The Lives of the Party

By Lydia Sather

I don’t really like parties. I’ve had a pleasant experience or two at a soiree with close friends or ringing in the New Year, but for the most part, they are terrible and I hate them. For my birthday as a young child, a girl that was invited by my mother would tell me what my present was before I opened it. Every year.

In grade school there were several incidents as well. The standouts are:

  1. The halloween party in which the “friend” that invited abandoned me me to wander about in a sea of strangers and
  2. The birthday party that was supposed to be a sleepover but instead I started crying and left when the birthday girl told me she hated the candy bar I got her. It was okay though, “maybe her brother would eat it.”

                                                                                 (New friends chatting at a FYP home party.)

Middle school only got better. A good friend of mine had a birthday party that she invited 12 other friends to. They all went to the same school and I didn’t know anyone else. While my friend watched as the evening unfolded, they oscillated between ridiculing me for being home schooled and ignoring my existence completely. I resorted to playing with my friend’s little brother in another room.

After all the unfortunate luck, I decided it’d  be a stellar idea to have my own party. I was in 8th grade and my thought process was this: “If I was the one who planned the activities and made the guest list, at least no one could be mean to me.” I ran it by my mom (for permission) and an older, sophomore friend of mine whom I totally had a crush on (for coolness). They both said it was a good idea so the guests were invited using my mad facebook event skills.I planned out some snacks, games, movies, and even topics of conversation in case it got awkward. No one showed up.

In high school, I didn’t really go to any parties because I didn’t have time for that crap. Between competitive swimming, graduating early, and a part time job, my schedule was all filled up. The summer after high school I went to a lifeguard party thrown by a bunch of coworkers. It started out like a normal pool party, but quickly escalated to drunk minors having sex on the lawn. I had already started to ponder going home after taking a sip of a warm Budweiser Lime-A-Rita and deciding I don’t hate myself enough to drink any more of it, but this was appalling. I left and gave a ride home to a coworker having almost as miserable of a time as I was.

*By this point in writing the article, Courtney Barnett’s “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party” is playing on repeat.

Needless to say parties aren’t my favorite pastime, so when I joined the Find Your Power team and Ivy mentioned this concept of a ‘home party’ I was not thrilled. My first thought was ‘please, God, no’ and the second was ‘multi-level marketing is gross.’ I can safely assure you that neither of these are the case. Home parties are essentially like a community group meeting that connects women for encouragement, collaboration, and empowerment. It is quite literally a mixer where women get together and chat about their lives over wine and snacks.

My first FYP home party experience was completely unprecedented. I went into it fairly vulnerable; what if it was just a repetition of history? What if the other women didn’t jive with me and it was awkward? There were so many reasons not to go. But I did. I knew these things to be true:

  1. Ivy is awesome. If she’s passionate about something, it’s probably awesome too. I trust her.
  2. It would only be a couple of hours of my time; what did I have to lose?

The party turn out was two women I had never met, Ivy, and myself. There was plenty of chatting, some storytelling, a bit of advice giving, sharing, a touch of vulnerability, hummus eating, some wine, and a marvelous dose of laughter. I didn’t know that I could connect with strangers on this level after mere minutes. The depth of our conversation and the empathy that circulated is remarkable. I am still in awe of how fun and inspiring it was. For the first time, I left a party feeling encouraged and full.

If you’re intrigued or would like more information on how you can get involved in a home party, contact us at our website: http://www.findyourpower.org/index.php/contact_us/

We’d love to hear from you!

 

Changing the Chains: Anti-Trafficking Through Economic Empowerment

Trapped. Scared. Hurt. Desolate. Grim. Undesirable. Brandished with shame. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, in bondage. The subject of affliction. Robbed of dignity. These are all emotions or states that women around the globe are tormented by each waking moment as they are trafficked or forced to engage in prostitution in order to survive. When the choice is for you and your family to go hungry or sell the body that is the only marketable “good” you have access to, there is no choice involved. WIthout access to education, skills, or supplies, sex and child labor are frequently what women and families must resort to make ends meet. While prostitution is often called the oldest profession, in reality it is the oldest form of oppression.

