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

Indonesia: Boys will be boys, but where are all the girls?

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I recently volunteered as an English teacher with a program called 4th World Love for a week in Sembalun, Indonesia. Sembalun is a remote village on the island of Lombok. To give you an idea of the poverty here, I lived with the wealthiest family and still used a squat toilet and didn’t have a shower.

This post was difficult for me to write. I left the village with conflicting memories. On one hand, the hospitality of the locals was unexpected and exactly what I needed during a period of homesickness. Many of my students made an effort to show me their beautiful country and way of life – and this is something I will never forget. Yet, my time here was tainted by my personal experience as a woman in the village. And while it
gave me insight into the lives and struggles women face in Indonesia, I’m sad to say I felt uncomfortable the majority of my stay and I left unimpressed with the education program provided by 4th World Love’s Cultural Development Center (CDC).

I was raised to approach every situation with a positive outlook and to search for beauty in the most trying situations. You’ll notice in my photos I’m smiling and happy, and I was! I had an eye-opening (although challenging) experience, and I’m so grateful my journey brought me to the people of Sembalun. However, due to the nature of my blog I won’t be discussing the amazing people I met and the fun things I did. Instead, I’ll focus on my experience as a female here and explain my dissatisfaction with the organization. So here’s how it starts… 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

And my journey begins…

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Several hours before my flight my plan felt surreal. I went through the motions of packing and saying goodbyes, but I wondered when and how reality would hit me.

I thought the day would be a tearful struggle, but I was calm. I cried when I said goodbye to my brother Evan, and I choked up when my best friend Olivia sent me a text. It read, “Just remember you’re not alone. Everyone is always thinking of you.” But then I saw the rest of the message, “and if you feel lonely then get the **** out of your comfort zone and make new friends!” and I laughed.

This week I was reminded how quickly something unexpected could change your mindset. One week, so short but so capable of influencing your life.

I look at the calendar and count the 18 weeks ahead of me. Will they all be as intense? If I have 18 life-changing weeks, will I return a completely different person? I’m struggling with the answers, but I’m embracing the unplanned route this journey has in store for me. That’s the beauty of this year. It’s malleable and I don’t have full control of it – just like life.

I am in awe at the size of the support network that formed for me. During the last week I received over a hundred emails and phone calls full of love and encouragement. Family and friends gave me cards and made me CDs, which I opened and listened to during my flight from New York to Qatar. This made me feel safe and loved, and I can’t thank all of you enough.

I’m spending the night in the Doha airport, and I’ll be in Vietnam by Monday. When I stepped off the plane reality sunk in. I realized that to be happy for the next year I needed to make the entire world my comfort zone. I walked to the nearest coffee shop, sat down, and introduced my self to a family of women from Bahrain. After an hour of chatting about our lives, I thought: This feels right. I’m supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be doing this. And I’m not looking back!