A Pre-International Women’s Day Tribute to my Mother

February 29th, 2012 | Shonali Burke | 23 Comments

Today’s Leap Day. If you know someone who’s celebrating their birthday today, make it good… I mean, they won’t get to celebrate it again for four years! And don’t tweet anything silly

OK, now on to today’s post. Disclosure: this is a client campaign I’m working on, which means I get paid to work on the campaign (primarily blogger outreach), but I do not get paid (or was even asked) to write this post. I’m writing it because I think it’s a cool campaign and I have the chance to tell you of how you can celebrate the women who’ve inspired you in a really fun way.

The client

pounding beans to make flouris Oxfam America. The work came about rather suddenly, and while I’ve been aware of Oxfam itself for years, I never really focused on just how much they do around the world to alleviate poverty, hunger and social injustice.

This photo is of a woman in Banakoro, Mali, pounding beans to make into flour. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America.

And you know what? A lot of that – a lot – has to do with women.

Consider that:

  • Sixty-six percent of the world’s work falls on women’s shoulders, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income;
  • If women were given the same level of access to resources that men have, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%;
  • Hunger and poverty are about power and inequality, and women and girls face the biggest inequalities of all.

So when politicians talk about removing inequalities, wiping out poverty, yada yada yada, they shouldn’t just be including women in the discussion, they should be actively trying to empower women, so that these imbalances are corrected.

I mean, women make up half the population on Earth. How on earth [sic] will these issues ever be corrected, in the long-term, if women are not a part of it?

So that’s what Oxfam America has taken on.

The campaign

Since International Women’s Day is coming up (March 8), there are some really fun ways we can all start to give women and girls a voice, celebrating the power of women to change the world… and it doesn’t cost us anything, except maybe a few moments of our time:

  • Give this International Women’s Day eAward to a woman you admire, who you think has made a difference in her community. It’s really neat, because you can download it, type in her name, and then yours in the signature field along with the date. Then save it as a JPG and send it to her, via email, post to her Facebook Wall, whatever;
  • Send an International Women’s Day eCard to a woman who’s making a difference. I actually received one of these earlier today, and it was such a great way to start my day!
  • If you’re a blogger (and I know so many of you are), write a blog post about this so that your community learns about this initiative, and you can give them a different and fun way to celebrate the women in their lives.

What I’m going to do is this:

  • I’m going to send a few eCards every day from today until March 8. Because there are so many women who have inspired me, and who are making such a difference, and I want to say “thank you.”
  • I’m going to give an eAward to a different woman every day, starting today and until March 8, and post it to their Facebook Walls. I’ve already seen a friend of mine do this, and I just think it’s a terrific way to recognize someone.

Thank you, Mum

Today, my eAward goes to my mother (I call her “mum,” don’t laugh, I know it sounds very Brit). I don’t write about her a lot, because when I start thinking of just how much she has done to raise not just my siblings and I, but countless children, I tear up.

International Women's Day 2012 eAward

You see, my mother was a teacher. I should say “is,” because even though she’s now retired, she’s still teaching.

My mom is quite an incredible woman; she fell madly in love with my father at the age of 18 and decided not to go to college in order to marry him and start a family. As a result, I was born (I’m the eldest) when she was just 21 (our birthdays are two days apart), and then she spent the next several years doing just that – starting and raising a family.

When my brother was of an age to go to kindergarten, he was enrolled in a Montessori school, and my mom got a part-time job teaching there (she comes from a family of teachers and educationists, as does my dad). That part-time job became a full-time one, and then she moved from that school to one of Kolkata’s (and India’s, actually) most respected K-12 schools for boys.

At that school, she started out teaching at the primary levels, and then worked her way up to the intermediate levels and then the “senior” school (which is basically grades 9-12). And since her career progression required the stamp of education, she decided to go back to school at the same time.

So my mom and I ended up both earning our bachelor’s degrees at the same time (she was around 40), and I am so so proud of her for doing that while managing a full-time career, three rowdy kids at home, countless rowdy kids at school and everything else.

And you know what? She didn’t stop there. After her bachelor’s, she earned more degrees, including a B.Ed. (Bachelor’s in Education) which is a requirement for tenured teachers in India. And she didn’t take any time off to do any of this.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

While she was working (and studying), she somehow found the time to also run an afternoon school for street kids that was held on the premises of St. James’ (the school she retired from). So it was work all day, a quick lunch, and then more teaching kids who were so desperate to go to school, but whose parents (if they had any) couldn’t afford to send them.

She also tutored kids who needed extra help at home, including neighborhood children, and the kids of the help we had at home, because she was determined that no child would go without an education if she had anything to do with it, dammit.

(She’d never say “dammit.” That was me, adding it in for dramatic effect.)

Somewhere along the way, she started writing textbooks, and now her books are used in schools all over India. Let me repeat that: ALL OVER INDIA.