When I was 12 years old, I had the opportunity to help one of these women with no where else to turn by purchasing a bracelet she had made. Her name is Por and she hails from Thailand. Made from small seed pearls and waxed rope, the bracelet remains a treasured piece and a reminder of how fortunate I am; the relic also serves to spark my encouragement of other women, both in times of struggle and joy. The hand crafted tag that accompanied the jewelry noted that Por was 37 at the time, meaning that she is about 45 now. I never have had the chance  to meet her, but knowing that she was able to provide for herself and that I had the privilege to be a part of that empowerment has been incredible.

The organization that made this partnership possible is called Narimon. The company only has 3 employees, a couple based in Thailand and a U.S. Director; they rely on volunteers for the remaining work. Narimon serves women by working together across continents to empower women to wholeness while equipping them to bless others. These women once were either forced to sell their dignity, or by their situation were at high risk to do so. Now they are able to lead normal lives and provide for themselves, doing inspiring, ethical work.

How can you help encourage and empower other women? In addition to the Narimon site, there are links to some phenomenal brands in the Twin Cities metro area. Fair Anita and My Sister both sell products that alleviate women from trafficking and help them find their power.

Links:

https://narimon.org/

http://www.fairanita.com/

https://www.mysister.org/

*To learn more about trafficking, check out:

http://www.wfmn.org/mn-girls-are-not-for-sale/

http://mnhttf.org/

http://www.breakingfree.net/  

http://sourcemn.org/anti-trafficking/

http://www.mission21mn.org/

 

At a Crossroads in Rural Madagascar: Tech Access Equals Opportunity

 

FYP’s Grant Writing Intern Laura Leeson served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small rural town in Madagascar from 2013-2016. Madagascar, although one of the poorest countries in the world, is most notable for its rich biodiversity and welcoming people, the Malagasy.

 

Those who harvest the most pumpkins are the ones who lack the pots to cook them. – Zimbabwean proverb

 

Why is it that the brightest children are so often born in places where there are the fewest resources and opportunities for them?

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While dumping dirty dishwater over the second-story balcony of my house and home for the past two years in the rural highlands of Madagascar, I see my friend Maro walking down the street with a boy.

Hey Maro! Come here, I haven’t seen you in so long!

The 16-year-old high school student climbs up to my porch and I give her one-armed hug. She welcomes me back from America, where I spent the last few weeks visiting my family and attending my brother’s wedding. We exchange news. I perk up my eyes toward the boy still on the street and give her a sly smile.

Ohhhhhh, is that your boyfriend??? I haven’t seen him yet…

He’s my husband now, she says. I’m pregnant.

My smile fades and I glance down at her belly. Sure enough. Six months, she says.

Philomene is pregnant too! She informs me. She’s only 2 months along, but she throws up all the time. She doesn’t endure being pregnant that well.

It feels like my heart is in my stomach. All I can think is: WHY HER?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I first met Philomene while sitting outside church by myself one day, waiting for the Sunday service. She came up and spoke English to me, quite a rare occurrence, for generally female students are too shy to approach me, let alone try to speak English. She shared her songbook with me during the service and tried to translate the priest’s sermon into English. Also quite unusual was that when I asked her what she wanted to be when she was older, she knew.

I want to be a teacher and teach English, she said.

We became friends.

When do you come to visit me at my live?! she always asked.

I would visit Maro and her (they are cousins) in the small room they rented in a house in town so they could study during the week. Their home was a 2-hour walk into the countryside, so they would only travel home on weekends, with class beginning at 7:00 am and getting out at 6:00 pm on weekdays. Their room contained a shared mattress – a large woven sack stuffed with hay – on the floor, a table and chair, and a pot with a few dishes. We ate sweet potatoes and alternated chatting in English and Malagasy, teaching each other new phrases.

