Tag Archives: women

Life for Iraqi Women since the US Troop Withdrawal

George Nichola, WfWI-Iraq’s Life Skills and Sponsorship Manager, recently shared his thoughts on the challenges Iraq’s most vulnerable women face and the security situation in the month and a half since the US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The US completed withdrawal of all military troops before the end of 2011. It was a great moment in modern Iraqi history, a step toward complete sovereignty for the Iraqi people. After the old regime was defeated by the US troops and allies, people wanted more independence in a free and democratic country where people of different religious or ethnic backgrounds could live peacefully. Day by day, this dream has been fading away, even before the US government announced the plans to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Before the withdrawal, the Iraqi people, especially women, grew concerned by what seemed like a lack of focus on doing what would be best for Iraq and its people. Because everyone was concerned about the security situation, they worried whether the withdrawal was happening too soon.

Elderly Women in Iraq.

In the days after the withdrawal was complete, most of the participants in our program were very concerned about the security and safety situation. Our graduates in Karada who met to discuss how they can improve the services in their communities feel that the service needs of the local communities are not being addressed. There is no help for the elderly or those who are sick, who often have few shelters from the hot summers and rainy winters.

Baghdad and other provinces have recently witnessed a series of bloody explosions in the very poor areas; in Baghdad roughly 11 cars exploded and killed more than 55 people, many of whom were breadwinners for their families and simple workers who were just waiting for public transportation.

In Sadr City, a participant told us with a trembling voice and eyes filled with tears that her daughter was at her university when an explosion happened and some of her daughter’s friends were injured and others were killed. She asked her trainer if she should let her daughter continue to go to university or keep her at home, adding ” I lost my husband in an explosion in 2008 and don’t want to face the same situation with one of my children.” The daughter’s friends were waiting with a crowd of people for public transportation in the early morning when the bomb went off. Another participant in the same group asked why the bombers are targeting gatherings of Iraqi workers and those with no connection to the conflict? This question is often asked when explosions happen. Since the US troops’ withdrawal, the victims of these attacks are often poor Iraqi families who are struggling to have daily bread.

Women walking in street in Iraq.

In general women are more concerned about what will happen in the coming days, as extremists on both sides will use violence that will hurt uninvolved civilians. Educated and uneducated women agree that the coming days will be more severe and more difficult. They worry whether the Iraqi army will be strong enough to protect Iraqis and how far the violence will go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Iraq

