I was able during this dialogue to complement Women for Women International’s extraordinary work by giving a reproductive health, safe water, and malaria lessons. For example, I explained that one can become pregnant 31 days of the month! Most said the only used birth control during the “dangerous” times….we talked about injectable birth control as long lasting and safe, but how they needed to use a condom each time to protect from HIV (all did have good perception of their HIV risk). We discussed the female condom as discreet option, though most said they could negotiate a condom with their husbands, as fine a tribute as possible to Women for Women International. I told them about my recovery buddy, and asked if they would be willing to make a commitment with a friend to buy long lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets; they gave their word to one another and committed to following up….today!!!!! All raised their hands and said she would begin sleeping under a net immediately. “Imagine how you would feel,” I said, “If you had to write your sponsor that you had missed your Women for Women International graduation with a case of malaria! You came here to learn how never to neglect yourself….so step up and protect yourself from malaria! (Congo’s children account for 1 in 20 malaria deaths world wide; these great women lose their productivity if they are sick with preventable diseases….)
That last paragraph is not meant in any way to suggest that Women for Women International’s work is partial or incomplete. In fact, their work is extraordinary in the maximum. I was visiting with only 20 out of thousands of Congolese women they have reached, and this group is not finished yet with their “topics.” It just means that it takes all of us non-profit organizations working in partnership to provide a complete solution to an exceedingly complex and varied series of life challenging problems that confront the poor. We specialize in health: prevention, creating recognition of problems and treatment seeking behaviors, treatment, products, and services, and we’re damn good at it. Women for Women International teaches traumatized, victimized, poor women to bathe, to learn to feed themselves, to read, count, write, parenting skills, social skills, money skills, a trade. Together we empower and protect the whole woman.
Back on that lush, soft grass, we danced, caroused, ululated, clapped, bumped, hugged, and smiled. At the very end, I lead a passionate salute to Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women international: her name rang through the air in a series of joyful waves, sung by beautiful, clean, fresh smelling, literate, skilled, empowered standing tall Congolese women!!
And at PSI we’re already brainstorming about how to cooperate more, to hire their graduates as Peer Educators, to present reproductive health activities as new women come in, etc.
For more on how Women for Women International works, and to become a sponsor, see www.womenforwomen.org