Maro and Philomene were in their final year of school. They would be taking the national final exams in August. The exams not only determine if students complete their secondary education, but also permit them to apply to university or find trade jobs. Despite completing all other levels of study (a task only a small percentage do), many students in their final year never pass the exams, and therefore never graduate from high school. They become farmers like their parents.

The dedication of some of these students to finishing their secondary education is like nothing I saw during my time as a student myself. They wake up at 3:00 am and study by candlelight before class. During Christmas and Easter vacation they go to school. Passing the exam is not only a means to a better future, but also a great source of pride and standing. People ask me all the time if I have passed the test (I always say I have, although the process is different in America). When I say I have gone on to study four years at university they are surprised and impressed. Maybe it is because I still seem young, or because university seems like such a far and abstract and exotic thing from the rural place we find ourselves, something that only a few get the privilege of experiencing.

I go and visit Philomene at her “live” in the countryside a month or two after meeting her. It takes about an hour and half of half-riding and half-pushing my bike on the dirt road up and down the mountains. I meet her grandmother and grandfather who she lives with. They are embarrassed by their crumbling house and profusely apologize, even despite my protests that I don’t care about that.

Philomene delicately pulls out a photo album – quite often, one of a family’s most valuable possessions – and shows me pictures of her when she was younger, her father in his teenage years, and various relatives. Her father lives somewhere in the capital city now, she hasn’t seen him in years. Her mother is dead. It’s not hard to deduce that she died during childbirth, an all too common fate of women in developing countries. She then pulls out, with equal care, her worn English notebooks from previous grades for us to look through.

Philomene’s situation is not any different from the majority of Malagasy people. She and her family are extremely poor. I really don’t concern myself with it, though. Philomene is now just now one of my girlfriends. We gossip and talk about boys. I tell her about my crush on a local policeman and swear her to secrecy. She teases me.

I put this question to you! She giggles out. Do you want to kiss on his face? She points to her cheeks. And barely able to control her laughter, she finishes, OR do you kiss the MOUTH?!?

I am gone most of August (this being the fall of 2013) and when I get back Philomene has already moved back to the countryside. I find out sometime later that she has passed the national exam. Maro, too. When I see her next she is living in the nearby city with Maro’s older sister and another girl, again renting out a small room and all three sharing a bed of hay. She is determined to study at university, but first, she must learn to use a computer.

Taking a 2-month computer course in the city costs Philomene about $25. I know that money was not easy to come by. To get into university she must also send money to get her high school transcripts, pay money to take an entrance test, and pay the school an enrollment fee. All in good time, of course. For now, she just needs to get a certificate saying she knows how to use a computer.

Philomene passes her computer course and returns home to the rural countryside. I sporadically see her when she comes to teach me Malagasy or I go to work in her small village. When we chat, we almost always talk about her future. Her boyfriend from high school has moved to the capital city to work as a vendor and he constantly begs her to go live with him. But she is smart.

I need to finish my studies. I don’t want to work as a seller. Life will be hard.

I agree with her. When I ask if her boyfriend is as smart as she is, she laughs.

Ha! No! He is not smart, she says matter-of-factly.

Philomene’s grandpa dies on her 19th birthday. Her boyfriend does not remember to call. She is devastated. When we talk, I always pursue the notion of love. What does it mean? Why does she love her boyfriend? She offers no real substantial answer. She is a smart, caring, and beautiful girl. I always suggest that she finds a new boyfriend, one who is equally as wonderful as she is, when she studies at university. I see the idea begin to take hold in her mind, but she is still not completely convinced she could do better.

Philomene decides it is most financially realistic if she attends university in the nearby city, instead of the bigger universities further away. Even though this means she will not be able to study English specifically, she can still get a degree in Communications. She studies hard and takes the entrance exam.

A few months pass. Every time I see Philomene she is working the land, planting rice, sweet potatoes, cassava. I ask about the results of the test, but she still has not heard. She is stuck in the countryside, for now. Her boyfriend is still pressuring her to move in with him. In a sort of declaration of his love, he travels from the capital to her village to ask her and her grandma if she will go back with him. She says no. But I can tell he is wearing her down. She still hasn’t heard back about the test. There is nothing for her at home.