Women in Rwanda: Beyond their High Representation in Government

Judithe Registre, the Director of Development and Outreach at Women for Women International, is currently traveling in Rwanda. This if the second in a series of posts about her experiences.
           In my last entry, I highlighted Rwanda’s incredible economic growth and the country’s vital commitment to women. Advancements in women’s value and presence in society, particularly the government, serve as optimistic indicators that Rwandans are fully committed to women. An estimated 56% of the Parliament and one-third of the cabinet are now dominated by women. The statistics are impressive and historically unprecedented in Rwanda. However, the statistics do not tell the full story of Rwandan women. The Rwanda Women’s Parliamentarian Forum recently declared that gender bias, particularly in poverty, remains a prominent issue. As one female, Rwandan Senator noted at dinner last night, the country is aware there is still a long journey in achieving full success in improving women’s status. Most statistics of Rwanda’s development shirk the majority of women who remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, obstructed from stability and basic human rights.
            Despite an annual growth of nearly 6%, Rwanda continues to wrestle with poverty. Rwanda is infected with the economic disparity plaguing most countries: a large gap divides the elite minority with the destitute majority. The richest 10% of the population holds approximately 50% of the national wealth, compared to 50% of the population sharing just 10% of the wealth. Poverty predominantly thrives in rural Rwanda: 66% of the population compared to a mere 12% in urban Kigali.
            Among the rural, financially- depleted, women and children find themselves in the unfortunate majority. Sixty-two percent of households headed by women lie below the poverty line, compared to 54% of male households. Impoverished women are vulnerable to discrimination and traditional, gender-biased mentalities. A vicious cycle of inadequate health care, scant education and unawareness of legal rights derives from financial instability. It is imperative then, to pull these women from the rut of poverty, and make them the focus of Rwanda’s economic advancement.
           The impoverished living environment for women is a direct consequence of the genocide. Women encompass the majority of rural poverty and isolated suffering. The horror left over 250,000 raped and deliberately infected with HIV/AIDS. As the conflict eased, women found themselves alone: unmarried, widowed, or wives of prisoners. This situation left Rwandan women as the heads of most households and living in extreme poverty and despair. Women’s mental and emotional health crumbled beneath the severe trauma and violence. Today, many Rwandans believe the suffering will dissipate as the country continues to grow. Because of this popular mentality, the nation’s development priorities neglect the daunting responsibility to provide its people, especially women, with the necessary therapy and medical resources to recover. Even with steady growth, however, it may require two or three generations until the horrors begin to fade into history. Meanwhile, Rwandan women are drowning in a whirlpool of social-economic disadvantages.
            Poverty and gender inequality are strongly correlated. The Rwandan Government realizes this connection and, in 2002, integrated gender equality into its Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP)[1]. The national poverty reduction plan includes a subcommittee on engendering and also a representative from the Ministry of Gender and Promotion of Women. The government acknowledges the two issues must be solved simultaneously to successfully pull Rwandan women from their economic status.
            If the nation prioritizes the improvement of women among poverty, the national financial well-being of the entire country will also improve.
           Women for Women International operates in war-torn countries, striving to pull impoverished women from the shadows. The programs primarily target women, because as evident in countries like Rwanda, they are the most vulnerable and socially excluded. We believe in the innate capabilities of women and provide them with the resources and tools to discover and access these capabilities. The trauma and isolation often inflicted on women strips their self-confidence and motivation. It is our privilege to empower these women and help them recover to their fierce, ambitious selves.
           Our program aims to educate women in all aspects of life, ultimately providing participants with four ideal outcomes. First, upon graduation, the women are well. They are practicing a healthy lifestyle and fully educated in sexual reproduction. Second, the women are decision-makers. Participants have been educated in their legal rights and have increased confidence in voicing their opinions in both society and families. Third, the women sustain a steady income. Our program provides an education for entrepreneurship and group investments, allowing women the freedom to choose the path most comfortable for them. It is imperative, regardless of which path they choose, that women establish themselves financially. Finally, the women will have created social networks and safety nets throughout the training process. Support systems and familial bonds, once destroyed by rampant warfare, are restored and enforced. Women for Women creates a program and environment that attacks poverty at its core. Nutritional and financial needs are addressed, as well as the sense of mental and physical isolation.
             Poverty is not blind to gender, but women are often the prominent victims. Gender-bias in poverty obstructs women from obtaining the exposure, education, and health services necessary for their progress. Programs, like Women for Women, are imperative in targeting women to provide necessary resources and knowledge for a promising future. Women who previously earned less than $1 a day are now earning an average of $9 a day upon graduation. This serves as a reminder that investment in the right approach and full dedication to that approach can create infinite opportunities. We must continue to extend our activism and aid them. Addressing women’s poverty and well -being is the key to this nation’s better bill of health.
[1] Zuckerman, Elaine. “Engendering Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans: The Issues and Challenges.” Gender and Development 10.3 (2002): 88-94. Print.

1 Comment

Filed under Rwanda, Uncategorized

Kigali, Rwanda, is Leading Today’s African Renaissance

Judithe Registre, the Director of Development and Outreach at Women for Women International, is currently traveling in Rwanda. This if the first in a series of posts about her experiences. 

