A Missouri mom pumps up HIV awareness—by giving her leftover breast milk to African orphans
I blame my husband for all of this,” says Jill Youse, laughing. “He kept complaining about all the breast milk I’d [pumped and stored] in the freezer” for their newborn daughter, Stella, in 2005. Not wanting to pour the leftovers down the drain, Youse, now 30, did some research—and discovered iThemba Lethu, an HIV prevention program that includes a breast milk donor bank and a home for AIDS orphans in Durban, South Africa. The program’s six babies desperately needed human milk, not formula. As iThemba Lethu manager Penelope Reimers explains, “all the things formula doesn’t have—nutrients, growth hormones, enzymes—breast milk does.”
Youse says she was immediately “hell-bent” on helping. So she drove six hours that fall from her Missouri home to Chicago, handing over her 8 gallons to Rob Reimers, Penelope’s husband, who was visiting the States. That marked another birth: Youse’s International Breast Milk Project (IBMP). With media attention from Time.com, Oprah and Foreign Policy magazine, she’s watched it grow into an international sensation. IBMP has solicited breast milk from some 800 women; more than 15,000 ounces have been sent to Durban. At press time, IBMP was preparing for its biggest shipment ever: 55,000 ounces of milk.
The program proves that you don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference, Youse says. To defray her own costs, she gets help from Quick International Courier, a shipping company, and Prolacta Bioscience, which receives and pasteurizes the milk. Some AIDS activists question her deal with Prolacta: 25 percent of the milk will go directly to the infants and she will sell the other 75 percent to the company for a dollar an ounce. Prolacta resells it to U.S. hospitals for preemie care. Youse says that “100 percent of the money [she earns] will help develop health initiatives and milk banks in Africa.”
Reimers, meanwhile, is grateful for whatever IBMP sends. “Jill’s work has people around the world wanting to help these babies,” she says. That’s a message in a bottle.