Busy with work, conferences, and traveling, I don’t see Philomene for another few months. One Sunday I bike the mountainous seven miles to go to church in her village and meet up with her. She has news.

I passed the test, she says with a sad smile. But I’m going to live with my boyfriend.

She anticipates my reaction. She tries to console me by telling me that she will earn money by working with her boyfriend and apply for the university in the capital city. I plead with her. But really, what can I say to convince her? I know that although she passed the test, it is a long and difficult road trying to secure the money to study at the university nearby. The total tuition only being a couple of hundred U.S. dollars.

I can convince myself that there is some truth in what she plans to do, and that it will work out. I talk openly with her living with her boyfriend, about the consequences of getting pregnant at such a young age, and about how she can prevent it. She seems optimistic about the path she’s chosen (to the extent that she has chosen it) so I wish her the best. I try to convince myself that I’ve done all that I could. Talk about cognitive dissonance at it’s finest. A month after she has moved to the city, she is pregnant.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The only difference between Maro and Philomene and I are the opportunities I was given as a first-world citizen.

Many of those opportunities undeniably stemmed from my access to technology. Having a computer and home broadband growing up was an open door to information, ideas, and connections.

I genuinely believe that if there was a Find Your Power website available to Philomene, she would’ve been successful in directing her future. She had just learned how to use a computer; the next step was taking advantage of online resources and opportunities that would enable her to achieve her life dream of becoming an English teacher. With FYP, she could have easily found educational scholarships or grants, took online courses to sustain her passion for learning, watched and read inspirational stories about girls like her who were able to gather the resources needed for college, or connected with other women around the world who may have helped her achieve her dream.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

My friendships with Maro and Philomene solidified my belief that it is our responsibility to work so that everyone has access to the same opportunities as we did. Find Your Power provides that platform, in a digital form, and on a global scale. We have the opportunity to make things better, and isn’t that the greatest opportunity of all?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

South African Inspiration – The Seeds of Find Your Power

By:Ivy Kaminsky

Imagine you are at the edge of the Wild Coast of rural South Africa, in a region called the Transkei, which is two hours by the worst roads imaginable to the nearest doctor. The view is stunning. From the rolling hilltop, you can see the mouth of a small river flowing into the Indian Ocean, with trees deeply rooted in the sand, growing up a steep hillside to the right and a colorful village of Rondavels (traditional round dwellings with cone shaped thatched roofs) dotting the landscape to the left. I am with two fellow masters students and we have traveled a full day and two flat tires to get here. This is Bulungula Eco Lodge. After a much needed night’s sleep, we wake excited for our ‘Women Power’ Tour.

Our guide Kululwa comes to gather us. She is a young vibrant woman with bright brown eyes and a smile that covers her whole face. She asks if we’re ready and we embark on our way through a winding foot path into the colorful village. Kululwa takes us to her rondavel, and first paints our faces with a traditional Xhosa mud/water mixture that is a perfect natural sunscreen. Then we go to gather firewood and carry it back like Xhosa women have forever, on our heads. This was not nearly as difficult as our next task. At least with the firewood, the varied lengths helped with balance. Fetching water was our next task, and we had small buckets, compared with Kululwa’s larger one. We also couldn’t fill it up to the top or we would spill, it was quite comical to see our inadequacy. When we made it back to the hut, Kululwa showed us how she would build a small fire under a metal tripod. She then scraped the skin off of a giant squash, showed us how to grind maize meal for ‘pap’, a traditional staple food, and made us all lunch. Throughout the day Kululwa told us about her life and we asked her lots of questions. Through questions and prompting, she told us that she was not married, which is pretty rare for a 25 year old village woman. She admitted to us that she did not want to marry and instead did these tours so that she was able pay her parents the ‘lobola’ or bride price they would have received when she married. I was surprised by her admission, and extremely touched by her bravery. I have thought of her many times and how hard it must have been for her to carry out her decision in such a small, traditional village.