 

            I have been coming to Rwanda since 2001. I feel privileged and honored each year I come and witness the changes taking place. While the continent as a whole has witnessed many changes, Rwanda perhaps displays the most tangible evidence of these changes. I am continually moved and astounded to see such visible progress. Many of the roads, homes, and office buildings now in place are less than five years old. The pace and speed of progress is clear evidence that anything is possible when one is willing to move forward positively. Indeed, with strong leadership, much that is dreamed can be achieved.
            I am in Rwanda for the next two weeks, leading two groups of donors who support our program in Rwanda. They are here to see the impact of their investments on the lives of the women we serve.  I am excited to be here, since I no longer work in the field as I once did. I am also excited, because I am always inspired when I meet the women whom we serve. I feel blessed to do this work and help women realize, own, and harness their personal power to transform the lives of not only themselves, but of their families and communities.
            Each time I venture into the field, I am moved by what these women are able to achieve with the limited resources they have. The women in our programs have taught me the meaning of possibility, hope, and optimism. Being here is always a strong reminder of my personal blessings and the remarkable opportunity I have doing this work. My visits to Rwanda also always offer amazing lessons in development, post- conflict rebuilding, and leadership.
            Understanding the role of history in who we are and who we are becoming is the important ingredient for nation-building. The development boom and recent progress in Rwanda is one of the past decade’s most important, yet least recognized, stories emerging from Africa. This country has moved forward from a grim past, sadly marked by ethnic hatred and severe violence. During that time, the country’s prospects for brighter years seemed to be extinct. Yet seventeen years after the horrific genocide, Rwanda is rejuvenating a disheveled morale and standing stronger and brighter. The country is nurturing optimism, pushing advancement, and redefining new standards for post-conflict development. Rwanda is the leader of what I will call an African Renaissance.
             The progress and development thus far in Rwanda sets new standards for change and development across the continent.  After the total destruction of its underdeveloped economy and limited infrastructures, one would have to declare what is happening now to be nothing less than a miracle. In actuality, it is not just a miracle; it is also a lesson in personal and community leadership and determination.  While an arduous journey still lies ahead, Rwanda continues to revive its enthusiasm for change and innovation.  The country demonstrates that it is not only the voice of one person that is most inspiring, but the collective voices and stories of many that will inspire us to change.
             When I travel to the African continent and experience the struggles of different countries, I am reminded of the African concept known as Ubuntu. As articulated by Nelson Mandela, Ubuntu “is the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will be in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.”[1]Others will inspire us as we inspire them and are willing to be inspired by them. Courage and determination are choices we all must make, individually or collectively.
               From a physical perspective, I see this East African country is pursuing numerous cosmetic changes. Prominent hotel complexes, such as the Marriott and Radisson, are being built in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Seemingly infinite road projects are evidence of the extensive infrastructure repair. The country has won praise at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit and in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, both of which note its incredible road towards progress. Rwanda is working to bring full prosperity to its people, but it is not yet there.  Despite annual economic growth of nearly 7% the last five years[2], Rwanda still ranks 195th out of 213 countries on the World Bank’s most recent per capita income survey[3].Despite the such high level of economic growth the majority of people are still very poor. For instance, over  60% of the population live in poverty and over 40% in absolute poverty. Poverty remains an ongoing challenge. Still, I see the signs everywhere– signs that the country is on the right path.
From a more profound perspective, Rwanda is also displaying unprecedented advancements in the value it places on women. It amazes me that this gender, whose bodies were once used as battlegrounds during the genocide, can today proudly reclaim its voice and confidence. Women are now valued in politics, the social structure, economics and grass roots organizations. Society hopes to assuage the previous terrors inflicted by mostly violent men. The Rwandan Parliament is the first in Africa with a majority female population and also led by a female, Rose Mukantabana, the Speaker of the Parliament.
            In a country that once restricted women from making profits or opening bank accounts, programs like ours now empower Rwandan woman economically and financially. I am proud to be one voice in a community of many that encourage and assist these women with microcredit loans and training in business, agriculture and agribusiness. The success of our program is accredited to the determination of the women, but also to a new, enabling environment facilitating growth and progress for women. These environments instill hope and value in all women, promoting their necessary involvement to sustain a working society.
            Rwanda’s strides and improvements are astounding. This financially and economically thriving country defies all the prior post-genocide speculations and concerns. There is certainly a need for persistence in current improvements, but still Rwanda serves as a prominent example for its African peers. This progress indirectly asks for similar standards from its neighbors in achieving infrastructure reform, women’s rights, and economic potential. Rwanda challenges its peers to follow its lead. It demands paralleled rejuvenation, so as to create a true Africanrenaissance for the entire continent.
The aspiration to bring prosperity to Rwanda by transforming its economy rests on the belief that extreme poverty contributed to the 1994 genocide. We know all too well about the abuse of African youth and other third-world children to fight conflicts, largely due to their lack of opportunities. The youth need jobs and education.  The change cannot merely serve as a campaign slogan for politicians. It has to be real. I adamantly believe it has to be a change the people are fully invested in creating. We know that when a certain level of economic well- being is enjoyed by the population as a whole, tolerance and peaceful co-existence will increase. The sense of optimism that progress brings can fundamentally rebuild economies and nations, even those emerging from war and conflict. Many of us will often think a goal is impossible until it is achieved.  Rwanda is replacing this doubt with optimism by providing a new model for what is possible.
            I am a pragmatic optimist.  I am blessed to witness women emerging from extreme atrocities, trauma and great darkness to find hope, light, and create a new life for themselves. These women succeed in conditions where one would think nothing positive is possible. I am hopeful today, for I have been shown the full capacity of the human spirit to recreate the positive in the midst of nothingness. I am blessed and excited to not only see Rwanda, but to be reminded by the women that we serve of the possibilities when all are committed to moving forward. We can become a prominent example, as Rwanda is becoming, and seek a revival of African development that will produce a full African Renaissance. In a recent article, the Harvard Business Review noted that “the [African] continent is among the fastest expanding economic regions today.”[4]  Rwanda is certainly  leading the way with its value of women as important, even necessary, players in that process.

