Juliet rests a moment while her husband, Edward, says his first hello to their first-born child, Christine in a public hospital in Uganda.
For the last 15 months of my life, I’ve been following the stories of three Ugandan Mums from pregnancy to the first birthday in a photo journalism assignment I’ve called, The First Hello.

The idea came about because Tearfund's local partner, Compassion, had recently launched a “Survival” programme that comes alongside mothers in developing countries in the first five years of a child’s life. Traditionally, child sponsorship has always started at 5. However, it became clear that a reasonable portion of kids were not even making it to 5! The Survival project intervenes from the early stages of pregnancy to ensure vulnerable mothers are being given the correct nutrition, the right medical care and the support of the local church to help them on the other end. This assignment was my attempt to bring that to life.

Want to see a quick video we made about it? Click here or below.


As I kicked off the assignment, I couldn’t help but notice that the average Ugandan woman has 6 children. In New Zealand, our average is 1.9. In Uganda there are about 1.3 nurses or midwifes for every 1000 people. In New Zealand we have an average of 11 for every 1000 people. Uganda’s neonatal mortality rate is 38 deaths per 1000 live births, which means it is among the highest in the world. In New Zealand we’re down to 3.8 deaths per 1000 live births. To put that another way, a new-born baby in Uganda is 10 times more likely to die than a NZ born baby. I believe our job is not to deny the story, but to deny the ending.

The First Hello helped me break down the divide I’d created in my mind between me and them. It showed me the common humanity we all share. I found them to be Mum’s just like me with kids just like mine. And I discovered there’s really no difference in what we want for our children, only in what we can give them.

Juliet holds her newborn baby's head as she sleeps on her lap bundled in a blanket

Mama Juliet.

Having not had the opportunity to go to school, Juliet met her husband Edward at a young age. They got pregnant soon after and had little to no money to their name. A member of a local church helped register them into the Compassion programme. Juliet gave birth, by herself, inside a local hospital after a nurse had suddenly gone off duty. I remember waiting for the call. It was fun to feel like a midwife waiting for my three Mums to give birth so I could race to the hospital. It’s also been beautiful to watch Juliet’s love for her daughter grow. “I am so much in love with my daughter Christine,” she told me. “Maybe it’s because she’s my first born? I love my husband too, but he annoys me whereas she cannot annoy me.” Juliet made me laugh when she said, “I’ve heard that white women don’t feel pain when they give birth? That you have schedules for napping and you get mad if the baby doesn’t follow it!?”

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Mama Kate.

Kate’s Mum died at 14 and for many years she endured awful abuse at the hands of her stepmother. By 16 she was forced to drop out of school. By 17 she was pregnant. The man Kate met as a teenager eventually became her husband. But after two kids together he left her for another woman. When I met Mama Kate she was in a bad way. She was not able to afford to put her current daughter in school full time and providing regular food was difficult. The baby came at 41 weeks and when I came to see her she told me that she was so happy that Compassion had come alongside her and paid for all of her hospital costs to have Pamela. After seeing Kate’s confidence grow over the course of the year, and the help Compassion was providing for Baby Pamela, her ex-husband came back to her and he’s been a transformed man ever since. By 6 months Kate had begun selling fish to make a little money to support her and her three kids. Today you’ll find her learning about income generating activities like beadwork and handbag making most days.

When I asked her about what she thought of white women and Motherhood she said, “Westerners seem to really rush with everything. They have a lot to do. They have to get it done. We do what we do in a relaxed way. For them, everything is now, now. For them it has to be exactly that time (fairly confident she was not so subtly talking about me). I hear that white people, by the time they give birth have prepared in every way for their babies and they are just waiting for the baby to come. They get a room for the baby, they decorate it specifically for the baby ,they get the baby it’s own bed, toys and clothes. I don’t know if I can ever be like that. But that’s how I would have liked to have done it.”

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Mama Rahuma.

Rahuma was the youngest of 7 children and because of money, was forced to drop out of school at 13. At 20 she married her childhood sweetheart but the money they made meant they were only able to cook once a day. When she found out she was pregnant they both strongly considered an abortion. Around that time some members from the local church told her about the Compassion Survival programme and she registered for it. After almost 56 hours of being in pain, Compassion stepped in and demanded and paid for a C-section to save the mother and babies life. Baby Faith is the apple of her parent’s eyes. She is adored and treated like a princess. When we met up on Faith’s first birthday she told me, “The best thing about this year is that we are alive and our child is too.” Today Rahuma is a better mother than you could ever hope for. She’s learning how to make books and fix shoes. She makes her own Vaseline and is patient and strong.

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Compassion’s Survival programme helps children and their mothers to survive those crucial early years. The programme teaches mothers how to read and write, how to calculate, what proper nutrition looks like and how to be a positive parent. Many of the Mothers in the programme have gone through domestic violence and have exhausted all financial opportunities. They feel discouraged. This programme encourages them that they can indeed make it and they can thrive. Compassion keeps their family together with a simple but crucial intervention.

I’ve visited and engaged with a lot of development projects over the years in a wide range of different contexts. I’ve seen desperately needed aid, food and water handed out to victims of natural disasters and I’ve seen the steady flow of support that can come from a self-help savings and loans group. I’ve also had the opportunity to think hard about the question, what can we do? I believe one of the best ways we can engage is through child sponsorship. It’s not sexy, it’s not fast, it’s not new. But it works.

At the end of the First Hello assignment on the girls first birthday’s I wondered what to give them. But deep down I knew the answer about 11 months and 29 days prior.

Want to see what I got them? Click here OR below.


On each of the babies first birthday’s I handed them a card that asked if our family could be their sponsor. Our kids will now grow up with these kids. And it’s great that Baby Christine, Baby Pamela and Baby Faith have been sponsored. But the reason I’m writing this blog is because I need your help to ensure all their little friends in their Survival projects are sponsored to. You can sponsor a child by clicking here.

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As a Mum to three little kids myself I feel sick when I think about kids around the world who don’t have access to the same things mine do. Simple stuff like food, clean water and medical care. That’s not ok with me. And I think that’s why I love child sponsorship so much because it gives a child their childhood back. It says to a kid living in poverty, don’t worry. Don’t worry about your schooling, your food, your medical care anymore. We have your back. Poverty comes to steal to rob, to kill and destroy. It tells a child you will never get out of this. Child sponsorship is one very important antidote to that. It says, NO. Not on my watch. I see you. I hear you. And I might not live next to you or even in the same country as you, but I’m going to play the long game and walk with you until you graduate school and can go off on your own.

Today I’m asking you to give childhood back to a child who likely won’t have it otherwise. Not only is there really strong independent research that backs Compassion’s specific model up, but I’ve personally visited countless Compassion projects the world over and have seen the impressive results first hand. You can sponsor a child by clicking here.

Thank you! Xo- Helen

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