Women's History Month
March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women throughout history and to reflect on the tremendous progress made in the fight for female gender equality! How exciting! There are many women to be celebrated: Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Mother Teresa, and Sara Blakely just to name a few. All of these incredible powerhouses have contributed to the progress of women everywhere in ways that created pathways for us all. I love these women. I mean love, Love, LOVE them. Still, as I sit to think about who has made the greatest mark on equality for women, who daily contributes to the real-life challenges that women fight to overcome, I know, deep inside, it is actually the women who go unnamed that are doing the largest volume of work. Those nameless, faceless, heroes who are helping in their small villages, providing for others in their towns, serving and protecting without applause, likes, follows, or praise.
Take Angeline for example. A woman I met during my time in Haiti. Angeline, a tiny woman with a small frail frame, who is likely in her late 30s, has five children, no husband, and lives in a tiny tin shack with no running water, no electricity, and not even a front door to ensure she and her children feel safe at night while asleep. Angeline worked at a fair-trade beading facility we partnered with in Haiti to earn money to support her family. I became close enough friends with her to ask her if she would allow me to see where she lived. She agreed, and so we walked from the beading center, down a small dirt hill, through a little community of lean-to shacks which were each nestled directly upon the other. When you walked through her little village it seemed everyone was outside-neighbors caring for other neighbors’ children, mothers cooking, some women washing clothes, others selling coffee in large pots outside their homes. The little village with bustling and teeming with smiling and welcoming faces. When we arrived at Angeline’s home the reality set in that where she was taking us was her everyday reality, but for my team and I, we would look in, learn about where our bead workers live, and then get to leave to the comforts of our American homes. Angeline’s little tin hut was so fragile, it looked like it could be knocked over by even the slightest gust of unexpected wind. Upon entering this tiny, dirt floor shack-home I saw a small pile of black charcoal placed in a mound in one corner used as cooking fuel, sitting next to the little pile of charcoal was a pile of badly used plastic plates and old, worn, tin cups waiting for use after they’d been washed. A chipped and discarded piece of plywood served as a divider from the front of the little house to the back, and upon entering the back portion of this shed you could see small piles of clothing lying around as there was no closet, no place to hang or store belongings, and in the middle of this tiny dirt floor area was a piece of old, broken, plywood, elevated on four small wooden posts. This, Angeline told me, was her bed. I looked down in this dimly lit area to the dirt floor and noticed packing paper sent by HALF UNITED to protect the merchandise we’d shipped to Angeline’s team scattered all over. I asked her why the paper we sent was lying around, and she told me she brought it home to lay it down for her children to sleep on, so they wouldn’t have to sleep directly on the dirt. I lost it. When she said this, I had to sit down. I found myself seated, hand over mouth, on her little plywood “bed” staring out the front entrance with tears running down my cheeks. It was not my intention to hurt Angeline’s feelings or make her feel bad about her circumstances. Quite the opposite. I sat there fighting tears as hard as I could, so she wouldn’t think I pitied her, or felt sad about what I saw. I didn’t feel sad for her, I felt sad for the truth that this is the reality for millions of women every day. I felt sad that in one hemisphere, one person clinks a cocktail glass, while another lays their head at night on a strip of packing paper, so they don’t have to feel the grit of dirt beneath their skin.
I asked myself, “how on earth could this be?” The woman we were working so hard to help had not made it out of poverty yet, and so there she was in this interim time between us trying so desperately to help her, and still living in these circumstances. Before we left we interviewed Angeline to ask her what her greatest hope for herself is, “simply to see my children be educated” she told me. That’s all she wanted. Living in the circumstances she does, with the little she has, was the noble hope of her heart. This moment changed my life forever. I knew the magnitude of what I’d just witnessed, and yet, I knew that change would have to be painstakingly gradual. The reasons she’d ended up in this predicament are deep-rooted, they cling and cleave to lack of education, exposure, governmental corruption, and in Haiti absolutely in a lack of gender equality for women.
There are millions of “Angeline’s” all over this globe, living every day in circumstances they have grown accustomed to and yet desperately want out of, but don’t know how to escape. These women hold multiple jobs, raise their children often alone, and yet still provide community support for those who need it. They do this without celebration, without expectation, and most often without the income they need to have even their most basic needs met. Most of these women, who sacrifice their personal time to help others, will never know. They will never have statues or plaques or awards. These women live in developing nations, small towns, and even in the largest and most economically secure cities in the world. Let us be aware of them, celebrate them, and challenge ourselves to break outside our own comfort zones to meet them, support them, and give whatever we can to help them achieve their dreams.
What an honor to celebrate women this month!
With all the love and respect,
Spring is a season that inspires my creativity like no other! As the winter cold gives way to warmer weather and longer days, it fuels me with renewal, growth, and fresh beginnings. I quite literally feel better, and there is science behind it! It is a time when nature comes back to life, and my spirits are lifted by the colors, sounds, and smells of baby blooms.