Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Women Find Empowerment Building Homes for Others

Lacey Moss' home built by Habitat for Humanity
Photo Credit: Lacey Moss
Have you ever tried doing something you're not good at for the sake of helping others? Have you ever found new strength learning a new skill? A reader of my blog recently reached out to tell me about National Women's Build Week, a Habitat for Humanity program bringing a sense of empowerment to both moms and daughters who participate and the families their work benefits.

National Women Build week is a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Lowe's. From April 30 to May 8, the program brought together more than 17,000 women to build or repair homes alongside 650 families. Two of these women were Lacey Moss and her mother.

Lacey Moss on a home build site
Photo Credit: Lacey Moss
Lacey Moss is a Habitat homeowner in Evansville, IN whose house was dedicated last August of 2015. When construction began on her home in May 2015 it was kicked off during National Women Build Week. Fifty women were involved in the kickoff and worked on the crawlspace of her home. She was so moved by the efforts of others that she volunteered and traveled to Guatemala this past February to "pay it forward" to another homeowner. To her surprise, her trip fee and airfare was sponsored by an anonymous board member! Now, this year, Lacey and her mom are leading the Women Build planning committee for the builds in her neighborhood.

Why are women like Lacey and her mom jumping up to grab their tool belts to help others? I'm certain it has a lot to do with social volunteerism. When we see that a cause is important and that we can do it with others while feeling great about ourselves, it becomes a very attractive activity! I believe moms especially can relate to the need to get a family into a real, functioning, owned home. The feeling of dignity, stability, and empowerment that is associated with home ownership is a powerful asset to families in need. Of course, Habitat for Humanity knows this well as evidenced by their words, "Through shelter, we empower." I just never really thought of that as meaning empowerment of volunteers, too!

In a new survey conducted by Lightspeed GMI Research, 87% of women surveyed said they enjoy volunteer work that teaches them a new skill. However, 75% said they avoid construction-related volunteering because they feel they lack the skills. (I, myself, fall in with that last group as well) National Women's Build week helps to fill a gap and help women like me jump in to help in a way that might normally be intimidating to us. Women who participate in builds bring home skills they can use in their own houses. Even for the 25% of women show feel that they already have construction skills, there is always something new to learn on a build site and helping others to learn can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Lacey Moss and others on a build in Guatemala
Photo Credit: Lacey Moss
"Throughout the week, Lowe's and Habitat for Humanity teach women volunteers the necessary construction skills through how-to clinics and empower them to use those new skills while working alongside Habitat families," said Erin Sellman, Lowe's senior vice president of strategy, insights and planning. "It is powerful to see women from Lowe's and communities rally together in an effort that brings us more than three-quarters of the way toward reaching our commitment to build or repair homes with 1,000 families, getting them into a safe and stable home in time for the holidays."

This year, the week was launched with 10 Girls' Night out events in regions across the U.S.: Atlanta, Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Indianapolis, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego and Seattle-Tacoma.

Want to get involved next year? For more information on Habitat for Humanity's Women Build program and to learn about Women Build projects in communities across the U.S., visit Habitat.orb/wb or the National Women Build Week tab on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

#WorldWaterDay Is for Everyone

Clean water for students at Railway Primary School in
Kampala, Uganda Photo by Cindy Levin)
For past World Water Days, I admit my thoughts always turned to countries far from the U.S. where women and girls spend precious time and energy every day to carry water. Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Haiti...these are the places that immediately jump to my mind where people in extreme poverty don't have access to clean water. 

Me: rehydrating after training
Yet this year, my own country got a crash course in clean water needs as well because of recent events in the city of Flint, Michigan. (Fun fact: I ran my first 10 mile race in Flint in 1996, never thinking once about the gallons of water I drank during training and racing) Until 2014, many Flint citizens were as trusting of water coming out of their taps as I had been. However, after Flint changed its water source to water from from the Flint River without corrosion treatment, corrosive water from the river caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the public water supply. The drinking water ended up contaminated with lead, creating a serious public health danger. Over 8,000 children under 6 have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead according to the Detroit Free Press. Now, you can go online to hear and see stories of American moms traveling miles and carrying clean bottled water for their children to wash in and drink.

So this World Water Day, I'm thinking about how the Sustainable Development Goals  - including Goal 6: Ensure Access to Water and Sanitation for All - (remember those #GlobalGoals we adopted?) are for EVERYONE...not just Africans, not just Asians, not just rich people, not just poor people. 
Everyone deserves good, clean sources of drinking water. 
A woman carries 10 gallons of water barefoot
along the side of the road in Uganda
(Photo by Cindy Levin)
The actions I take today are for all of the 663 million people without access to clean water worldwide (source: UNICEF) and especially for the mothers and daughters who carry that heavy, precious water to their families every single day. 

