My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The True Story Behind the Drawing – African Mother and Child

When I first looked at her photo I had no idea she’d endured banishment, humiliation, and a death sentence. What I saw was a snapshot of a sweet African mother holding her child. There was something about her eyes. And I wanted to draw them, badly. It wasn’t until after I finished the drawing that I learned their story. And cringed. And cried.

About ten years ago in Utah, I went to a slideshow presentation about a humanitarian mission in Mali, Africa. One of the last slides was of this mother and child. I fell in love with it. After the show was done, I asked the nurse giving the presentation who I could contact to ask permission to draw that photo. She had taken the picture and kindly agreed to let me draw it. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers.

While I waited, the memory of the picture haunted me. It was very exciting when the picture arrived in my mailbox. I went right to work. When I’d finished, I was able to talk to this nurse again and heard the story.

The nurse was part of Ouelessebougou Alliance, a humanitarian foundation that provides many services and kinds of help. At the time I spoke to her, the Alliance was sending a medical team, which included an ob/gyn doctor, each year right after Christmas to Ouelessebougou in Mali, Africa.

And each year as they arrived at the medical facility the Alliance had built, they passed a long line of cheering women. Many walked for days and waited even longer.

But the team could only stay a week, could only help so many, and could only bring as much donated equipment as would fit in the back of their single jeep.

Many of the women in line shared the same problem. Infertility. Their culture, unchanged since Biblical times, placed a woman’s value upon her ability to bring children into her family. Polygamy, although shocking to us, was normal. So was starvation and infant mortality. Children were prized above all else, because they were the future of the family.

When a woman was unable to conceive, she was seen as a burden – dead weight – eating food that could be given to the children.

In time, she would be cast out of the family. Often, her parents wouldn’t take her back because she was unmarriageable. Many of these cast-offs wandered the streets, despised, suffering every privation, begging, most often dying. It was a death sentence.

Unless . . . this humanitarian team could do something.

The woman in the picture was taken inside. She was put under and cut open. The doctor and nurses looked and then shook their heads. She had no fallopian tubes. Even here in the U.S., the odds for fixing it aren’t good. Still, they had to do something. Grabbing some IV tubing, they rigged make-shift fallopian tubes, sewed her up, sent her to the crammed recovery room, and prayed. Still, everyone knew it was impossible.

The week finished. The team packed up, and drove past the dispersing line of women who hadn’t made it in. Hopefully, they’d survive another year. Have another chance.

The team returned the next year.

And the next.

And in that cheering line was this woman – smiling – cradling her sleeping child.

She returned to show the volunteers why they sacrificed to come each year.


I love sharing her story, and the story of the people who go, unpaid, halfway around the world to help. If you are interested, you can learn more about the Ouelessebougou Alliance at their website: or

If you choose to make a donation to their Alliance, I want to thank you! I’m serious! We have problems everywhere, here even, but I’m so touched when I learn of people with good hearts.

You’ll make my day if you comment and/or pass on this blog. I’d love to share this mother’s story and assist the Ouelessebougou Alliance in making a difference.


  1. This is one of my favorite drawings. I love your work and the story makes this picture that much sweeter. :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing that. It really is a touching story. I'll be thinking about this for a while.

  3. I realy like your work. I am from mozambique and i am an artist too. I will share your blog with all of my friends. :)

  4. What a beautiful story ! It makes me love this painting even more ! How did you manage to express motherhood on a painting ! wonderfull!!

    I am actually preparing a very little presentation on the universal particularity of motherhood, and am looking for quotes and pictures to present this beautiful subject. On my many many days of search, your painting had had this incredible ability to make me smile each time I see it and feel toughtless. Would you mind if I use it for that purpose ? The presentation will be held in Paris (I'm french), as a part of a multicultural programm about woman and spirituality...

    I am eagerly waiting for your reply, as I will not use it without your permission, and would like to show this motherhood, this mother love on the eyes of this woman to every visitor...

    Whatever is your decision, I will respect it, and thank you for sharing this painting and story !


    Christine K.

  5. Christine, feel free to use it for your presentation. Thank you for your kind words. The story and original photo had that effect on me, too.

  6. ohhh, thanks a lot ! I'm feeling sooo happy !

    Lots of love


  7. Christine, you are very welcome. Good luck with your presentation!

  8. Dear Jonene, I was searching in the internet for a picture of an African mum and a baby and found your wonderful picture, which I would like to use for a presentation for a Mother&Child hospital in Central Africa. Is it possible...? You are great artist!
    Thank you very much, best wishes from Austria.

  9. Ginnie, you are welcome to use the picture for your presentation. I hope it goes well for you!

    1. Dear Jonene,
      thank you for the wonderful true story, it touched me a lot as well as my kids...

      Thanks a lot for your permit and good wishes... Best wishes for you from Austria

  10. Dear Jonene, your painting is wonderful! I borrowed it to a blog post I wrote today about Mother's Day and maternal love
    I have put links to you and I hope it's o.k...If not, tell me and I'll remove it.
    Best regards from Greece! ♥

  11. Hello Jonene,

    Awesome post and great piece. I borrowed your masterpiece for posts on social media to celebrate Mothers Day.


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