The check from members of the Mary Baldwin University student group CGIU — Changemakers for Women was for $1,120. In the hands of Karen Sherman, Women for Women International executive director for global programs, its value will be so much more.
The contribution will give four women survivors of war sponsorships to participate in Women for Women programs and provide for their families’ basic needs for an entire year. Women for Women International was founded in 1993 to aid women in countries where war has devastated the local economy, demolished villages, and torn apart families.
“We have learned that these women need just about everything,” said Jessie Blekfeld-Sztraky ’11, co-president of the student organization and one of those on hand to present the donation October 22. “It is powerful to realize that so little of our money — $27 a month — can have such a big impact on their lives.”
Fundraising for the sponsorships began in October 2009, when the group sold apple desserts and henna painting at the Apple Day carnival. In November 2009, the group made its first donation to support one yearlong sponsorship, and they soon received information about Adolphine Tumusifu M’Bahati, a woman with six of her own children and four others to care for in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More information about her is available in the Spencer Center.
The goal to provide more sponsorships received a big boost in Febraury 2010 when the college hosted a Women for Women-sponsored event called Join Me on the Bridge on International Women’s Day, and a portion of dinner profits from Staunton restauraunt Baja Bean were designated for the cause. Other fundraisers included a bake sale, book sales and discussions, and proceeds from a specially designed Mother’s Day card.
Women for Women operates programs in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan.
The Mary Baldwin club is not sure yet what country its new sponsorees — or “sisters” — live in, but communication through letters will become a major component of the project when the women are selected. They are preparing a package of photos, letters, and a video to send to M’Bahati soon.
“We are eager to communicate with her and to support her while she works to provide for her family,” said Sarah Anne Barrow ’12, co-president of Changemakers for Women.
Mary Baldwin’s connection with Women for Women began in May 2009, when Sherman was on campus to deliver a powerful Commencement address. Through examples of women she has met through the organization’s peace-building social entrepreneurship programs in eight war-torn countries around the world, Sherman — now a member of the Mary Baldwin Board of Trustees — illustrated the impact of women as agents of change here and abroad.
Mary Baldwin women are grateful to now count themselves as members of that movement.
“For the first time in their lives, these women may have the opportunity to feed their families or buy medicine when their children are sick,” said Sherman. “At the same time, through her participation in the Women for Women International program, she can learn skills that help her to earn a living, and how to be involved in the rebuilding of her family, her community, and her nation.”
Changemakers for Women evolved from a club that initially formed after several students attended the inaugural meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) in 2008. Attendees in 2009 were inspired by the dialogue between former President Bill Clinton and Women for Women International founder and CEO Zainad Salbi. The mission of Salbi’s organization gave the group a focus and a goal: sponsor women in the program.
With the presentation of its most recent donation, the group met its goal to create five yearlong sponsorships for 2009–10. Members will begin raising money almost immediately to meet their target of 10 additional sponsorships by November 2011. The three-year commitment through CGIU includes adding 10 more sponsorships — for a total of 25 — by 2012.
Near the end of their sisters’ participation in the program, students will be notified that she is graduating — and beginning a big transition in her life. Women enrolled in the program have become dairy farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, livestock rearers in Afghanistan, and textile producers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Often, women receive microcredit loans (small business loans) to begin their own businesses, according to the organization’s sponsorship website.
“The sponsorship program is personal,” Sherman said. “Sponsors connect with an individual woman, and they can witness the transformation that occurs with the help of their funding.”
******Event: ‘Between Two Worlds’******
Join CGIU: Changemakers for Women at 8 p.m. November 9 in the Spencer Center for a book discussion on Between Two Worlds by Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi. Buy your book at The Sacred Circle downtown and they will donate $2.70 to WFWI. For every 10 books sold CGIU: Changemakers for Women will be able to provide a month’s sponsorship for a woman through WFWI.