Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Women for Women International in Kigali

This morning I visited the office of this organization and spent the morning meetings with the women and touring the facility there. This branch of Women for Women is serving more than 5000 women this year. Women receive a monthly stipend from their sponsoring sister in the US and come to the center twice a month for workshops on health and hygiene, business training, human rights, the new laws regarding marital rights of women (they now have property rights and rights to keep their children in cases of divorce), stress management and support groups.

They also come to training classes held at the center which include tailoring, knitting, basket making, beading and jewelry making, and tie dying. Next year they will expand to agricultural production and beekeeping. The organization is also developing a training program for development of cooperative associations so that women can pool their money and energy to achieve greater returns on their investments.รน

I sat in on meeting of women who were fairly new to the program. They talked about their experiences with micro businesses and tried to glean the lessons learned from the failure of these enterprises in the past. They also talked about the importance of working together and helping each other, and the need to become independent financially. Their individual stories were moving to hear and it was great to see them together so hopeful and excited about embarking on this new journey.

Then they had a lot of questions for me. Of course they wanted to know about my family - how many kids, my work, and marital status. Interestingly, they asked about marital status after they asked about kids. They had deeper questions though. They wanted to know what life is like for women in the US and if they work together in associations, if there are poor people in the US, and how people greet each other and work together. They also asked me to thank other sponsors for the help they give to women in Africa. It was very moving to be there with them.

The director told me that women's lives improve dramatically even after they have been in the program a few months. They are more confident and get more respect from husbands and people in their communities. Wife beating is reduced as men see women as economic partners...and people who have the economic means to leave bad marriages if they want to.

Check out Women for Women International on line and see how easy it is to make a difference in a woman's life.

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