who saw motherhood as a healing force that could transform sick communities and unite warring nations. Julia Ward Howe, better known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” first promoted a Mothers’ Peace Day in 1872 as a way to build global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and Europe’s Franco-Prussian War. Anna Gravis, who first used the term Mothers Day in 1908, did so in honor of her own mother’s life’s work improving sanitary conditions for impoverished immigrant mothers and children.

This was the motherhood that the founding daughters of Mother’s Day wanted to commemorate.

A hundred years have passed, and commercialism has taken root. Mother’s day has become a more intimate celebration of the gratitude we feel to the women who have held and loved us in our own lives. But what of those mothers whose stories and cultures fall vastly – even unimaginably – outside of our own experience? Mothers on the far side of the globe who might never have heard the phrase “Mother’s day” but who worry about and rejoice in their children just as we do. Mothers in Ecuador who labor to plant the roses we buy for our mothers each May with their own infants strapped to their backs. Women in rural Africa who give birth in conditions we can’t comprehend. Mothers who are deprived of the most basic liberties just because they are women. On May 21, should we still be thinking of them?

The question is – is there a way to honor the important women in our life by also honoring the women that are not in our life – the mothers that we don’t know but whose stories we can frailly connect to – if we try – through our own experience of loving and being loved by our own mothers? And if we can, how do we do that?

If even 0.1% of the USA’s projected $21 billion spending on Mother’s day this year was diverted back into women’s programs around the world, tremendous things could happen, both at home, and abroad. Untold lives would be changed, thousands if not millions saved.

The Rochester Community is renowned for its vibrant non-profit community and armies of dedicated volunteers: for those wanting to support programs working with local mothers, opportunities abound. Those wanting to support international women’s projects have to dig a little deeper. This is where Journeys of Solutions comes in.

Those already familiar with JOS’s work know that we work with chronically underserved mothers around the globe. JOS volunteers are currently helping support indigent widowed mothers in rural India, building houses for mothers in Tanzania, funding maternity clinics in rural Uganda, and helping mothers in Nicaragua implement cleaner cooking technologies.

By making a donation to one of JOS’s women’s projects this Mother’s Day, you can reclaim the original spirit of Mother’s Day as a celebration of the centrality of the shared experience of motherhood to human progress. By honoring and helping mothers around the world, you’ll make a difference not just in the lives of this generation’s women, but in the lives of her children, and their children later. Not bad for the price of a box of chocolates.

(Remember that all donations go directly to support work in the field. For more information about JOS’s current programs, project blogs, and ways to support JOS’s work.)