The Learning Lunch podcast explores ideas, approaches and social innovations – creating opportunity for non-profit organisations’ teams to discover what others are learning and space to reflect on what these insights might mean for their own strategy and programme implementation.

Storytelling can be used in the non-profit sector as a means of listening and sharing, gaining trust within your network and shaping how you move forward with your work. In this podcast, Embrace Movement for Mothers shares their unique best practices when it comes to storytelling and making the mother a powerful ally in their activism – not only in relation to the child but as a key player socially, economically and politically in South Africa.

Embrace promotes a connected and thriving start to motherhood for every new mother in South Africa. They have adopted a people-driven approach to supporting mothers as the primary ‘simple, loving connection’ in their children’s life. A key part of this people-driven approach has been to instil a storytelling methodology that sheds light on the stories of willing mothers to build solidarity with the movement.

A good example of this is in 2018, during Women’s Month, Embrace decided to tell the stories of 31 mothers over 31 days. Rumbi Goredema Görgens, Embrace Operations Manager writes, “In an effort to reclaim the public space of Women’s Month, littered as it is with pink-hued marketing ploys, we decided to find 31 women doing the always extraordinary and often mundane work of motherhood… When we began planning this campaign, we had a picture of the kinds of stories we wanted to find. We were looking for stories that are often on the margins. We were also looking to disrupt assumptions, for example, by telling the story of a teenage mom who is focused and is raising her child successfully, without state assistance. Some wise people in our network pointed out that by doing this, we were reducing participants to only some parts of their motherhood journeys. We would be narrowly framing stories that were not ours to frame. So we ditched our expectations, and we sought out existing circles of women and asked if we could bring them together for an honest conversation about motherhood. We found these circles in workplaces, leisure groups, support groups and other existing women-centred spaces… Within the stories, you will see the many faces and phases of motherhood in South Africa. You see women sharing the spectrum of their experiences, and, through their stories, fulfilling our collective yearning for connection with and support from other mothers.”

This is just one example of how Embrace was able to listen to the mothers in their network and rethink how they had initially conceptualised this campaign. There is power in the organisation’s willingness to self-correct and be lifetime learners, and this is one of the things that leads them to have such open, honest, vulnerable and trusting relationships with the mothers in their organisation.

In this podcast Rumbi Goredema Görgens, Embrace’s Operations Manager and Nonkululeko Mbuli their Communications and Advocacy Strategist, shares their best practices for ethical storytelling that takes others into the heart of other’s experiences and they give advice for making mothers powerful allies in activism.

Rumbi Goredema Görgens is the Operations Manager of Embrace. She is an Activist, Researcher and Author committed to promoting the empowerment of African women. She is a proud and exhausted mother to Samuel (6) and Mriro (2). Rumbi also has an extensive background in writing for various audiences, including academic audiences, funders and stakeholders in civil society and popular audiences. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Vela Magazine and

Nonkululeko Mbuli is the Communications and Advocacy Strategist at Embrace. With experience in community journalism and communication for social change, she is a storyteller at heart and adept at content creation for a variety of platforms. Nonkululeko is a 2021 Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity.

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Background of Embrace

Founded in 2013, the organisation was built on the concept of social capital and its potential to increase resilience in children and families by connecting Capetonians across divides and creating new networks to share social capital. That strategy was not always successful.

It is this experience of trying to bring people together across divisions that led Embrace to develop a second key strategy that has shaped the organisation as it is today, and drives the Embrace team to continuously ask: How can the Embrace movement redefine thinking about social capital?  And how can the movement promote dignity and respect for all members?

Today Embrace redefines the value that people put to certain types of capital, showing for example how material donations are not worth more than less concrete forms of capital such as moms being able to speak to hospital staff in their mother tongue. Since its establishment, they have taken every lesson to heart; as a result, the team has repeatedly reorganised their thinking and adjusted its strategy. Embrace sees mothers are part of the foundational work of the next generation, worthy of being valued and respected.  Their approaches and willingness to experiment in a respectful way can be of value to other organisations working with parents.


The Embrace Manifesto (born from the words of mothers across the country): 

  • Embrace is diverse but united by their common experiences of motherhood
  • Every mother can gain from and contribute to the movement
  • Every mother is the expert on HER child
  • Every mother is worthy of care and support
  • They listen first and then speak
  • They encourage and support rather than judge and criticise
  • How they  do things is as important as what they do
  • Their voices and stories are powerful
  • What divides them needs to be diminished
  • Friendship and community are critical for their mental health and wellbeing
  • There are many good practices of motherhood but no single way to mother  children
  • They acknowledge and value the role of culture and beliefs in the way they shape the motherhood journey.
  • They have the right to celebrate their children and honour their role as mothers of the next generation


Hear some of the stories of South African mothers

Six exceptional mothers share their birthing and pregnancy experiences with us. Answering the following questions:

  1. How would you describe your pregnancy ?
  2. How was your birthing experience?
  3. How do you think South African mothers can be better supported?


