It was two months away from May 13, but about 40 women and teenage girls gathered in Westfield for Mothers’ Day in March: Maternal Health Around the World. Their aim: to assist and empower mothers in rural Africa.
The advocacy program, held March 11 at Temple Emanu-El, was organized and sponsored by the congregation’s sisterhood and cosponsored by the Union County Section of National Council of Jewish Women.
The gathering, which included both temple members and nonmembers (including youngsters belonging to two Cranford Girl Scout troops), first viewed the 2009 Emmy-winning documentary A Walk to Beautiful, about patients and doctors at the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. The film shows the heartbreak and hope experienced by young women from Ethiopian villages who are made to live as outcasts after suffering from a devastating birthing injury. (The film can be viewed at www.pbs.org.)
In what event organizer Gloria Brown of of Elizabeth called one of the movie’s most poignant lines, the doctor explains how she tells her patients that, the next time they are pregnant, as soon as they feel the unborn child move, they must start their journey to the clinic, no matter how long the journey. One young woman in the film lives six miles from the nearest road.
“It was so moving,” said Pamela Bernstein of Westfield after seeing the film. “I had no idea the struggles they had. It’s wonderful work the surgeons do.”
After the screening, participants helped create clean birthing kits to send to women in rural Africa who have no access to clinics. Some attendees made “Pads for Power” — reusable sanitary pads for teenage girls in Sudan who otherwise would be forced to stay at home and miss time from school each month.
“We make them out of washcloths and they can be cleaned and reused. It’s empowering these girls so they can get an education,” said Brown, a sisterhood board member and a past president of Union County NCJW. “It sounds kind of crazy to us because we have such good products here,” she said.
Supplies were provided by ShopRite of Clark and Edgepark Medical Supplies of Stongsville, Ohio. Many of the women who participated also donated material — baby receiving blankets, washcloths, gently used sheets, and small soaps — to be sent to Africa.
Sisterhood contributed funds to pay for items not requested as donations, including plastic sheeting, razor blades, and string, as well as the costs of shipping the items. NCJW gave a monetary donation to the effort, along with some of the women in attendance.
When addressing the group, Brown expressed her sorrow at the recent passing of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, whom she had invited to the event. Payne (D-Dist. 10), the state’s first African-American to be elected to Congress, died March 6. “I know his spirit is here and I know that this program is something he would be very excited about,” said Brown, who is also the sisterhood’s advocacy chair.
Rabbi Erin Glazer, Temple Emanu-El’s assistant religious leader, attended the event. “I think oftentimes, we look at the world and think that the problems are too big to address and that the things we do won’t make a difference,” she said. “But a program like this makes a real difference in a few ways.
“It raises our awareness and connects us to women around the world, it connects women in our community to each other, and it provides much-needed supplies for girls and women whom we may never meet.”
“Jewish tradition says we are not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor,” said Glazer. “This is a real way we can respond, even if our ‘neighbor’ is far away.”
“I cannot believe the enthusiasm generated by this program,” Brown said afterward. “The Cranford Girl Scouts are discussing plans to collect more baby receiving blankets. Several people have taken washcloths and strips of sheets for sewing Pads for Power at home.” Others who attended also expressed interest in continuing the work begun that day. Brown said, “We may have brought this program to life in New Jersey.”