Month: March 2014

Photo Credit: Lorraine Berry

More Than a Mentor

Surrounded by stories of violence against women, children without access to education, sexual assault, and various negative realities of the world, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed. As one woman, how can I possibly feel motivated that my voice, my words, or my life will mean something, create change, or advance the world? But before I call it a day and fall into an always-regretful Netflix binge, I am reminded that it is up to me, and me alone, to use my voice as effectively, and sometimes as loudly, as possible. It is a lesson I learned from a woman named Lorraine Berry. I first met Lorraine almost 14 years ago as a freshman at SUNY Cortland. I had settled on a major of Professional Writing and was encouraged to get involved in the international student magazine, NeoVox. On my first day, a plucky woman with short wavy hair strides to the center of the room, introduces herself as the Project Director, and immediately starts firing questions. I don’t know if there is a word …

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Women and Girls Who Inspire Us!

March is Women’s History Month, a special time to celebrate and honor women and their achievements around the world. Young Afghan girls participating in Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Girls Leadership Program (GLP) marked this month by spending a Saturday afternoon at WAW’s New York Community Center where they shared their thoughts about the women who inspire them. GLP is a leadership and mentoring program for Afghan girls in NY between the ages of 10-14. Girls in GLP take part in various activities including discussions, arts and crafts, field trips, guest presentations and cultural programs that aim to teach them about their rights and culture, and seek to motivate them to become responsible leaders and agents of change in their community. GLP is currently led by two Afghan teens, Gina Rustami and Shabnam Rashedy, who previously participated in the program themselves and were excited to come back and support the next generation of girls from their community. To set the stage, Gina and Shabnam began the conversation by discussing the women in their lives who …

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Underwater: A Song of Survival

  Guest post written by Gedina Bergstrom, singer/songwriter He would make me feel like I was the most special person on the planet one minute and then turn around and not even acknowledge I existed. He would tear me down into little pieces of nothing and then light those pieces on fire. How can I face another day in this space, in this room, in this bed? I’m so scared right now. What did I do wrong? How many times has he come so close to putting his hands on me? I can’t tell you how many times, but his words might as well have been swords.  I’m not saying I was a piece of cake or easy to understand or support, but I never asked or invited the kind of torment he brought to my life. The highs were out of this world and the lows made me wish I wasn’t alive. The feelings I expressed above are things I have experienced in past relationships. When I hit bottom, I tried to find ways to distract myself. One night it was really bad. I could …

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Women Who Inspire: Hannah Godefa

I first met the wonderful, then-15 year old Hannah Godefa during the International Day of the Girl Child celebrations in New York in October 2013. Hannah, who had been appointed as a UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia in January 2013, gave opening and closing remarks during UNICEF’s High Level panel event — and amazed every single person with her immense poise, strength and passion. I am extremely happy and honored to feature Hannah as one of our Inspirational Women for the #WomenInspire campaign, and know that she will continue to change this world towards better for years to come. Before even reaching adulthood, Hannah has already done more than most of us achieve in a lifetime – that, if anything, is inspirational and something for all of us to strive for. Q: You founded the “pencil mountain project” which has helped to bring pencils to thousands of students in Ethiopia. What inspired you to start that project? I was inspired to start the Pencil Mountain project after a visit to rural Ethiopia with my parents …

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Women Who Inspire: Celebrating Heroes in Women’s Health

One of the greatest joys of being part of the movement to empower women is knowing that change-makers are fighting every day for gender equality. At the crux of this movement is a pantheon of female heroes who work relentlessly to improve women’s health, touching vulnerable grassroots communities that are neglected, little known, or difficult to reach. This powerful alliance of women leaders, social entrepreneurs and volunteers continually inspires me to soar from strength to strength in the pursuit of improving women’s health, reminding me that an investment in women’s healthcare and education will pay dividends that ripple throughout society and the wider world. This past month, I had the honor of interviewing women who inspire me: Rebecca Scharfstein, Aunna Wilson and Ashley Eberhart of Pasand and Marilena Choguaj of Starfish, on their women’s health-focused initiatives in the domains of sanitary protection and reproductive health respectively. Ashley Eberhart, Rebecca Scharfstein and Aunna Wilson of Pasand The lack of access to feminine sanitary products affects millions of women in India – an estimated 88% of women in India …