A transcription of Yolanda Mpongoma’s story (which is partially in the isiXhosa language):

So my experience with regards to pregnancy and giving birth, my first pregnancy was very easy. I won’t lie I had no morning sickness, nothing, it was just me with a big belly. In terms of giving birth, I had to, I had no medical aid. I was 19 years old. Luckily for me, my mom was very supportive throughout the whole journey. She was very supportive. As for the boyfriend aspect, he was there physically, but emotionally and everything else he wasn’t present because I think he also was a bit young. It was also his first child. So he didn’t really know how to be there for a pregnant person.

In terms of giving birth, I was in labour for about 17 hours, it was hell. Literally hell. But I got through it. I gave natural birth. Second pregnancy, it wasn’t as easy, but it wasn’t hectic aswell. I was pregnant for 43 weeks. Towards the end it was hectic, I was carrying really big, it was summer, it was just terrible. Birthing experience, I went to a public hospital here in the township at KTC (a Day Hospital in Gugulethu, Cape Town). I was bullied a lot by the nurses simply because I didn’t go there for ukuhlukuhla (maternal check ups). My boyfriend paid cash because he lived in Brackenfell, so he would pay for me to see a nurse, I forgot the name of the clinic but it was in Bellville, but it wasn’t expensive, It was R300 per appointment and then towards my due date I obviously had to then go to a public hospital because I could not afford to pay cash to give birth at a private hospital. The nurses bullied me just because I didn’t do my maternal check ups at a public hospital. When I was in labour they shouted at me, they told me this is not at a private hospital, they asked me where are the child’s clothes, it was a traumatising experience because I was fairly young. I was 22. Even though I already had a child, experiences aren’t the same. Pregnancies will never be the same. I was young, I had nurses swearing at me. As I was about to give birth, I could feel the baby was coming. I laid on my back and practised everything that the nurse I was seeing (at the private clinic) had told me to do. With two pushes the baby was out. She was fine, I didn’t tear, nothing happened, it was a smooth delivery with literally just two pushes. I remember the girl on the opposite bed was screaming for the nurses to come because she could see the head of the child coming out. And the nurses just said she’s used to having kids, she’s had so many kids, they said to tell her to let us know when she’s done giving birth to the baby. So it was so traumatic for me. And when my baby came out, I checked my baby, and the cord was wrapped around her head, so I took it off myself then she started crying and it was only then that they (the nurses) came. It was really traumatic for me. You hear these stories that nurses in the townships are rude and I experienced it. It was very hard for me. Because I’m thinking to myself what if I didn’t check my child and she choked to death.

With the biggest challenges you face as a new mother, with my first child my mother was very supportive and I have a very big family, so I was never alone in terms of being able to take care of my baby. They supported me, they helped me. With the first few days when the baby’s belly had to be cleaned, my mother showed me how to do it, and when she had to go to work I had my older sisters to show me how to do it, so I had a lot of support and I didn’t feel lost. It became a little bit easier with the second child, I already knew what to do and they didn’t have a big age gap between them – about a two to three-year gap, so I still remembered what I needed to do in order to be able to take care of my child. Even the mother of my father’s child supported me financially because the father wasn’t working. So I didn’t have as many challenges as a young girl from the township who is unemployed normally would.

How can different mothers be supported in society? Where I come from in the township, no one speaks about postpartum depression, in fact, depression as a whole, no one cares about it. But specifically postpartum depression, you get a lot of mothers, especially teenage mothers, the first time you have a child a lot changes, physically, and mentally, you change a lot. I don’t think a lot of attention is given to a first-time mother in terms of dealing with the changes that come with having a child. I was fortunate that I had a lot of support. I don’t know if this is the right word, but I didn’t have a chance to be depressed about the whole thing, but not everyone is as fortunate. Especially in the township, you give birth, you’re told to take care of your child, they’ll tell you that no one sent you to go and make a child, all those things, so you end up hating your child, not necessarily hating, but you don’t have as much love for your child as you should. I have first-hand experience where you see your body changing and you blame yourself. If only I had used protection, I should have been on contraceptives, you have all these things in your head but you don’t have anyone to ask. You don’t want to go and ask your mom as a 19-year-old and say that I don’t like my body, I have stretch marks now, my boobs are sagging, because your mom will tell you well that’s what comes with having a child. I think we need to do away, especially in black communities, with depression in any form, especially postpartum being a taboo subject amongst children and parents. People need to understand why they are feeling a certain way and how they can get help. I feel strongly about this because of my experience at a public hospital in the township. The nurses do not care, they will swear at you, especially as a teenager and a first-time mom who doesn’t know what to expect. You have this nurse swearing at you and it adds to the stress. I think we need to support and educate first-time parents in that aspect. Ask them, what do you feel? So they recognise that this might be happening to me and how they can get help. We really need to support first-time mothers, even if it’s not the first time child, it’s extremely hard raising a child. Sometimes you’re not single, but at the end of the day, that is your responsibility. The dad can be there to financially support the child, your mom can help you when the baby is crying at night but the full responsibility lies on you at the end of the day. We need to support mothers in any way that we can.


Helpful links

  • The Embrace website
  • Connecting people in a diverse and unequal society such as South Africa is by  no means easy.  Embrace shares three lessons that changed and shaped its strategy, and  which might serve as inspiration  for other  organisations  facing similar  challenges. Read the learning brief here
  • Embrace: Telling the stories of motherhood in South Africa. Read the article here