1 Comment

Filed under Rwanda

Women for Women International: DRC

WfWI-DRC has the largest program in the Women for Women International network, serving over 7,000 women this year. Looking at a map of the country at large, the areas in which we work seem rather close in vicinity, especially relative to the size of the country (nearly the same landmass as Western Europe). However, looking at the prominently placed map of DRC in the Bukavu headquarters, it is clear that the communities WfWI-DRC serve are nowhere near each other; from North to South, Goma, Bukavu, Baraka, and Uvira are hours away from each other. It is a 13 hour drive, north to south. Unfortunately for me, it means that my time in the country will be primarily limited to Bukavu. Luckily for me, the training staff from all the sub-offices are here for the Training of Trainers (ToT).

The ToT’s purpose is to give an in-depth orientation to the newly deepened Women’s World Manual Curriculum, help the Renewing Women’s Life Skills trainers improve their facilitation skills, and most importantly help them solve problems so they can more effectively serve the women participants. I already knew that the DRC training crew have significant challenges, but I also know that they are uniquely placed to have a great impact on the women we serve. Having worked on the curriculum revision for two years as WfWI Program Coordinator in DC, I am very excited and happy to be here.

This is also a unique opportunity for the trainers; such great distances mean that they have little opportunity to interact, share experiences, and focus exclusively on their training techniques. They seem especially excited that Nina and I are here to focus on their important work. On the first day of training, it seems quite a lot like the first day of “school”; the ReneWLS trainers stick with the people they know. The Bukavu group sits together, the Goma group sits together, and the Baraka/Uvira group sit together. I know they are excited, but they also seem nervous. This is not surprising; having worked on the revised curriculum for a long time myself, I know that the new manual is more than double the size of the original, which makes it imposing before you even open the book. But, as lead training consultant Nina Nayar says as she introduces the curriculum, we have complete confidence in the training staff. We know they can master the new material. All that is really new is the methodology, and I am more than confident that the trainers can learn from each other and teach Nina and I things as well.