To start the day out right, I decided to take inspiration from two African women I've never met: this anonymous woman pictured to the right who was one of many I saw along the Ugandan roads carrying plastic jerry cans full of water and Siabatou Sanney who walked a marathon with 5 gallons of water on her head to raise money and awareness for Water for Africa. See a video of Siabatou's story here:

Now, please enjoy a video of me clumsily trying to carry 5 gallons on my head around my neighborhood...

Not surprisingly, my awkwardness and difficulty with the task helps illustrate the skill and strength of other women who carry water for years. Slate magazine reported years ago in a piece called "The Art and Science of Carrying Things on Your Head": "For untrained controls who have not had years to strengthen the right muscles and build up spinal bone density, carrying things on your head actually requires more energy than using a backpack." In other words, don't try Siabatou's marathon trick at home, folks!

My daughter's 3rd grade class carrying water for
3/4 of a mile to learn what it's like.
Now, has my foolishness inspired you to take an action? Here are a few easy actions YOU can take today to provide water to others for years. They are listed from least to most effort:

Monday, February 8, 2016

Julia Jenkins Empowers Women with Noonday Collection

I'm so glad I met Julia Jenkins. She is so many things, including...a mom-of-three, a fun/classy lady, and a Noonday Collection Ambassador. If you haven't heard of Noonday, think of it as a fair-trade fashion company that will throw trunk shows at your house with some of the proceeds helping adoptive families. "Wow!" right?

Julia is as passionate as I am about empowering girls and women. I love the fact that she does it in a different way than I do, but it all comes from the same place of love, hope, and practical optimism. She's my guest blogger today, sharing with you how Noonday is empowering her as well as her customers and the artisans that make all the beautiful accessories in the Noonday Collection. PLUS, if you are a U.S. reader and leave a comment for us on this blog answering the question "How do you empower women?" by 9PM CST February 15th, you'll be in a drawing to win a Noonday Collection scarf!
Thank you, Julia, for sharing your story.

Julia's Story
As a Noonday Collection Ambassador, I regularly stand in front of hostesses and their guests telling stories about artisans who make the gorgeous handmade jewelry and accessories I showcase in their homes. While they sip wine, I tell them about how lives are transformed, because of the power having a job. I show them how amazing they look wearing a statement necklace made by one of our artisans. I empower them to change the world and feel beautiful at the same time.

But, here's my secret: Each time I stand up in front of a group of customers, I am trembling (and sweating). The voices in my head say that I'm not pretty enough, thin enough, well-spoken enough, outgoing enough, or confident enough to do this justice.

I advocate on behalf of women---women who depend on the job they have to live, and that happens because of my voice, and your purchases. It’s something I feel very called to spite of my sweaty armpits!

I recently returned from Austin, Texas where I had the privilege of meeting some of Noonday’s partner artisans. It’s incredibly humbling to meet these ladies. This is Ana:

Ana lives in Guatemala and learned the beautiful tradition of blackstrap loom weaving from her mother when she was just seven years old. As she grew, she became unsatisfied with the way she saw economic opportunities for women in her village. She sought out ways to make a difference. At the age of 28, she now owns a business and employs 30 female artisans. Ana partners with Noonday to make beautiful scarves. In this picture, you can see how each one is made. It takes five hours to weave one.

I’ve adopted a really powerful mental exercise that I learned from Melissa Russell, from the International Justice Mission, that she uses before she asks people for money to help her end human trafficking.

I imagine myself sitting down next to Ana, and telling her that I just don't feel confident enough to stand before you, because I’ve gained five pounds, and you have really pretty friends, and over 20 of them will be there, and I get really, really sweaty. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?! 20 ladies who can use their purchasing power for good, so that Ana can hire more single mamas to do weaving. I want to talk to those ladies, and tell them all about Ana!
In spite of myself, and because of the women I represent, I’m an ambassador. And I work at it, so that I can do it better!

Here's what Ana has taught me, and there's something here for you, too. Ana knows she's enough. She was 20-years-old when she started her business. At twenty, she was giving single mamas the opportunity to weave in their homes, so that they can also take care of their small children! And here's the truth: 
You are enough! I am enough, and so is that pretty/thin/well-spoken/confident woman across the room. Her “enough-ness” doesn’t diminish my own. And we can elevate the worth of all women when we stop listening to the voices that tell us where we fall short, and start empowering those around us.
What if we all chose to live wholeheartedly, and pour into women around us, rather than listen to the voices in our heads saying that we don't measure up? When we stomp those voices out, and believe that we are enough, we have the power to change the world!

Ana has this dream of building her business to provide jobs for 100 women! Isn’t that incredible? I want to help her on her way to that goal today. Enter to win the scarf Ana was making by answering this question in the comments by 9PM CST February 15th
How do you empower women? 
We ALL empower the women around us--each one of you can add a voice to this conversation. I can't wait to hear what you have to say!