You think I’ve done some cool stuff? I’m nothing compared to my mother.

So, Mum:

Thank you for relentlessly bringing education and learning into so many hearts.

Thank you for being my foremost inspiration (even if you don’t think you are, and I don’t tell you enough!).

Thank you for teaching me, my brother and sister, and so many people, that there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.

For that, and so much more, thank you. I love you always.

Now that I’ve stopped crying (hey, I get emotional when thinking about my mom!), tell me: which women have inspired you? Why? What is the lasting impact they’ve left on you? And don’t you think they deserve one of these cards, or an award, or both?

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Latest posts by Shonali Burke (see all)

Print Friendly
Opt In Image

"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?


@cision Thanks so much for sharing and helping to showcase @oxfamamerica [client] terrific campaign!


@markwschaefer Belated thanks for sharing! (I was offline over the weekend)

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Thank you! Do you have anyone you could give an eAward/eCard to? I suspect many...

R Dawson  Oxfam America
R Dawson Oxfam America

This post just completely got me teary.  Thank you so much for working with us, and for internalizing our mission in such a completely wonderful and personal way.  My mom was actually the person I thought about honoring with the award, so I completely identify with feeling that kind of gratitude!  Thanks again, you are awesome!


@torimarzilli Thank you!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

And props to Oxfam America for coming up with a really neat campaign!


@rachaelseda Thank you for sharing!


Wow, this is touching. I mean I assumed your mother had to be AMAZING but wow she really is an inspiration and I see where you get it from! 


I too have so many women that have inspired me along the way and I love the idea of giving out a few e-cards a day, I am most definitely going to do that as well. Yep, stealing your idea, what are you going to do about it? hehe.


Jumping back to the mother part....I remember the day exactly I can see it in my head, when my mother looked at my father and said "We can't live like this, are children deserve better, we deserve better, I think we need to figure out a way for me to go to college so that we can give them a better life." I was about five at the time, but it's a moment engrained in my head. My mom did just that she somehow enrolled herself in college and decided to go to school for nursing. She tells me she would stay up all night studying because I would lay over her books during the day and beg her to play with me and she just couldn't take it. I don't remember feel deprived of my mother. What I remember is how determined she was. How hard she worked but how much time she still invested in us. When she was 40 she got her graduate degree and is now a Nurse Practitioner. 


But I don't think I fully appreciated all that she did and overcame until I went to college myself. I could not imagine going to college, taking care of kids and then working part-time too - oh and wondering if I was going to have enough money too. Holy moly. Whenever I think, "this is too hard", I think of what my mom went through to give us a better life and that feeling is washed away.


And I tell you this all the time, but you too my dear Shonali have had such a profound impact on me, my career and just life in general. I am blesses to have a role model, mentor and woman in my life that is as genuine, smart and all around lovely as you. I will never be able to thank you enough, but I do promise to pay it forward!


Now time to go send out some e-cards ;)


You made me cry... yes, moms are the most amazing thing to happen to all of us!


My mom actually isn't educated much; she got married during her bachelors and because my dad moved abroad; she had to manage a growing family all be herself. She started a small catering business from home and even though we moved constantly, she was determined to run it. And she did it well. Though she wasn't educated much but she knew how to earn money and that is something that always inspires me, she just didn't sit and lament about her shortcoming; she worked on what she was good at!


I salute your mother and all such mothers around who make the world a much better place and who make dreams a reality. 


@shonali my pleasure. Thanks for understanding!

Shonali moderator

 @rachaelseda I LOVED hearing about your mom. Wow, looks like many of us have powerhouse moms. How cool is that? Do you think maybe that's why we connect the way we do?

And thank you for the so-kind words. Sometimes I wonder what you see in me, but hey, I'll take a compliment any day. :p I know you'll pay it forward, you do every day. You're quite a lady yourself!

Shonali moderator

 @Hajra  I made me cry too!

That is so interesting, hearing about your mom. Wow. She sounds like she's quite something. You know what I find, though? That people often assume because someone's not college-educated (or finished their degree), they're not smart. That is SO wrong. I mean, look at what your & my moms did.


@markwschaefer But of course!


  1. [...] might remember my telling you about this; long story short, we were asked to provide digital support for the campaign; specifically, to [...]

  2. [...] Shonali Burke, and write a blog post that is both a tribute and shares valuable information about International Women’s Day [...]

  3. [...] Shonali Burke, and write a blog post that is both a tribute and shares valuable information about International Women’s Day [...]

  4. [...] A tribute by Shonali Burke with more on Oxfam’s eCards and eAwards to give to the women you value; [...]

  5. [...] I was pitching Oxfam America’s International Women’s Day campaign, for example (it’s tomorrow, by the way, have you gotten your eCards/eAwards ready?), I was [...]

  6. [...] A Pre-International Women’s Day Tribute to my Mother (waxingunlyrical.com) [...]