Nina introduces herself, and then gives me the floor. I tell the trainers about my work with WfWI, and I also tell them that I am a first generation American whose parents are from Nigeria and Ghana. This is my first trip to Africa since I was a child. This brings lots of smiles and applause to the room.

Then the 37 trainers, plus office and sub-office staff introduce themselves. The youngest trainer is 22 – the oldest trainers playfully decline to give their age. The trainers are young, mature, married, widowed, divorced, single, and have training in many different fields. There are trained teachers, nurses, lawyers, and agronomists in the training staff. Also present is Honorata, the prime example of WfWI successes, is present among the Baraka group of trainers. As we finish introducing ourselves and begin dividing up sessions and exercises to practice, I am certain that WfWI-DRC has the best trainers to be had in the country. I am excited to see what they make of the new material.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fear of Rape and Violence Rising – Women for Women Reaches Out To Vulnerable Women in Congo

Washington, DC, November 12, 2008 – Amidst widespread violence and massive human suffering Women for Women International is preparing to respond to the needs of thousands of women who are threatened by the fighting and are in urgent need of assistance.

“We will reach out to more women including those who now live in displacement camps in and around Goma and hope to offer sponsorships to the most vulnerable among them,” says Karen Sherman, Executive Director of Global Programs with Women for Women International. “Since most women are not able to come to us, we will go to them and offer assistance through financial aid and on-site training.”

Christine Karumba, the DR Congo Country Director

Christine Karumba, the DR Congo Country Director


The direct assistance will help them to pay for food, medicine, and other lifesaving needs. Since the latest outbreak of violence more than 250,000 people have been forced to leave their homes over the last few weeks alone, bringing the total number of displaced to more than 1.2 million.


The worst fighting is occurring close to the provincial capital city of Goma, where Women for Women is training and assisting almost 1,000 women. The UN is reporting that retreating fighters have gone on a rape and looting rampage just 60 miles north of Goma. In another incident on Tuesday night 75,000 people fled their homes following a gun battle in Kibati, just six miles from the city.


“More than half of our women are missing classes in our training program in Goma,” says Christine Karumba via phone from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Due to the volatile situation they are unable to reach our training facilities.”


“We worry that many of our women have been displaced and lost all their belongings – or, even worse, have once again become victims of violence. We will find them as soon as the situation allows us to go to their homes and help them to reintegrate into the program.” says Karumba.


Over the past decade, a brutal conflict has devastated much of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), leaving the country without a functioning infrastructure and most families in a state of crisis. More than five million people have died as a result of the violent conflict, most through disease and malnutrition and. Women are often directly targeted by combatants using rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war.


 

Women for Women International in DR Congo is currently assisting almost 7,000 women through financial support and a one year program that includes rights awareness, health education, and skills training. The organization works with communities in Bukavu, Goma, Fizi and Baraka in the heavily affected South and North Kivu provinces in Eastern Congo.

16 Comments

Filed under Democratic Republic of the Congo

Day One – Sarajevo, Bosnia – Alison Wheeler – Director of Online Marketing

I had been looking forward to my trip to Bosnia for a long, long time. Nearly 10 years ago I became friends with a few people from Sarajevo. They had left the besieged city during the war and made their way to Washington, DC. I had heard each of their stories over the years and wanted to see their beloved city for myself. So when I joined Women for Women International in June, I was already planning a trip to Bosnia with these friends and my family. So a visit to the Sarajevo office was included in the itinerary.

