As part of our big plan for 2013, especially our Ultimate Advocacy project, we want to introduce you to people who serve as allies in order to make the world a better place for everyone. This post comes from Ellen. We have known her for several years via the advocacy work we do for one of our favorite charities, CARE International, where she works in the Advocacy Unit. We’re sure you’ll find her story as inspiring as we do.
Growing up in rural Ohio, I had little exposure to life outside of the agricultural community where I grew up. That all changed when I was 9 years old. One day my father came home from work and shared with us a conversation that he had with Mr. Lee, the janitor at his office building. Mr. Lee had told my father about the atrocities that the people of Cambodia faced under the Khmer Rouge. He had thought that his mother, brother, and his brother’s wife and children had died, only to recently find out that his extended family was alive and living in a refugee camp. My father mobilized his colleagues and the larger community to provide support to Mr. Lee as he worked to bring his family to our small town.
The community marked the arrival of Mr. Lee’s family with fanfare. I was excited to meet the children that I had heard so much about, but quickly realized that their life in the refugee camp was very different from my life in small town America. The young girl cried in the car on her way home from the airport, mistaking a tractor for a tank. The toddler boy, having never worn clothes in the refugee camp, opted for a skirt over pants. And, most strikingly to me, the children were terrified of our family dog, a friendly Border Collie. While it wasn’t until later that I learned that their fear of dogs came from the dogs that guarded the refugee camp where they lived, I did realize right away that their life experiences were much different than mine.
I had won the lottery of life. As a girl born in the U.S., I grew up not having to worry about whether or not I would be granted the same rights as boys my age. I was able to pursue an education and encouraged to follow my dreams. I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I would have enough to eat or access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Meeting the Lee family gave me a glimpse at what life might have been like if I was born elsewhere.
I decided to dedicate my life to advocating for the rights of those who lost the lottery of life. I believe that everyone deserves to live with dignity and hope. With the right global commitments, I believe that we can overcome global poverty and raise the status of women and girls.
Let me share the story of one remarkable woman who gives me hope, her name is Adele. Adele lives in rural Rwanda. When I met her in 2010, I was first struck by her broad smile. Amid the poverty in her community she radiated light and happiness.
Life has not been easy for Adele. Seven years ago she earned a very small income working in her neighbor’s field alongside her husband. Although she did the same amount of work as her husband, she earned less. Her husband often spent their earnings on alcohol. When he was drunk or angry he would beat Adele. Adele had to turn to her neighbor’s to ask for salt, sugar and soap for her family. Adele was not active in her community because she was embarrassed by her family’s poverty and the violence in her home.
Things began to change for Adele in 2006 when she was invited by CARE to join a Village Savings and Loan Association with other women in her village to save small amounts of money each week to invest in income generating activities. While she was hesitant at first, Adele joined the group and began saving a minimum of $0.17 per week.
Eventually, Adele was able to save enough money to take out her first loan. She used her first loan to purchase a goat, which she then took to another market and sold for a profit. She continued this business of buying and selling goats and was able to pay off her loan and invest in her household.
As part of her weekly meetings with the CARE Village Savings and Loan Association she also received information on how to address gender based violence in her home and community. She also learned the rights granted to her through Rwanda’s gender-based violence laws.
Today Adele’s life is much better. Her relationship with her husband has improved and the violence in her home has ended. Through the money that she earned through her goat selling business, she is able to buy household staples and has built a new three room home for her family.
Adele has also become a leader in her community. She represents the needs of her village as their elected member of the Leadership Advisory Council. She was also elected as the Gender-Based Violence Focal Person for her area. In this role, she advocates for other women who are victims of violence, intervenes when violence is reported and works with the local police to address violence.
Adele’s story gives me hope that we can achieve a world without poverty. With the right opportunities women can not only lift themselves out of poverty, but also create a community that works together to protect human dignity.
Let us know if you have a story you’d like to share about why you're an advocate and stay tuned for more on our Ultimate Advocacy during 2013.