One year later: helping women helping women

We tend to mark the passage of time with the standard dates: birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s Day. But sometimes you have an experience so profound, a random date creeps its way into the fray. For me it’s October 7.

Today in 2012, I was stepping off a plane in Ethiopia, bleary eyed, anxious and a little nauseated, all of which was trumped by the excitement of whatever would come next.

liz gumbinner and cathleen falsani OneMoms Ethiopia

With Cathleen Falsani, via Jeannine Harvey

Now, one year later, I think about how much it all changed my world in ways beyond charity, in ways I couldn’t have predicted. How much it forced me to take inventory of what was good about my life, and what was not. Which relationships and projects were draining my energy, and which deserved more of it. Who I wanted to be. Who I wanted my children to be. How I want to be remembered.

Have you had an experience like that? I think we all do to varying degrees.

My mind flashes through moments in Africa as if they were photographs: The strong women of FashionABLE (whose gorgeous Genet Scarf graces my neck this very moment). The beekeeping coop of women carrying their babies on their backs, up a steep mile-long walk to go to work. The young orphans who raced to sit in my lap and stroke my hair. The high school science teacher who was so proud to show us every lab experiment cobbled together with care, including a fish “tank” made of a garbage bag lining a cardboard box.

fashionABLE scarves in Ethiopia

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group | Photo ONE/Karen Walrond

One Moms Ethiopia Trip / c Liz Gumbinner

There were the 8- year-old children pulled out of indentured servitude and sent to school for the first time who, when asked their dreams for the future, had simple requests like staying in school or driving a car.

The women who, when asked their dreams for their children, first hoped for them to be healthy enough live past five, reminding me that mothers are all the same–until we’re not.

ONE moms in ethiopia

And then, there were the children dancing in the street with us  Yes, Justin Bieber is a universal language.

Some things you can’t unsee. Some things you can’t unfeel.

I know I’m not the only one in this place.

I see updates from Gabby Blair, Cathleen Falsani, Alice Currah, Rana DiOrio, Maya Samuelsson, Kelly WickhamJennifer Howze, Diana Prichard, Karen Walrond, Ginny WolfeJeannine Harvey and my other sisters of the ONE Moms, and I know that we are connected by our experience and our forever changed hearts.

The perfect example: Asha Dornfest and Christine Koh, who have since authored the best-selling Minimalist Parenting and for this entire month will donate all royalties of book sales to Women at Risk in Ethiopia, which helps women lift themselves out of prostitution and create a life worth living, when there are few other opportunities available to them.

minimalist parenting #helpwomenatrisk

I have read the book. It is spectacular. Which is why I called it the must-read parenting book of the year–having nothing to do with my affection for the authors. Promise.

How awesome that while it’s helps so many women here, it will also helping women 6,900 miles away, if in a different way. Plus, publisher Bibliomotion is matching the donation raised from the first 100 books sold. So there you go. Buy one. Buy two.

As Asha and Christine describe, you can’t help but see the juxtaposition of the book and the fundraising effort;  the book was created to provide non-judgmental, common sense guidance in a society with filled with excess and so-called “first world problems.” Not that we’re all throwing $20,000 first birthday parties for our babies–but how beautiful that by learning how to pare down our own lives in simple ways and find contentment in living with less, we can also give to women who need more.

Click through this link  and your purchase will be supporting women and mothers who, in another time and place, could be us. We could be them.

“There but for the grace of God…”

One year ago today, we thought we were in Ethiopia to give strength and support to women in need. I am certain that now, after a year of reflection, they gave just as much back to us.

If you are inclined to spread the world about Asha and Christine’s campaign on social media, and I hope you are, please include #womenatrisk and @minparenting so your efforts will be counted and amplified.


7 thoughts on “One year later: helping women helping women”

  1. Liz, thank you so, so much for sharing about this. Every day I carry Ethiopia with me and it makes me so happy we could experience that together.

    Also, you will always and forever be the woman who introduced me to intestinal management best practices. And I am forever grateful for that.

    1. Yet another memory…

      I wish you luck with this amazing effort. You are good people Christine. The best.

  2. What an amazing story. There are so many worthy causes to support. As writers, we have a voice that carries to many people. Why not use that voice for causes of social justice? I work to instill in my own children a sense of global altruism and service. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Liz, thank you so much for sharing this – what an incredible journey. I’ve never had the chance to do something like this although I love my brother-in-law’s stories from his TOMS shoe drops in countries all over the world. I’d love to join a cause, and am still looking for the right fit, but am confident that when the time is right I’ll find something. I, too, would love to give back to a community, city, country, or cause that’s bigger than me and my insular life in New York City.

    1. Wow I’d love to hear more about your Brother-in-law. What an amazing experience.

      And yes, when something resonates with you you’ll know. Maybe you can get involved with Baby Buggy? It’s local, it helps moms and kids who really need it, and it’s wonderful.

  4. My grandparents took me to Puerto Rico when I was 12. They said it was a reward for studying Spanish, what I have come to know is that the trip was way more than a slice of time. The sections of San Juan that they exposed me to, the fishermen that we talked to at dawn, the immersion into a language I didn’t know and all the timidity and frustration I experienced, they continue to inform me as an adult.

    I know not everyone lives as we do, I understand how very much we take for granted, and I trust when I see accounts like yours, that the color of our society is changing, with more areas shaded with empathy, compassion, and dedication to sharing lessons.

    I remember when you first wrote about this and, as I did then, I look forward to carrying your story and the echoes of what you learned.

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