In Kenya, when we opened Baraka Women’s Center, women came in droves to register as members. The larger community supports the Center only if there is cash on the table for them. Influential people who could rally funding for the Center have been unhelpful.
At Oakland Women’s Center, we are searching for the women. Meanwhile, so many people from the community have donated money and furnishing and equipment to the Center. They want to teach and offer services. Influential people who could bring money to the Center have been unhelpful.
In Kenya, we are seen as a sort of ‘gravy train’ – the white folks of course have money – though the Center there operates on a shoestring budget.
In Oakland, we evidently are a kind of interloper. Again operating on a shoestring budget.
I wonder about the stasis that poverty induces. The desire to stay with the familiar no matter how messed up it is. Cynicism about hope and change. Does the movement of know-how and support need to pass through a racial/cultural checkpoint? Is ‘community’ a notion that, in practice, plays out as xenophobic and suspicious?
Soul Train Oakland showed me that the joyful melding of lots of different people is not only possible but fun.
Some days it’s hard to read the tea leaves.
In the past few years, the process of applying for grants has gone online. This probably makes it easier for those with money to give. I spend hours completing the so-called Letters of Intent (LOIs). A bunch of fussy boxes measuring information in words, or worse, in characters. The questions vary in character and order, making each new application a re-think of wherever I’m planning to do. The field of supplicants grows exponentially. What are the chances when one competes with 649 others for a depressingly small amount of money?
I’ve gotten well practiced in this process but it occurs to me that the very people who would benefit most from a cash infusion have limited, expensive access to the Internet. Their groups have no web presence. Their facility with English may be limited. What they have is rare passion and local orientation for assisting people whose circumstances are unimaginably bleak and invisible to many perusing grant applications. I’m thinking of the half-dozen people from far-flung, generally impoverished places who’ve emailed me requesting help to set up a Women’s Center in their communities. I would love to engage immediately. Indeed it is the mission of WCI. But I struggle to keep my own young organization afloat.
This takes me to the phenomenon of moving people to act – to contribute. I frame WCI’s work not as ‘charity’ but as the necessary re-allocation of resources to those whose talents – possibly world-changing – are shrouded in the dust of poverty. What would it be like for them to stand in the sun of prosperity? What great genius would be unleashed to alter, for millions, the current stacked deck of opportunity?
One of the biggest challenges of working with women living in poverty is promoting a mindset that sees beyond it. On the face if it, one might assume they have nothing to lose and nothing to take them forward. But these women have children, and what they have to lose is their future. It’s a powerful motivator for change.
At Baraka Women’s Center, we worked through the initial jostling for attention and clannishness inherent in new groups. It took over a year but then the magic rose up. They saw common ground. They found relief in sisterly support. The group mattered to them. It made them stronger, more willing to risk learning and the hard changes new information demanded. I believe in the power that emerges in groups of women. It a singular gift that requires nurturing from anyone who imagines a humane world order defined and fostered by women.
So I keep in my mind a bit of wisdom from Harriet Beecher Stowe: “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Every day brings breakthroughs in persistence.
A sort tour of the slum, and meet-up with the women of Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi.
I think about money a lot – mainly because I have nearly 450 people depending on me.
Even through I’m 10,000 miles away from Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi, I know intimately what extraordinary progress has been made in just 8 months.
Chief among them is the resurrection of hope, the increasingly joyful belief that, given a small hand-up, these women will turn their lives out of poverty.
They depend one me because I deliver what money I can shake out of America’s prosperity tree. WCI pays for a safe space for their Center, notebooks, textbooks, pencils, pitifully small salaries to dedicated staff, and fees for teachers and trainers. I need about $6,000 a month to elevate the prospects of 464 women. It’s gonna take about 3 more months before the big grant money shows up. So getting through the summer is my challenge.
I know there’s lots of money “out there.” I’m looking for allies to help me secure it.
Is that you?