Posts Tagged ‘women’s empowerment’

Vital Voices Must be Heard

518597_16018794Vital Voices identifies women around the world and invests in and empowers their efforts to be leaders. They have over 1,000 international partners, and over the years, they have trained and mentored more than 14,000 women from over 144 countries. These women have returned home to their communities and passed on their knowledge to over 500,000 other women and girls, infusing cities, towns, and villages with vital energy and forward thinking. By raising international visibility for these women and the issues to which they devote themselves, progress accelerates at a brand new pace. There is a wide array of projects around the globe, from combating human trafficking and striving for education equality, to healthcare issues both universal and those unique to women and girls.

The philanthropic community has long known that an investment in a woman (and this is unique and different from an investment in a man), of money, time, expertise, etc…is an investment in an entire family and also most likely to build up a community.

Volunteers can lend their expertise in many fields and become part of the Vital Voices Resource network, and also lend energy and time to initiatives in Human Rights, Economic Empowerment, Political and Public Leadership, and Global Leadership. You can even generate support by shopping in their gifts, arts, and crafts marketplace. Look around the website, get involved, support women and you support us all.

“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman” Melinda French Gates

Barefoot College–The Education of Life Experience

Rural Rajasthan

Rural Rajasthan

For more than 40 years, a group of steadfast individuals in India have endeavored to live, inspire, and uplift while modeling their work on the words of Gandhi. Barefoot College works with the impoverished, exploited, and marginalized poor to teach viable skills to those who don’t have access to learning and livelihood through other avenues. Grandmothers become solar technicians, poor and destitute groups labor together to bring potable water to a community, and many other projects make huge strides toward community health. As an organization that cleaves to local wisdom and traditional ways while infusing individuals with new pride and skill, the College has racked up amazing successes: brought solar power to 1,000 villages; hot water; solar cookers; solar desalinization of drinking water; rainwater harvesting; literacy and hands-on skill training for rural children; night schools; healthcare via 260 Barefoot Doctors; 1,850 rural women employed as artisans and weavers; a community radio station; and a long tradition of social, economic, and political activism.

There are now two campuses in the Rajasthan region, the old campus in a former healthcare center and the new campus built from the ground up by the community. Volunteers from outside the region don’t work directly for the actual organization, but can work in support of the college via 60 local partners. You can also support the work from home via donation (in an amount to purchase a malaria-proof mosquito net, for example, or solar light, or help build a water tank), or by shopping in the cool online store, purchasing some of the products created by this empowered/empowering community.

ARZU Studio Hope—Empowering Afghan Women

I am surprised how often I learn about great international initiatives through shopping. I recently bought one of these Peace Cord wristbands because I thought the mission of ARZU Studio Hope was so inspiring. “Arzu” means Peace in the Dari language, and this international organization helps women weavers of Afghanistan break the cycle of poverty by providing gainful employment, education, and healthcare by sourcing the rugs and other products they weave. Women in Afghanistan have very few socially acceptable avenues by which they can earn money and contribute financially to their families’ health…but there is a long tradition of weaving.

Photo: ARZU Studio Hope

This artisan-based employment/empowerment mission is fantastic (and the rugs are amazing, by the way), and it is more nuanced than simply exporting woven goods. Workers for ARZU agree to a social contract, guaranteeing that all children of their families–boys AND girls–up to the age of 15 will attend school full-time, women attend literacy classes, and pregnant women and newborns receive pre- and post-natal medical care. ARZU also steps in to help equalize an industry that has a history of being fiercely unfair to women, and equalizes employment standards among artisans. It is a sustainable and somewhat revolutionary/evolutionary program that maintains cultural sensitivity so it can flourish in the long run. Take a spin around the website–do some shopping for your home (or wrist) and support women working so diligently to support themselves.

The Peace Cord bracelets are hand-woven by Afghan women from parachute cord and authentic military buttons, combining efforts of ARZU and Spirit of America, supporting the humanitarian work of US troops overseas.

Cultural Explorer–Making a Difference for South African Women

Photo: Rural Women's Movement

International Women’s Day was just a few days back, but South Africa’s National Women’s Day happens in the late summer, on August 9, commemorating the day in 1956 when 20,000 women marched to government centers in Pretoria to protest the law requiring black women to carry a pass to be in public spaces. In recognition and celebration of South Africa Women’s Day, The Cultural Explorer, a volunteer vacation in South Africa specialist company, is launching several Women’s Empowerment trips in 2011. The Zulu Empowerment Trip is in partnership with the Rural Women’s Movement in South Africa, and will have visitors teaming up with local women launching their own businesses, to coach and mentor, as well as create workshops with women and girls in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Their Making a Difference in South Africa trip focuses on schools and the educational system in rural villages. The Meet the Women of South Africa trip is for women volunteers exclusively, and will be an opportunity to be immersed in the activist world of South Africa’s women’s movement throughout Johannesburg, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, and Cape Town. The Cultural Explorer will also gladly custom-design a trip for you to go to South Africa and be of service in your own way, sharing your strengths, and learning more than you ever imagined you could. It is an amazing way to experience what has to be one of my very favorite places on earth.

Flight Attendants Making a Difference

Bibi Aisha

They used to be called Stews (Stewardesses and Stewards) but got a name change years ago to flight attendants…and they have always had a philanthropic focus in addition to a pretty thankless job. More than absorbing our complaints about how airlines make us pay for pretzels and pillows, more than reminding us to bring our seat into a full upright position, and no we can’t use our phone to call home mid-flight, flight attendants are there first for our safety, and second for our service. We forget that and assume their primary function is to be a waitress or busboy.

