Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You can reach out to a woman across the world


During the five years that I have been actively involved with Women for Women International, I have been paired with five sisters who live in Rwanda. I have exchanged letters and sent monthly support to each of them during the year of training they have received from WFWI. At the end of the year, each woman graduates to self-sufficiency, having received job training, direct support, access to microcredit, and education about women's rights.

The work that WFWI is able to accomplish truly astounds me. Starting in 1993 with one couple's grassroots action, WFWI has paired over 55,000 women survivors of war with sponsor sisters worldwide. They have distributed more than $24 million in direct aid and microcredit loans, with a 98% repayment rate on all loans.

Today I was reminded once again of the profound effect that these partnerships between women can have. I opened the sponsorship packet that introduced me to my new sister, my first from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Impacted by the deadliest war in documented African history, women in the DRC face staggering levels of displacement, violence, and poverty. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than twenty US cents per day. We've all heard statistics like this and it is hard to take in. Seeing the photo of my new sister and reading about her life brought her need into focus on a human level for me. She is 28 years old and lives in a household of 10 people, including her husband, four surviving children, and four nieces and nephews. The family has precarious access to schooling, income, and health care. Through WFWI, this mother will be able to create sustainable income for her family, gain confidence, and become more active in her community. Women for Women International creates leaders, one woman at a time.

All that is required to become a WFWI sponsor sister is the commitment to exchange letters and the pledge of $27 per month. If you are reading this post, you surely have the capability of participating. It is a gift to do so. I became active in WFWI when my daughter was a toddler. I hardly had time to shower each day or pull two coherent thoughts together, but this was something I could do that would make a real difference in another mother's life. She would gain the skills and power to create a stronger family and community as her country recovered from the ravages of war.

This holiday season is a great time to get involved. WFWI has a page that links to their virtual Craft Bazaar and official Friends of WFWI partners. My websiste MojoMom.com is one of those partners, by the way, as I donate $2 to WFWI for every copy of Mojo Mom that I sell directly through my website. I had the honor of interviewing WFWI founder Zainab Salbi for my book, and her wisdom is featured in sections about the power of women's friendship and the need for women's voices in global leadership.

I urge you to consider becoming a WFWI sponsor sister. Doing so will open your heart and your mind by connecting you to the vital concerns of another family. I am often so frustrated that our governments do not make this work a priority. It is clear that this is an effective strategy, as you can read in the recent article, To help children, empower women, UNICEF advises. You can see this effect in WFWI's work. Their programs have reached 70,000 women directly, benefiting 5.3 million family and community members.

What is frustrating is that this concept is still "news." We should know this by now and take serious action, yet the United States is the world's only industrialized nation that has not ratified the U. N. treaty on discrimination against women. The good news is that the grasssroots network of concerned people can lead the way forward. As pioneers including Zainab Salbi, and microcredit leader and new Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank have shown, we have the power right now to create new, sustainable networks of care across the globe.

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