Dan Pearson of CFCA’s international programs introduces us to Preethi (a fictional name to protect her privacy), mother of a sponsored child and a member of one of India’s mothers groups. The women in her mothers group offered Preethi and her family a loan, protection and support during a time of great need. Now Preethi and her family have stable jobs, steady income and her child is attending school. Part two of four videos
By Janet Tinsley, Africa project director, international programs
As we were driving through Monrovia during a recent project visit to Liberia, a unit of U.N. soldiers caught my attention. United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) troops, or ìblue hatsî as they are commonly known, are a familiar sight around the city, and they eventually blend into the background after a day or so in the country. But this particular unit captured my attention because they were unique ñ they were all Indian women.
Immediately, I turned to our project coordinator who was sitting next to me in the taxi and asked her about them. She explained that they were a special unit of Indian police officers who had been sent to Liberia to serve as U.N. police officers. She said they were also meant to be an inspiration to Liberian women to join the Liberian police.
I was intrigued. The notion of an all-female U.N. peace-keeping unit was interesting enough, because I was not aware of any other. But the fact that they were from India, another country where CFCA works and one with its own unique issues around the status of women, was exciting to me.
When I got home, I did some digging, and I learned that the U.N. has so far sent three all-female Indian units since 2007 to serve in Liberia. The most recent unit was deployed in early February of this year. They are known as the Indian Formed Police Unit (FPU), and their official mission is to provide crowd and traffic control, anti-robbery patrols, and protection for UNMIL staff and assets. But the less tangible attributes they bring to the job may even be more important.
Research from around the world shows that women police officers are adept at resolving conflicts through non-violent means. In a war-weary country like Liberia, this is a very valuable skill, and this makes the FPUís mission very important. The Indian officers also spend time with schoolgirls teaching self-defense techniques, self-esteem and even Indian dance. The presence of the female officers has been an inspiration to young Liberian women and girls, and the nation has seen an increase of women applying to join the Liberian police force.
The Indian women are certainly an inspiration to me, and I hope their presence leaves a lasting impression on the Liberian people, especially the girls, for whom the sky is the limit.
Dan Pearson, a member of CFCA International Programs, returned from a six-month assignment in India to learn more about CFCA programs, particularly mothers groups. He saw that the mothers will find their own direction when they have the opportunity to take action. Part one of four videos
On March 8, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day to honor the various achievements of women everywhere. While we still have a long way to go until women are considered full and equal partners, progress is being made, one woman at a time. Next week we will share with you just a few of the inspiring stories of the many women who grace our projects around the world.
By Dan Pearson, international programs
I was in India for six months working with one of CFCAís projects, and I joined a gym while I was here. It was a small gym, but I really enjoyed going there. One morning at the gym I was silently congratulating myself for increasing the weight on one of my exercises when, precisely at that moment, something outside the window caught my eye. I noticed a small woman, probably weighing about 100 pounds, walking down the street. She was balancing a bundle on her head that was about four feet wide, four feet long, and three feet tall. In her arms she was carrying her child. And there was a plastic chair tied to the top of the bundle on her head. And it was raining outside. Suddenly the incremental weight increase on my exercise didnít seem so impressive.
Seeing that woman reminded me of a similar experience I had many years ago in Haiti. I was helping build a medical clinic in the mountains, and since I had no real building skills I was given the job of bringing water to mix the concrete. The crew leader handed me a 5-gallon bucket and told me to follow a trail down, down, down the mountain to the river. I filled my bucket in the river and began the long walk up the steep mud trail. It was pretty hard work, but I was in my early 20s and in pretty good shape at the time. I stumbled a few times, and each time I stumbled some water spilled out of the bucket. After several stumbles, the job became more manageable. All in all, I felt like I was doing pretty well until someone†passed me on the trail moving very quickly. I barely caught a glimpse of her as she passed by. In just a few seconds she was out of view ahead of me. She was a girl about 11 or 12 years old. She was also carrying a 5-gallon bucket of water. Hers was still full.
The difference between strength and power
CFCA seeks to empower women, particularly the mothers of sponsored children. Sometimes that word ëempowermentí is misunderstood, creating the image of weak and helpless women. But thereís a big difference between strength and power. The mothers of sponsored children in India have no shortage of strength. And the same goes for the mothers of sponsored children in the other countries where CFCA works.
The strongest people on Earth
I have visited many places and met a lot of people all around the world, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the strongest people anywhere on Earth are the mothers who live in the poorest communities in the world. They are mentally strong, emotionally strong, spiritually strong and, yes, physically strong. Tens of millions of mothers who live in the desperate corners of the planet get up each and every day regardless of how they feel and in spite of the overwhelming and unjust obstacles they face, and they do whatever it takes to give their kids life and a little hope for something better. Each of those women has a strength I canít even understand.
What they often lack is power. Power doesnít always have a lot to do with how strong you are. Power is about living in a society and an economy that allow you to fully use your strength. If you have power, you can use your strength how you see fit. If you donít have power, you are only allowed to use your strength to do the things that no one else wants to do (like carrying buckets of water up a mountain).
When CFCA talks about empowering the mothers of sponsored children, we do so with deep respect for the strength these women already demonstrate every day. All weíre doing is looking for ways to support their efforts to create for themselves a little more space, a little more power, so they can more fully use their strength. They deserve at least that much.