 

 

I spent two full days with the Women for Women International Bosnia teams in Sarajevo and Zelenica and came away with a deep respect and admiration for the women in the program and appreciation for the dedicated staff in each of the offices. Here are their stories:

Better to Belong to Something or Someone Than to Buy A Pair of Shoes

 

 

 

I think I truly came to understand the power of the letter in our sponsorship program during my visit with Renata Raus, the sponsorship coordinator in the Sarajevo office. She told me the participants in the program are “proud of their sponsors.” Just as a sponsor may tell a friend or family about a woman they are supporting in another country around the globe, these women in the field share the stories and lives of their supporters. And they wait and wait for these letters to arrive. They want to hear about what their supporters do in their daily lives. It doesn’t matter to them if they get a whole letter, just a few sentences, just a postcard to know they are connected to their sponsor.

 

 

And the beneficiary of the letter is not just the women in the field. A sponsor got to the heart of this in her letter to her sister in Bosnia, “Better to belong to something or someone than to buy a pair of shoes.” Really, what is the cost of sponsorship? The sponsor continued in her letter, “What is the value of something if others are suffering?” The sponsor gains so much from the relationship, if not more…

 

The Entrepreneurs and Organizers of Olovo

 

During the afternoon of my first day, we sat down to a working lunch with women from our program in Olovo. While munching on burek (meat pie), zeljanica (spinach and cheese pie) and the Bosnian version of Italian panatone (alcohol infused fruitcake), I listened to these women tell their stories of bringing home their first paycheck. There was Ramiza Kricic who was selling milk to neighbors in her area. The staff of Women for Women International introduced her to a dairy factory, Milkos, and now the milk from her farm supplies a factory in Sarajevo. And now 82 families are registered to supply to sell milk to this factory! As Ramiza Kricic said, “It is such a good feeling to go to the bank and get a salary….to know you have done something useful.”

 

 

Despite the doubt of her husband and family, another woman, Senada Imsirovic, started to collect herbs to sell in her spare time. Women for Women International matched her with a buyer, Boletus, and her herbs are now used in teas and creams sold locally and internationally. Now her whole family has joined her business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Visiting Sadije’s House

by Trish Tobin

I knew we were being hosted for lunch by one of our program graduates but the Albanian/English translation was too fast for me to pick up on who we were visiting. I was overwhelmed when I realized we were pulling up to Sadije’s house. It was like visiting a movie set to me, since I had seen this house in the film that PEF did about the trip that Sadije organized for her fellow graduates around Kosovo. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on YouTube. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSwwaiECAzc

We also did a newsletter story on Sadije’s trip – which was monumental considering half the women on the trip had never seen beyond their village let alone traveled around Kosovo (and with a group of women no less). Some women had rarely left their homes before – something I found hard to really, really believe until I drove through the villages and saw the farmers’ markets – all men selling and buying, no women. It was one thing to see only men on the streets – and another thing entirely to see them doing the grocery shopping. This is truly a patriarchal society.

Sadije welcomed us to her home in Drenas as did her husband – who is also in the film. It’s very courageous as a man to support and encourage your wife to do untraditional things too. I was very impressed by him. He took Sadije to the farmers’ association meetings where she is now active. After talking, I suggested to Sadije and to Faruk, Women for Women International’s agribusiness specialist in Kosovo, that they do another bus tour like Sadije had done for women graduates but this time do the trip for farmers to visit one another’s farms and associations to share knowledge, seeds and create a broader network for them – and of course it would include the women farmers. And this is why I love Hamide Latifi, Country Director in Kosovo, so much. She is not only for the idea; she wants to do it by the end of May! I like the way the Kosovars make things happen.

Sadije and her daughters made the most amazing cake for us – it was huge, too large to bake in any oven I’ve seen. And we had “flia”, a flour and onion layered dish that was kind of like a lasagna of onion crepes. Tasty. But the best part for me was when they showed me the newsletter that Sadije had on the bookshelf – right next to her Women for Women International graduation certificate. It was the newsletter where we featured her story. You can see the same newsletter on our website. http://www.womenforwomen.org/outreachwinter08/ Now I knew that we sent copies to the Kosovo office like we do for every newsletter – but to see that Sadije kept her copy…well, it was a good moment and I couldn’t wait to tell Teisha back in the office in DC who had worked on the newsletter story.

