Every day, around 1,500 people in South Africa become infected with HIV. This epidemic has led to about 1.4 million orphans in South Africa alone. Many of these young children are malnourished and are in desperate need of care. Jill Youse, founder of the International Breast Milk Project (IBMP), is here to help.

To date, IBMP has sent 65,000 bottles of breast milk to South Africa. This amount of “liquid gold,” as Youse calls it, has the ability to feed 2,188 babies for a month. If you do the math, it’s easy to see that there’s still a need for milk. Youse and two thousand other mothers are determined to meet this demand.

The idea of donating milk first came to Youse after her daughter was born and she had a freezer full of breast milk. Not wanting the food to go to waste, she turned to Google. Youse soon found an orphanage in South Africa that needed donor milk. After personally sending her milk to Durban, South Africa, Youse had no idea that her actions would turn into an international nonprofit.

“I didn’t think, ‘Oh I’m going to go start a nonprofit organization and start a worldwide movement. I just thought, ‘This is a simple solution. I have a whole lot of something, and here’s this baby that has nothing. Certainly this is least I can do,’” says Youse.

News of this unique donation quickly spread, and mothers started calling Youse asking where to send their milk. When the Oprah show called and left a message on her cell phone Youse didn’t believe it. “I didn’t return their call because I thought it was my best friend playing a joke. When I got the second message I looked at the area code and thought, ‘I better call back.’ And it was a good thing that I did,” Youse explains. After Oprah gave her approval of IBMP, the 10 donating mothers turned into 1,500, the IBMP website quit functioning and Youse’s inbox was overwhelmed with new inquiries.

Since then, Youse has seen the powerful effects donor milk can have. In addition to providing life-saving benefits to infants, Youse has found that donating milk affects the mothers as well. “I’ve had moms that have lost their babies, tell me that donating milk had given them a little bit of hope to get them through to the next day. It’s just another reason why we need to make sure that people can donate breast milk.”
To increase its impact IBMP partnered with Prolacta Bioscience to screen and process all the incoming milk donations. IBMP also partnered with Quick International Courier, a global priority transportation and logistics company, which now donates all of the logistics, distribution and shipping to Africa.

In order to foster sustainable change IBMP has created relationships with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and milk-banks in South Africa. IBMP meets the immediate needs of a struggling community by supporting the milk bank until it can function on its own and meet milk demands locally. Ultimately, Youse would like milk banks function solely on the donations of local mothers. If a community is too rural to support a milk bank, IBMP sends milk directly to that community.

IBMP has made great strides thanks to the publicity of major news outlets and the generosity of their partners, but the high cost of screening donor milk has caused delays. IBMP cannot take any more donor applications this year. Youse says, “There’s clearly more of a demand to donate than we can accommodate.”

However, there are still ways for moms to help. Youse says the best way for IBMP to expand and for people to get involved is to raise awareness and funds. For those of you who are not going to be breast feeding anytime soon, there are ways for you to help as well. Currently, IBMP has a staff of one – Jill Youse. IBMP could use interns, a brochure design, and help with press releases and social media. Youse is also considering starting an advisory panel of young women who will be mothers in a couple years.

If you’re looking to make change or start your own organization, Youse has wise words of advice: “The answer for you, if you want to change the world and do something, you already have it. It’s something that you have an abundance of and it’s something you know so well. … I would just encourage people to see what’s already there in front of them.”

International Breast Milk Project

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