Helping Women a World Away
Posted by egehl on May 25, 2010
Yesterday I received information about my new international sister. For four years I have been a sponsor of women living in countries torn apart due to war and conflict. Thus far I have sponsored four women who live in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
The nonprofit that orchestrates these sponsorships, Women for Women International, organizes programs in eight countries that give women the opportunity to build their social, economic, personal and political power.
Since its creation, Women for Women International has empowered over 250,000 women survivors of war to move toward economic self-sufficiency. They do this by engaging women in a year-long program which includes offering direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development.
Each woman engages in a multi-phase process of recovery and rehabilitation. As a result, after going through the program the women feel stronger and more empowered to fulfill their personal and professional goals. Some women will assume leadership positions in their villages, actively participate in the reconstruction of their communities, build civil society, start businesses, train other women and overall serve as role models for other women in their community.
Especially in war torn countries, lifting up women’s voices and empowering their lives will help to establish peace and prosperity in countries facing an inordinate amount of despair. Women hold a lot of power and influence to heal communities because they want the opportunity to contribute to society through their own labor and political participation, will reinvest a much higher portion of their success to their families and communities, and are more prone to increase the likelihood of the next generation, especially daughters, to be healthier and more educated.
During the program the women will learn about women’s rights, allowing them to take greater control over the decisions that govern her life and that of her children. She will also learn technical and business skills that will allow her to sustain an income, and receive emotional support to help her deal with the violence and horrible hardships of war. Once she graduates after the year she will be given access to jobs or tools to start her own business, which is instrumental to a woman’s long-term success.
I decided to become a sponsor because I feel very lucky to have received such privileges as an American woman, and want to help women less fortunate in other parts of the world. As Americans we take for granted the access and opportunities we have that most women internationally could not even begin to dream of.
Each time I receive information about my new sister my heart usually skips a beat. Sponsors are given detailed data about the woman we are supporting including her name, picture, family information, education level, whether she has electricity, what type of dwelling she lives in and what her goals are for joining the program.
All of my sisters have had husbands, multiple children, lived in very basic housing without electricity, have minimal education, lack job skills but each convey a hope for something better. They join the program to build self-esteem, create a better life for their children, have the opportunity to provide for their family and to connect with other women who empathize with their life circumstances.
Their desires are so simple yet crucial for a happy and successful life. However unfortunately they have been denied the ability to strengthen their personal, economic and political power because of the many challenges women face worldwide: poverty, lack of income and education, scarce healthcare, inadequate investments in their well-being, violence and exploitation and outdated customs and traditions in machismo cultures that view women as the unequal gender.
The sister I am now sponsoring lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is three years younger than me, is divorced and has seven children. I can’t imagine the challenges she has faced not only living in a country still reeling from one of the most violent wars in history but having the responsibility of caring for seven children without control over her life, or the ability to earn a living and heal from the emotional and physical wounds that war has inflicted on her and her family.
It feels good to try and make a difference in one woman’s life each year a world away from mine. At the end of the year the organization sends me a copy of the sister’s response to their exit survey to gauge what she has learned in the program and her overall experience. Each survey has shown the woman’s improvement in a whole host of areas including their physical and mental health, contribution to family and community decisions, an increased access to economic opportunities, and better social networks with other women.
I strongly believe that women need to support each other because no matter where we live all women have the same hopes and dreams, and everyone should have the same opportunities to achieve them.