International Women's Day - and Honoring Resilience in the Face of Adversity

It’s International’s Women’s Day!

Truthfully, I had never heard of such a thing until we were living in Uganda.  Then the men showed up with flowers or gifts for their wives or girlfriends, sons made little gifts for their mamas, and women were “forbidden” to cook or clean that day.  I think I actually caught a free ride from a boda boda man (motorcycle taxi driver) on one International Women’s Day.  So needless to say, seeing the women I knew and worked with having gifts showered upon them and men washing dishes in a rather patriarchal culture, I was all about it.

International Women’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate and commemorate women’s rights across the globe. 

It’s a day to remember that all human beings, regardless of the culture or society they are born into or what gender they are, have inherent value - equal value - to any other human on the planet.  And that is something worth celebrating and taking a moment to remember.

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In our staff meeting this week, one staff member mentioned the resilience of the women we work with or the girls and women we hear and read stories about. 

Talk about resilience.

One repatriated Ugandan woman, a sweet 20-something year old who had been duped into thinking she had a job in Asia before realizing she had actually been trafficked, once said to me, “Look how blessed I am!  I came home!”  I was stunned.  In my mind, a completely appropriate response would be, “Why in the world did that happen to me?!  Why me?  What did I do to deserve this?”  But no.  She beamed and giggled and taught me more about grace and perspective in those two sentences than a lifetime of reading inspirational quotes.

With that being said, we decided that today would be the day to make the announcement that we have phased out our Ugandan program.  We had the absolute honor of serving 33 women in that country during our FTG UG program’s existence.  Two are currently in university, several others have become certified in various skills including catering and hairdressing, and others have their own shops around Kampala.  Some, admittedly, are still struggling and some are back with other organizations for additional assistance. 

It was a difficult decision.  The import laws in Uganda changed several times after we launched, making our program there outside our typical model.  Over the past two years, it became our most expensive program while simultaneously becoming our smallest.  It was with heavy hearts, especially on my end having lived in Uganda and begun the implementation process of FTG there, that we informed Nivas, our Program Manager in Uganda, of the Board’s decision last summer.  We had 6 months of phasing out, figuring out how to set the women up well and prepare them for graduation.  And if there were two things that kept us from being absolutely heart-broken, it was that we have incredible partners who are still walking alongside these women and that these women are survivors.

Being a woman, being a human being for that matter, is not always a perfect road.  It’s full of bumps, traffic jams, potholes, and the occasional dead-end.  We may have detours or might get lost, but the road is always leading us forward. 

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And we believe this of our Ugandan women.  When I asked one of our ladies what she would say to our FTG supporters (you!) if she could say anything, her response was;

“I thank them for improving my life.  They have improved my life a lot more.  They have impacted me with knowledge, selling knowledge.  I thank them so much.” 

Another spoke of her dedication to work:

“Because women, we have to work, we have to work as women so that we are not violated…we should have our own thing that we do so we can have income, so we can sustain a life, a [good] life.” 

Here’s another: “African women having a good job makes her fulfill her dreams in life.  It helps her to improve on her stands of living or solve whatever problem which comes across within her family.”

These are women who have walked in true freedom, who have tasted economic opportunity and will not be satisfied with dependency.  And we choose to honor them today.

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Coincidentally, or perhaps not, as I opened WhatsApp on my phone to ask Nivas if she had something she wanted to contribute to this specific blogpost, I saw her previous message to me.  It was a chain-letter of sorts, for women.  The last part read, “I work 24 hours a day.  I am a mum.  I’m a wife. I’m a daughter, I’m a daughter-in-law.  I’m an alarm clock.  I’m a cook.  I’m a maid.  I’m a teacher.  I’m a waitress.  I’m a nanny.  I’m a nurse.  I’m a handywoman.  I’m a security officer.  I’m a counselor.  I’m a comforter.  I don’t get holidays.  I don’t get sick leave.  I don’t get a day off.  I worth through day and night.  I’m on call all hours.  I AM A WOMAN.”  These women know their worth and value and the depth and breadth of their work.

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So help us honor them today.  Pray for them.  Leave encouraging words here that I’ll send over.  We may have phased out FTG UG, but these women will forever be a part of the FTG family.  We have those 33 names stored in our laptops and hearts.  We will visit them, text and email them, and continue to celebrate them even when things become difficult – because we know what they’re made of. 

We know they are survivors of the utmost degree.  We know of their resilience.

To all you women out there, no matter your age or color or ethnicity or language or income or relationship status or weight or size or anything else – you are valuable. 

You are equal. 

You have a seat at the table. 

You are worth loving. 

You deserve freedom and laughter and choices and to be treated with dignity. 

And we see you.

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With Love from Courtney and the FTG Team