Sadije\'s graduation certificate The newsletter on Sadije\'s bookshelf

As we got ready to leave one of Sadije’s younger daughters – 12 or 13? – got brave enough to peek into the festivities. She blushed crimson immediately and could not be persuaded to stay no matter how much we encouraged her. Hamide explains that Sadije’s family suffered badly during the war and the children still have emotional scars that make meeting strangers more difficult. I’m reminded of what Sadije’s husband said in the film – that it was indescribable to not be able to protect your wife and children.

As we leave, I’m happy to see one of the Women for Women International greenhouses has arrived. This means Sadije has qualified for the small business package – given how healthy and happy her farm looks, I can see why.

The greenhouse parts - ready for assembly

There are reminders though as we leave. I see whitewashed areas on the house and ask Hamide what they are. As I suspected, the white paint covers up the slogans Serbian soldiers and police left behind to denigrate the family. Bullet holes are still visible as well.

But then there is the Women for Women International – Grate per Grate International (in Albanian) – sign in the window. It feels like a beacon to me – a proud one and I think it must be great for her daughters to see that, to see their mom on film and to know that there are opportunities for them too.

1 Comment

Filed under Kosovo

Education for Women in Kosovo

By Trish Tobin

While visiting in Kosovo, I had the opportunity to meet with three courageous women who, after graduating from Women for Women International’s program, decided to go back and finish their secondary education.  They came to Sadije’s house – Sadije is a graduate who hosts classes in her home.  Tina (28), Elmiahate (26) and Afrodite (30) are from another village though, the village of Llapushnik.

There is a whole generation in Kosovo who have missed completing their education because of the war and for some because of the oppression before and during the war.  After the war, the focus was on recovery of the basic needs – homes for those who lost theirs, returning to look for lost loved ones and basic needs.  Now the focus is on jobs, how to generate income to get by and to improve their standing.  Returning to school wasn’t something most could afford – if they didn’t go to school in the “regular years” people typically didn’t go back.  When asked, they tell me they “missed school”, a term that people understand means that they couldn’t go to school because of war.

Afrodite, Elmiahate and Tina - Women for Women International Kosovo graduates gone back to school

These women who I met used their Women for Women International funds to pay for transportation and school fees and even more importantly, they have been lobbying the 16 women in their village in their same situation to also go back to school – so far 14 of the 16 have returned to school.  

They wanted to visit with me to tell me that we shouldn’t invest only in young girls or grandmothers who are needy but that we should invest in the women.  I assured them they are our greatest asset for getting more women of their age into our program, back to school and into job training - that in doing by example and encouraging their peers, they’ve extended the impact of their sponsors’ support for them exponentially.

Their interests too are advanced – they are taking business classes in school and are less interested in handicraft training and more interested in small business training and microcredit opportunities.  As I reflect on the visit with them, I think I understand why Hamide wanted me to meet with them.  They are the future of Kosovo and they are the future of Women for Women International in Kosovo. 

I can see these women criss-crossing the country one day soon offering consulting on business plans, making women aware of lending and funding opportunities and getting more women enrolled in the program.  The last question Hamide asked the women is a poignant one.  “Once you have a steady income, would you consider supporting a woman in the program yourself?” Their answer was a resounding yes – and I can see that desire to support one another already in the way other graduates like Sadije have opened up their homes for classes in the rural areas where no community center is available. I can see it in how the women I meet all day have formed small groups with one another whether for their business or for their friendship. There is a support network (dare I say movement?) growing in Kosovo of women.  Women who perhaps had not considered the strength of their numbers before and the impact they could have.  But they are seeing the fruits of it now and are doing everything they know how to keep it growing. 

6 Comments

Filed under Kosovo