When Stephanie Moore died of ovarian cancer far too young, she left behind a heartbroken daughter and a gift that would help lead her only child out of overwhelming grief.
“I was so entwined with my mom that when she died, I had a really hard time figuring out who I was in the world,” says Nyla Rodgers. “I was so angry that I lost faith in everything. I was 26. I felt very lost with no idea how to continue.”
Nyla would find her way by following in her Mother’s footsteps—literally.
During her life, Nyla’s mother had supported an African boy named Bernard and had raised $1,500 to help his village in Kisumu, Kenya.
So when Nyla got an offer to work for the UN in Nairobi just weeks after her mother’s death, she took it, planning to meet Bernard while she was there. The visit was not what she expected.
When she arrived in Kisumu, hundreds of villagers were lined up to greet her and to hold a memorial to honor her mother. Her mother, she discovered, had donated $1,000 to various local women to start their own small businesses. As a result, they had been able to educate their children, pay for AIDS medications and reinvest in their village. With just a small amount of money, she had impacted the entire community.
“I was so overwhelmed when I found out all that my mother had done,” says Nyla. “It was a very emotional day.” They sang ‘Amazing Grace’ which had been sung at my mother’s funeral. It was a beautiful moment of coming together and seeing the magic of what’s possible through generosity.”
In that moment Nyla experienced a profound and consoling insight.
“Grief is leftover love. What do you do with your love for someone after they’re gone? This community showed me what to do. I had to give back to others, just as my mother had, in order to honor her.”
Long before her visit to Kisumu, the seeds of “oneness” had been planted in Nyla. Her grandmother had worked for the civil rights movement, as had her mother during the Vietnam War. In WWII, her grandfather was a paramedic who saved the lives of dozens of wounded soldiers, treating them whether they were Americans or Germans. Nyla herself had worked with children who had survived civil war and genocide in Bosnia.
“I was taught from the very beginning that I am a Global Citizen first and an American second. This meant that all my actions had consequences for people across the world and that part of my purpose is to build a world where everyone is able to be happy and healthy.
“I also was taught as a white, American woman, that I have a responsibility to use my privilege and access to rebuild the system that keeps others from reaching their full potential.”
To begin her new journey, Nyla’s idea was to live in a community, establish personal connections and ask villagers to share their vision for their community. Her pitch was simple. What is your grand idea? What kind of businesses do you want to build? Let’s put a proposal together. I know some organizations that might be able to support your cause. Then she would fly home and start fundraising.
So, after returning from Kenya, Nyla wrote to all her friends and family asking for donations to help build a health clinic that the people in one village desperately needed and wanted.
That was the beginning of Mama Hope, Nyla’s non-profit founded in 2007 with a mission to help communities achieve lasting prosperity by directly supporting projects in education, health, women’s empowerment, agriculture and beyond — projects which are 100% community-led.
The organization operates on a grassroots, bottom-up model, where local leaders identify projects that would most benefit the community and its families. Mama Hope then raises the funds to support these projects, with local residents involved in every phase from planning, to sourcing materials, to construction, to long-term management.
And that is the key to long-term transformational success, says Nyla--having locals drive their own progress and take ownership of community projects.
“When I travel to Africa, I see people born into difficult circumstances living with tremendous hope, love and happiness. They are eager to give back to their communities. Mama Hope seeks to empower these innovative, driven and capable people by providing them with the minimal resources they need to get their projects started.”
That working model also inspired Mama Hope’s mantra of “Stop the Pity, Unlock the Potential” and led to a Stop The Pity campaign, designed to change the stereotypes about the global poor, with videos that have gone viral, garnering more than 20 million views.
“I believe that because of the quality of our work, our focus on sustainability and the independence of our global partners, we are helping generations of people who have not been born yet. The next generation of children will be able to go to school, have water in their homes and proper nutrition. They will never have to experience poverty in the way their brothers and sisters had to in the past.”
A decade on, Mama Hope has built schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems and food security projects that have improved the health and economic standing of over 730,000 people in 9 countries -- all of it built on a concept initiated by Nyla’s mother.
“My mom had no agenda of her own. She just asked the villagers what they wanted and gave it to them. I’d been working with high-powered, well-funded NGOs in the developing world…and had never seen them have such a profound impact on a community as my mother had with a thousand dollars.”
A thousand dollars and a deep well of leftover love—a mother’s legacy that helped her daughter come through her grief and begin to bring hope and change to the world.
Nyla’s work with Mama Hope has been recognized by Global Citizen of the Year and by Eileen Fisher’s Fall campaign “Power: In the Words of Women.” She was also profiled in Forbes under the headline: The Business of Hope: What It Takes and How One Woman Inspired it.
If you have a passion to make a meaningful difference in the world, to travel to distant places not as a tourist but as a global citizen, and leave a huge mark on the world, check out the Global Advocate Fellowship at www.mamamhope.org.