Organization Profile: Women for Women International

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I’m very excited to announce I was selected as an Ambassador for Women for Women International!

Women for Women International (WfWI) is an organization dedicated to helping female survivors of war. The organization currently works with women in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, DR of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan – 8 countries where conflict has devastated the lives of many.

War evokes images of soldiers, tanks, and destruction, but some of the worst consequences are suffered by the women not on the frontlines. In modern day conflict zones females are frequent targets for violence. Rape is used as a weapon of war – a way to physically and psychologically harm opposing parties. Young girls spend the majority of their childhood in fear. They miss crucial education years, while suffering from poverty and health issues.

Women for Women was founded in 1993 as a result of the catastrophic Bosnian War, during which over 100,000 people were killed, 2 million people were displaced and 20,000 women were raped. Those of you who saw Angelina Jolie’s new film, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” were recently reminded or, perhaps, made aware of the atrocities faced during the conflict. And although nearly two decades have passed, WfWI advocates ongoing support in the post-conflict area.

Since 1993, WfWI has helped 316,000 female survivors of war around the world transition from crisis to self-sufficiency. WfWI enrolls women in a one-year program and provides vocational training, financial education, healthcare, and legal and human rights awareness to all participants. Each participant is matched with a specific sponsor, who provides her a monthly stipend of US$30 and emotional support in the form of letters for the full year. The program allows participants to provide basic needs for their families, entrepreneur income generating activities, and build confidence in their abilities. 

The founder, Zainab Salbi, claims women are the pacemakers of society. The health of a nation parallels the well-being of its female population. When women are equipped with business education and awareness of their rights they are able to sustain an income, be healthy, make decisions, and build social and safety networks. In turn, these women become community leaders who foster peace and stability.

I’m thrilled to have the responsibility of spreading this message and making others aware of Women for Women’s mission! Look forward to information about ways you can get involved, how you can sponsor a participant, and a fundraising event I’ll be hosting this summer. In the meantime check out www.womenforwomen.org.

Organization Profile: Nepali Yoga Women’s Trust

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 There’s nothing I love more than finding a successful women’s organization with a vibrant, local female running the show.

Three years ago Devika Gurung founded the Nepali Yoga Women Project with Emma Despres, a woman from the UK. Devika grew up in Nepal and is fully aware of the harsh realities women face in the country. At the age of 15 she dropped out of school to help her family earn money. Her first job involved lugging heavy rocks around an airport construction site. Later jobs included working in an orchard, making carpets, and cleaning houses.

When you meet Devika it’s hard to imagine her childhood consisting of manual labor (even though it’s common for Nepali girls). Devika is beautifully poised and radiates positive energy. Her adult life hasn’t been free of challenges either, but along the way she learned English and began practicing yoga. Eventually, she opened her own yoga studio in Pokhara.

At this studio she connected with Emma. The two women decided to start a project to develop the unsuspected, inner skills of Nepali women and allow them to reassert themselves in society. They wanted to create a positive environment where Nepali women could learn how to heal and support themselves. Continue reading

Organization Profile: AFESIP Cambodia

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‘Human trafficking’ is “the illegal trade in human beings for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.” My friend Katy calls it a “dinner party term.” She says “It reveals nothing about imprisonment, abuse, physical pain, slavery, withdrawal of basic human rights like freedom, destruction of trust and of a person’s identity.” I couldn’t agree more.

Katy modeling clothing for trafficking awareness.

I first heard about AFESIP while reading Somaly Mam’s The Road of Lost Innocence. Somaly’s memoir documents of her sexual enslavement and escape. I was so moved by her story and already interested in anti-sex trafficking efforts that I contacted AFESIP while planning my trip to Cambodia. This ultimately led me to Katy’s blog and her volunteer work.

In Cambodia, the sex industry thrives. It’s an issue you witness in the streets. A brothel is never more than a 5-minute walk away. And while it may look like the girls “consent,” the truth is most feel like they have no other option and no way out. The rescued girls who come to AFESIP suffer from abuses difficult to imagine. Many experience torture and addiction to drugs  such as methamphetamines and heroine. (For more information on the sex industry in Cambodia visit my previous posts: The Issues, The Sex Industry of Cambodia, and Cambodia: Masculine Mentality, Sex Culture, and Gender Based Violence).

A photo taken by Katy demonstrating the self harm (cutting) many girls resort to, relieving the mental and physical pain of their daily lives.

So the question becomes: how do you combat an issue so broad and destructive? How do you access girls held hostage in this lifestyle? And if you can reach them and remove them from imprisonment, how do you attempt the recovery process? How do you rehabilitate a girl who’s grown up in an environment where she’s routinely raped, violently beaten, and force-fed drugs? Continue reading

Cambodia: A Volunteer’s Frustrations

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I hunch over my laptop in a tiny room shared by 8 people. It’s 5pm. I’ve been in this position since 8am. I’m pretty sure scoliosis is setting in.

This is my daily routine in Phnom Penh, writing grant proposals for People Health Development Association (PHD). I only have 4 weeks so I want to accomplish as much as possible. The more grants I apply for, the more funding PHD can receive.

Socheat had this shirt on when he came to pick me up one morning. I, of course, freaked out and asked where he got it. Apparently the other PHD boys have been asking for one for the last 6 months. I turned on the smile and 1 day later had my very own!

With that goal in mind, I finish each assignment at a New York workaholic pace (about 4 hours quicker than anyone anticipates). Then I sit for 2 hours, waiting for my boss to find something else for me to speed through.

PHD’s 7 employees are male, Cambodian, and under 30 years old. Only my boss, Ratanak, and the project manager, Socheat, know enough English to communicate with me. I’m the first foreign volunteer to work in their office.

I can’t communicate. I’m the only female. I haven’t slept in days because I live in a furnace-like room with no air conditioning. Bottom line: I’m frustrated. I feel like I shouldn’t waste time in an office with nothing to do. I feel like I’m not making a large enough difference. And I’m not seeing the impact. Continue reading

Organization Profile: Agricultural Development Denmark Asia (ADDA)

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I ride in the passenger seat of ADDA’s company car. An hour outside Siem Reap we turn off the pavement and head down potholed dirt roads. Wooden stilt houses and flooded green rice paddies flank the sides. The villages become smaller and more remote. I think of how few travelers venture here (too busy touring the Angkor temples). Despite visible poverty, it’s refreshing to witness Cambodian lifestyle not centered on tourism.

I’m accompanied by three women: Visal, the gender specialist at ADDA, a native Cambodian working toward her master’s degree who wishes she could study abroad; Sophie, a Danish summer trainee/intern at ADDA; and Leng, also a Cambodian and employee of ADDA.

We arrive at Doun Diev village. Seventeen men and women wait for us under a thatched roof. Their smiles beam, masking the hardship of village life. They greet us and maintain eye contact, laughing and chatting with each other – all indications of an empowered group of women. Visal tells me when ADDA began working with this group in 2007 the women were reserved and timid. Three years later, they exude confidence. Continue reading