One of the perks of the profession is the chance to fly all over the world and have days off in cities far from home. This has always meant that flight attendants have a broader cultural awareness than the general public (and can probably give some great advice for dining and shopping and things to do in any city where they have had days off). World Wings International is the philanthropic arm of former PAN AM Flight Attendants. This organization of air alumni finds international projects to support financially and with volunteering. They are most currently rallying support for Women for Afghan Women, an NGO that provides a range of assistance programs—shelters, schools, legal aid, and help in fighting the most egregious human right violations in Afghanistan. Moved by the story of Bibi Aisha, the 19-year-old woman whose nose and ears were cut off by her jealous husband (who was aided by the Taliban) WWI has stepped into action. Women for Afghan Women first sheltered Aisha, and for them, World Wings is raising money and awareness.

In addition to upping your respect quotient for the flight attendants who are working while you’re reclining headed on your next (volunteer?) vacation, take a look at what is important to them based on their broad world awareness, and support Women for Afghan Women or other organizations dedicated to ending violence and cruelty around the world.

CHANGERS PROFILE: Erin Guttenplan—Edge of Seven

I got some great international response to the blog recently, including a lovely and heartfelt comment yesterday from a reader in Kathmandu, Nepal. How perfect that today I am running this interview with the amazing Erin Guttenplan who created the service tour/volunteer travel company, Edge of Seven (with a great program—that I am desperate to do—that creates more education opportunities for girls in Nepal). Erin is one of those folks I find so fascinating, who saw the world a particular way, and it demanded that she step up and create something new. I love what she’s up to, and how the world reaps the benefits of her work, and her astute perceptions of how some charitable organizations/NGOs are not doing what they say they are was sadly but vividly played out similarly in my recent experiences in Haiti…

Erin Guttenplan

ERIN GUTTENPLAN (Founder/Executive Director), EDGE OF SEVEN

Erin believes in the potential of international service to foster global understanding between people and nations. She created Edge of Seven because she has worked with communities in need in the developing world. She has also met volunteers who want to serve in any capacity, big or small. Erin believes that Edge of Seven is an affordable vehicle to harness the potential in connecting the two.

The mission of Edge of Seven is to create awareness and volunteer support for service projects in developing countries that are sustainable, community driven, and responsive to local needs. We at Edge of Seven believe that change is possible with collective action over time.

Tell me a little bit about the genesis of EDGE OF SEVEN—why this? And what’s the scoop on that name?
It really began years ago when I attended an info session about the Peace Corps. After learning that it was a 2 ½ year time commitment, I decided not to apply. I felt that I couldn’t go that far away, for that long, at that time in my life. I searched for a short-term alternative but they were too expensive. I noticed a need.

As for easier things to start, I’m a firm believer that we learn the most from our greatest challenges. I have been incredibly lucky to have the unwavering support of my family and friends every step of the way. Everything is easier with people behind you. (I also love wine. That certainly helps.)

Our name! I love telling the story of our name. Edge is our heart. When I was thinking about names for a volunteering-abroad-in-developing-countries-around-the-world nonprofit, I was looking for a word that signified adventure. Enter “edge”. We strive to create a bold experience that pushes volunteers since real discovery happens outside of our comfort zone. Further, we think that intercultural cooperation happens when you feel how people live halfway across the world. Seven is our vision. We’d like to support projects on all seven continents in the future. We’ll grow slowly because the most important piece of the puzzle is that we find the RIGHT projects. We’re on the hunt for projects that are community driven, sustainable, and responsive to local needs. Those projects exist all over the world and we’re excited to find them. (More after the jump)

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Mother’s Day Inspiration


To my mom and every mom out there, and to the nurturing spirit in each and every one of us.

If you’re considering a volunteer vacation, on this day I offer up ideas of a few opportunities out there where you can make a difference in the life of moms. (From Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference)

A program to work with single, homeless mothers in Cochabamba, Bolivia—you’ll help with day care and nursery work for the kids, homework for the older ones, and skills education for the moms who are looking for work. Live with a local family to be completely immersed in the local culture for this 2-week project. Volunteering Solutions

In Xela, Guatemala, there is a home for battered women and their children that treasures the input of international volunteers. Be of service to moms and kids as they try to get life moving forward again. The shelter is managed by women for women, though all volunteers are welcome. You’ll live with a host family for a one- or two-week program. United Planet

There are several Women’s Empowerment volunteer programs in Delhi, India. Societal norms and devotion to caste systems make for systemic oppression in many Indian households, but this program offers practical training through several avenues such as literacy training, job skills, and computer training, among others. 1 or 2 weeks in shared volunteer accommodations. Or, alternatively, there is a Teenage Mother’s Home in Cusco, Peru, that places volunteers through the same organization for 2-week stints (males and females welcome, and a Spanish Language immersion program is available as part of the placement) Volunteering Solutions

Here is a project working with a Women’s Business Collective in Xilochico, Mexico. 10 days in the high country building business skills and actually building the local casita workhouse for the women’s project, while living in a hotel run by local Nahua women. Global Citizens Network

How about a journey to Kathmandu, Nepal, where you’ll work to create a healing environment for abused girls and women? Women only on this 2-week gig, living on-site in the all-female facility. United Planet

There are numerous Women’s Empowerment programs all over the world, hungry for volunteers. This is just the most meager appetizer to get your brain working in that direction.

Nurturing is an amazing thing. Being devoted to others is neither exclusively maternal nor paternal—it is human. And we are a global family. Be there.