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Women Who Inspire: Kirthi in India

I first came into contact with Kirthi Jayakumar as a fellow UN volunteer when she began work as my editor. Even though we worked together remotely, as she is based in India, I was struck by her exuberance, warmth, passion and consistency. As we continued to work together, I realized Kirthi’s personal merits were only matched by her professional achievements. A lawyer, a writer and an activist, Kirthi not only volunteers her time to multiple organizations, but is the founder of The Red Elephant Foundation, won the U.S. Presidential Award in 2012 and the UN Volunteer award two consecutive years running (2012 and 2013). Following is a Q&A with Kirthi herself.  Q: What age did you start getting involved in activism and why? I think I was maybe subconsciously an activist always, because you only end up pursuing what comes most naturally to you. Of course, I wasn’t the child that held placards and called out on malpractices, but I was cause driven. I think that came from my parents because they always taught my …

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Women Who Inspire: Meet Dr. Grace

When I think about the women who inspire me many faces and names come to mind. I value the opportunities I have had to work alongside some of the greatest change makers around the world. These women embody humility, love deeply and dare greatly to bring change to their communities and the world.  It is a privilege to serve and learn from them. This month, as we continue to highlight Women Who Inspire I cannot help but think about Dr. Grace. I first met Dr. Grace while in Indonesia last June. Since that time I have had several opportunities to serve and learn alongside her. One of the first things I noticed about Grace was her determination and heart to bring healthcare to the most vulnerable. This is a woman who is creating far reaching change both among her colleagues and those to whom she provides care. When I met Grace she was serving by providing medical assessments to women and girls who had been trafficked into forced prostitution.  Dr. Grace has provided reproductive health training …

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The Dry Spell is Over for Women Looking to Lead

Laos runs on water.  Literally.  The self-proclaimed “Battery of Southeast Asia” will soon host 72 dams throughout its one thousand rivers.  While this energy export might benefit the Lao economy, the electricity from these dams rarely reaches the Lao people because it is sent to China, Thailand and Vietnam.  This leaves the Lao people, who depend on the rivers to eat, clean and prosper, left in the wake of construction teams.  But a new program in Laos offering women and girls scholarships to study environmental engineering will hopefully bring new leadership that will greatly benefit the local population. Hydroelectric development comes at a very high price for Lao people.  First, entire villages are displaced due to dam construction.  In my travels throughout Luang Prabang Province I have seen the roadside beginnings of homes and storefronts only to look down the nearest valley and see dam construction surrounded by an abandoned village.  Villages naturally form around water sources because the rivers serve as sources of food, hygiene and transportation.  But when a dam location is decided, …

Picture Courtesy: Pippa Ranger/Department for International Development (DFID)

Celebrating Healthy Mothers on World Water Day

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. This international day to celebrate water has evolved over the years, since it was first recognized by the UN in 1993. It is only fitting that World Water Day shares a place in the same month as International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on March 8, as the two are so intertwined. The presence and quality of water plays a role in women’s lives throughout the world like no other resource. It can mean educational opportunities, job opportunities, healthy families, or none of that. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have important impacts on many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including poverty and hunger, child deaths, and environmental sustainability. Notably, WASH impacts maternal health in significant ways, as well. MDG target 5A seeks to “reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio,” and investing and supporting WASH programs can help do just that. While poor hygiene at childbirth is the most obvious factor in maternal deaths related to WASH, there are other ways it influences maternal health. Waterborne …

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In the field with SEED Community

This is the last in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff which have been published on Girls’ Globe over the past 5 weeks. Day 8 We start early, as this afternoon the girls will be putting on their show. They get straight into their groups and continue to practice their performances. Our girls are nervous as they still feel a resistance from a number of the girls. As 3 o’ clock draws near, the excitement of the performance seems to stir, even in the quietest of the girls. The groups come together and one by one give expression to the themes they have chosen. One girl stands to read her poem, her voice gaining force as the words resound throughout the room. She throws her paper aside …