Now picture yourself in a medium-sized college town also on the coast of South Africa in the Eastern Cape. We are here for the world-renowned 10 day Grahamstown Arts Festival. One day we gathered around a stage, where two young men dressed in really far out colonial type costumes, picked random people out of the audience and transformed their hair and makeup before your eyes into works of art. There was a guy that they turned into a cheetah who was part of an extensive jungle scene all coming out of his head and hair. There was a young woman who had a dancing ballerina doll balanced in a ring on the top of her head. The music was loud and their work was so creative and quick. It was quite magical. 

 

The days were filled with cool thought provoking plays, art exhibits, or musical performances, and at night we would hang out with our college student friends/hosts. One day I was feeling particularly in need of some quiet time, so I ventured out on my own, and walking down a random street through town, I came across a group of young women street performers that mesmerized me. I had been looking for signs and asking what I should do with my education and which direction I should next take my career. I stood and watched these nine girls sing, and dance, and drum, with such joy and abandon that it almost made me cry. I was struck by their tenacity. To basically make opportunity, where there is generally very little, made me know in an instant, these were the kind of young women I wanted to work with, or work for. Ones that are determined, hardworking, and will find opportunity. I still wasn’t sure what capacity I would be working with them, but another seed was planted.

 

The final and perhaps most powerful set of experiences I had took place at the Saartjie Baartmann Centre for Women and Children, a full service domestic abuse shelter, where I did my thesis research. I met and talked to some of the most amazing women I have ever met. One woman told me about coming to the centre and at first being so broken and scared and with such low self esteem that she could barely hold her head up. By the time I met her she was smiling and able to tell her story with pride about how far she had come. She told me a story of a contest that the centre had, a beauty pageant of sorts, where she entered, and was able to walk in front of the group with her head held high, and for the first time in her life, she felt beautiful and strong. She ‘won’ the contest. There was another woman so deeply involved in gang and drug life with her mate, that she was afraid to talk. She genuinely feared for her life, and could not go outside of the centre walls. Another woman pridefully showed me a poem written by her young son, who before coming to the centre had major problems with school and in general, but since being there had completely turned around. It was abundantly clear that this mother loved her son deeply and would do anything for him. These women and the other’s like them left an indelible mark on my spirit. Their resilience and hope for the future, in spite of the horrible atrocities they had endured, will stay with me forever. That and the fact that because they have few marketable skills and lower levels of education, many would be forced to move back with the perpetrator of their abuse.

This glimpse into the hard life of a young Xhosa village woman, the example of tenacity in some hard working street performers, and the shining examples of triumph over hardship in the women of Saartjie Baartmann Centre showed me what women are capable when given very little access to resources and opportunity. There are examples of this in every corner of the globe. Women can do so much with so little! Why not give them the opportunity to connect with any resources they choose to empower their lives? Imagine what underrepresented women worldwide could do if given the chance!

 

Due to the sensitive nature of the conversations I had with the women, and the concerns for their safety, I did not photograph the women of SBC. Trust me when I say that they were all gorgeous in spirit, and their beautiful faces are indelibly imprinted in my mind.

 

Find Your Power Organizational Culture

By: Ivy Kaminsky

Not like any other

One of the things I was extremely excited about when creating this organization is building the culture. I’ve worked at so many different types and sizes of organizations, some great to work at, and some not so great. I wanted Find Your Power to be unlike any other place I’ve ever worked. It is really important to me that people enjoy working with each other, enjoy coming to work, and find ways to be fulfilled by their work and their individual contributions.

