The Obvious in Detail

I often make the mistake of believing that something obvious to me is just as obvious to others, especially those working in the field of women’s equality. But often the obvious is missed. The Women’s Centers Model is a prime example.

How to describe the enormous impact of Baraka Women’s Center (BWC)? Nearly 1,200 women are members.  If you read any of the Success Stories, you’ll understand how vital BWC is to poorest women living in Nairobi’s slums.

Baraka Women’s will celebrate its tenth anniversary in October. Teresia Njora, the Center Director, Wanjiru Ngigi, Program Director, and their 10-member Board of Directors – all of them are on fire to meet the challenges so many women bring to the Center. They are uniquely gifted with shauku (passion) for healing and elevating the young single moms, the undereducated older moms, the struggling elders. They see needs and do as much as they can to ease a woman’s crisis. The crises are many: living on the streets with children, parenting at age 15, addiction, fleeing domestic violence, scratching for capital to boost a small business, unemployed with no marketable skills.

Poverty’s effect is universally the same:  chronic trauma from the unrelieved dismantling of self-worth and aspirations. When a Women’s Centers brings resources to ease the struggle, a woman can make her first leap to the “other side” – the place where she has what she needs with a sense of control over her choices.

BWC deserves to thrive.  To see what the Center is and does watch:  Amazing Place.

Women’s Centers should be opened and sustained in every major city, in every refugee camp, in every rural area where women’s education, health, livelihoods, and protection have not been considered, much less nurtured.

After years of effort, I’ve detailed the process in The Women’s Centers Guide: Best Practices for Creating and Sustaining a Women’s Resource Center

WCI is building an affiliate network of community-based organizations using the Guide as their roadmap. The Guide will be available also to large NGOs interested in elegantly integrating gender in global programming. 

On June 30th, find it here: Women’s Centers International 

On Being a Woman Elder

This year as of 29 July, I will have inhabited this earth and sky and seas for 70 years. I’ve led an adventurous life that’s produced books full of stories. 

I remember when personal computers were new and exciting technology.

I’ve created a home in at least fifteen different neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington, DC.

I’ve traveled throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Italy seduced my soul. Four African countries – Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Rwanda – are lodged indelibly in my mind and heart.

SBL waiting for a ride at Kutum airstrip, North Darfur, Sudan 2009

In my lifetime,  sixteen genocides have desecrated the human landscape – after we’d solemnly promised ‘never again.’ I studied in depth only two of these cataclysms: Rwanda and Sudan. Two was more than enough exposure to the darkest human impulses that have cost the planet nearly 10 million souls.

Blooming late, I created and manage an organization, Women’s Centers International,  from my heart’s mandate to help unleash the power of all women.  Our biggest battles are yet to be won: control of our own bodies, freedom from sexual violence, parity in pay, and elimination of exploitative images in the media.

The revolt worth supporting is rising among those with not far to fall: the poor. Women who grew up that way or were downed by a twist of fate, who subsist on starchy foods in second-hand clothes and love their kids and scramble too damn hard to keep them fed and clothed and educated.

There’s nothing noble in poverty. There is, however, great power in poverty-honed instincts for survival. 

I’ve become a woman in a hurry with a lot to do in much less time than I’ve already lived. Curiosity drives me. I know very quickly when I’m with someone whose energy inspires exuberance.

I despise the word ‘senior.’  I plan never to be a ‘retiree.’  I’m an Elder, a designation that implies wisdom; it’s what comes of surviving long and well enough.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic about our collective ability to rescue our world from the mess we’ve created.

I know that acknowledging people when they do well can transform a day. 

I know our world adores youth. And I am not immune to the siren call of ‘stuff you can do if you have endless energy.” But I’m at the juncture that points toward mining the inner treasures.

A legacy requires a lifetime to build. I hope mine will endure.

Movin’ on Up

A month ago, WCI received a substantial donation that allows us stable and effective operation of Oakland Women’s Center for maybe a year, if we play our cards well.

This means we get to move to a higher level of service to women. It’s invigorating to have the resource to execute a passionate vision.

So much to do. Just fabulous!

WomensCentersIntl.org

LOI

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.

Making Connections

So, a bit of PR is good.  http://www.encore.org/learn/who-won-encore-career

At some point this blurb will also show up on PBS’s Next Avenue.

I believe that when you do the thing that is your purpose in life – as Women’s Centers International is for me – the people you need to know, the  “mutual aid society” for marching further along your intersecting paths – tend to show up. The connections are unpredictable, serendipitous, and vulnerable to the possibility that either party may not recognize the gift that has been given.

While i find a certain delight in the process, I also get impatient. Warrior women…we’ve got a big job to do and, at this moment, I need a genius or two. Fierce fundraising for WCI is what I have in mind.