Afghanistan and Norway shared news headlines this week, one for better, the other for worse. Norway was ranked the best place in the world to be a mother, while Afghanistan was rated the worst.
These were the findings from a report by Save the Children, which measured the health of mothers and their children in countries around the globe. In Afghanistan, a country torn apart by years of conflict and poverty, women and their babies suffer from lack of health care and nutrition.
A sobering reminder this Mother's Day of the injustices facing the most vulnerable segment of the population, this is a tragic tale all too often repeated as mothers and children suffer the most amidst poverty and conflict. One tale illustrates this as well as any.
After a hostile force raided a village, residents were forced to seek refuge in the surrounding hillside. Some of these were pregnant women. They ended up giving birth in the cold and dark.
Another mother being forced out of her home by the same group of enemy soldiers sought to get her children who were playing at a neighbors. It was reported that a cruel blow ended her plea.
The aftermath of the raid left ruins. Mothers and children were left in need of food, medicine, shelter and clothing for the winter. Homes, shops and schools had to be rebuilt.
You are now wondering where did all this take place? Afghanistan? No. These atrocities against mothers, children and innocent people took place in Norway. More specifically, this was in the region of Finnmark in Northern Norway which was leveled by retreating Nazi German forces during World War II.
But through their own resilience and with help from the outside, this region rebuilt itself. Help came for mothers and their children in the form of food and medical supplies. The Allied Forces, commanded by General Dwight Eisenhower, rushed in supplies.
Charities like the Red Cross and American Relief for Norway also responded to the emergency. The latter organization came to the rescue with shipments of supplies, including a massive store of clothing they had collected for years. This was especially crucial given the region's frigid temperatures.
Howard Kershner of Save the Children went to work to bring attention to the plight of Finnmark's residents. He penned opeds for newspapers and also traveled across the country to inform people of the suffering in Norway and other war-torn countries.
Save the Children was a major force in reconstructing Finnmark, particularly in the area of building back the schools. Incidentally, Save the Children is working in Afghanistan today to try and bring that society back.
The challenges are massive as years of war and poverty have broken the country. The new Save the Children report states, “in Afghanistan, a typical woman has fewer than five years of education and will not live to be forty-five." The numbers get worse as "one child in five dies before reaching age five."
Retired Col. John Agoglia, who directed counter-insurgency training there says, "In Afghanistan, you get a strong sense of the long-term impact of basic solutions. When we brought in medicines and some basic food and health care for those village women, we saw an immediate effect. By saving one sick child or one pregnant woman, we saved a family."
Agoglia urges more action on the basics, as "tackling the health and education problems of women and children in the developing world is relatively simple compared to other issues of global peace."
So much emphasis it seems these days is placed on solutions that involve massive influxes of dollars or major military operations. What is often left aside are the basic needs of societies. And if these are received in enough quantity, it can start a domino effect for solving other societal problems.
Imagine a healthy mother and child. Imagine that they go on to live healthy productive lives. Think of what that means to a family and to the community around them. Think of what such good health might mean in terms of education and future for the children? It could mean the next doctor, teacher, engineer, or peacemaker.
On this Mother’s Day, this needs to be the message broadcast throughout the globe.