People-centered

I believe the culture of Find Your Power is hugely important and it starts with me (Ivy), because the leader is the soul of an organization. When the culture erodes, that means connections aren’t happening. So it is my job to try to stay connected with my staff and to keep them all connected. In my opinion conversation = connection. That is why it’s important that we see each other and meet in person as often as possible, even when working remotely. We are, first and foremost, a people centered culture. That begins with us and goes all the way to the individual women we serve. How we treat each other (and the women we aim to serve) is very important. So is valuing what each person brings to the table. And having fun and not taking anything too seriously, because happy people do good work! My aim is to create a place where people want to be. A place where you can be yourself, learn and grow, and find a sense of purpose in your day-to-day work.

The importance of shared values and beliefs

I think part of what helps that culture come together and really exist is a sense of shared values. Our overall values are: Relationships. Supporting each other => Success. Openness. Honesty. Connection. Friendship. Caring. Flexibility. Teamwork. Growth. Accountability. Integrity. Learning. Attentiveness. And because people are drawn to FYP because of our mission and work empowering women, we tend to attract like-minded people, which is very fortunate, and makes hiring that much easier.

Our core values are: DIVERSITY. COLLABORATION. INCLUSION. RESPECT. POSITIVE SOCIAL IMPACT. These are the values listed and described in more detail on our website. These are the ones that we practice while hiring and while doing our day-to-day work.

When I hire people, I give them my personal commitment to upholding the culture and these values and doing my best to lead by example.

Lately we’ve been talking a lot about our beliefs. I saw a great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek that really inspired us, and articulated really well what I could not, which is the importance of leading with your beliefs, and not your service or product, like most organizations do. See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA.

We believe that equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. And that access to information + digital inclusion is one of the best ways towards gender equity. We believe women have the right to the same information, the same opportunities, and the same pay as men. We also believe that women can do so much, with so little, but shouldn’t have to. That is why FYP aims to provide the resources and services that we do.

The value of interns and mission

Thus far, due to a lack of operating budget, I have strictly hired unpaid interns and volunteers. While some people might question the level of commitment and expertise you can gain with a younger, less experienced workforce, I have had the great fortune of drawing really talented and passionate people, willing to work hard for a cause they believe in, and can get behind. People that are bright, capable, and really innovative in their thinking and approach to problem solving. They have also been incredibly diverse, which has been extremely important. If we are serving diverse populations, we should be just as diverse. It does not interest me to surround myself with a team of people who look, act, and think, just like me. I don’t see much value in that.

We are currently up to 12 interns and 2 professional volunteers. Here are some of us taking a break from a career strategy seminar on a gorgeous winter afternoon.

We would love to hear about your organizational culture! What makes it unique? What do you love about it? What makes it feel like the right fit for you (or not)? What do you think needs to be changed? And is change even possible?

How To Be An Encourager

By Addison Reine

Being An Encourager:

There’s an undeniable warmth ignited when we are on the receiving end of encouragement. Knowing that another person believes in our own ability to do something, even if we cannot see it ourselves, can, indeed, change our own outlook on what we think we have the ability to accomplish. It’s true that even the smallest moment of encouragement can influence the direction someone chooses to take in their life.

Here are some ways that we can all be encouragers:

Believe in your own power. Be confident by example. People will be more likely to heed your advice when they see it coming from someone with genuine authenticity.

  1. Approach encouragement from a position of love and compassion, not aggressive criticism. While we want to see the best for the people in our lives, being an encourager means being able to spark confidence and internal power, both of which might be diminished if our criticism is too negative or harsh right off the bat.
  2. Emphasize their strengths. Complimenting someone on their strengths can bring out qualities that they may not have seen in themselves. It also lets them know you have taken the time to consider who they are as a person.
  3. Let them know how they encourage you. Letting someone know how they have encouraged you in the past shows them that they have the influence to change another person for good. This is empowering to someone who may be doubting themselves.
  4. Acknowledge their efforts. By affirming another person, we let them know that we are cheering them on and have seen the work that they have already put in. Continue to encourage efforts you see them making in the right direction.
  5. Remember, your encouragement is so much more than a kind word. You’re helping others take steps they might not otherwise take on their own.

Let’s be on the lookout for ways to encourage the people around us!

Addie

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