What if YOU Could Change the World One Dinner at a Time?
How do you make a difference in the world? We’re tucked in our corner of Washington State looking out at a globe filled with unfathomable poverty, disease, injustice… It’s particularly hard to know how to make an impact in other countries where the level of need and lack of infrastructure is staggering, if not paralyzing.
Sometimes a simple yet impactful idea comes along that makes perfect sense. That’s what happened in 2003 when Marsha Wallace, a nurse and mother of four in South Carolina invited her friends for a birthday dinner with special instructions – no gifts please. Her friends instead shared a potluck and wrote checks to the organization Women for Women International. That was an “aha” moment for Marsha. Why couldn’t these dinners happen in other homes? She started spreading the idea of Dining for Women and did it ever spread. Nine years later and 250 chapters later, in February 2012, Dining for Women was featured on NBC Nightly news. View it here
Connecting Southwest Washington to the World
So what does this have to do with Southwest Washington? Once a month it has everything to do with our corner of the world. We, in fact, traveled the world without even dusting off our passports. For the past year, every 2nd Tuesday of the month, a Vancouver, WA Chapter of Dining for Women has gathered for a potluck dinner, short video and presentation about an organization offering life-changing programs for women and girls who often live on less than $1 a day. We eat, we drink and share good company. We learn about other cultures and international issues. And we get out our checkbooks and write checks for what we might have spent had we dined out. A giving circle is a simple concept with far-reaching effects.
It’s not just about our group of about 40 diners each month. Our donations are combined with the contributions of the other Dining for Women Chapters to raise funds for organizations that have gone through an application process and have been fully researched by Dining for Women volunteers. One group is funded each month with grants averaging about $36,000-$40,000. It is incredibly exciting to be investing in and empowering girls and women around the world.
Most DFW Chapters meet in homes. Our Chapter is larger than the average group so we meet in a church. We are hoping that more volunteers will start chapters throughout our area (or wherever they live!). For information on how to start a chapter click here . Use the same link to receive information about our chapter and others across the country and international locations.
Which groups did we fund in 2011?
In January 2011, we kicked off our local Dining for Women Chapter with a full house. By the end of the evening, we had raised $1100 for Matrichaya of India, which provides literacy and vocational training and micro-credit programs. It was a magical evening and the first of many sumptuous and inspiring dinners.
February drew even more women – 65! Our contributions supported PINCC (Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer) in El Salvador, where Dr. Kay Taylor uses our funds to train doctors and other health professionals to do life-saving cervical exams (with a simple vinegar wash) and treatment of cervical cancer. We also were reminded of the importance of getting our own pap smears done on a regular basis.
We “traveled” to Africa in March to learn about, and fund, the work of Uganda’s Village Enterprise Fund, which is using our donations to fund startup capital and critical business skills training for 145 women entrepreneurs.
In April, we tackled sex trafficking by funding Lotus Outreach International in Cambodia. Our contributions will provide trauma counseling and reintegration assistance for Cambodian victims of rape, domestic violence and sex trafficking. Counseling services are rare in Cambodia. This is a breakthrough program.
We supported the women of Mujeres Aliadas in Mexico in May. We learned about their lack of access to quality, affordable health care. We raised funds to reduce maternal and infant mortality by supporting professional midwives and providing medical equipment in a women’s clinic and birthing center.
June took us back to Africa and the Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya. This program supports the Kibera School for Girls, which is located in one of the worst slums in Nairobi. Our funds are being used to operate the school and to invest in the Women’s Empowerment Project’s micro-enterprise initiatives. The photos of all those little girls who are now in school says it all. Don’t miss their charming video “I Know I Can.”
We learned about the lives of the young women being served by Emerge Global of Sri Lanka in July. These girls, ages 10-18, have been removed from their homes due to abuse such as rape and incest. The Emerge Global program provides them with skills and financial resources for their futures. Our funds helped support their expanding bead program, which creates gorgeous necklaces and bracelets. You can order their beautiful jewelry through their Etsy Web site here.
August took us back to Africa and girls education at the Nurturing Minds Program in Tanzania. Our donations enabled the Sega Girls School to develop and manage its first school-run business—poultry farming—and develop related business and technical skills among its students. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations has called the education of girls, “the single highest returning social investment in the world today.” Dining for Women is COMMITTED to the education and empowerment of those girls.
Many of our hearts broke the night of September 13 when we heard the tragic stories of girls and women with obstetric fistulas. We raised funds ($1185 – our personal best for the year!) for the Fistula Foundation. Combined with the funds from other Chapters, our funds will help provide fistula repair surgery and post-op for 66 women in Ethiopia. We were all highly moved by the program. (We later learned that enough money was raised to fund even more surgeries.)
Guatemala has long been recognized for its beautiful crafts and textiles. But how do you get them to market? In October, we supported Mercado Global of Guatemala. This Fair Trade organization works with indigenous women in Guatemala’s highlands. The group connects the women with U.S. sales opportunities. Dining for Women dollars funded sales and training programs for the artisans so they could expand their businesses.
The India Literacy Project has a serious goal – 100% literacy in India. The group is tackling this issue one village at a time. Our funds raised in November will impact 26 villages in Sundargarh in the state of Orissa by providing girls’ scholarships and job skills, among other services. It is amazing how far our dollars can stretch through our funded programs.
We learned about Project Muso of Mali in December. We raised funds to provide matching grants, non-interest loans and financial management skills for 90 women entrepreneurs. We watched (and wanted to dance to the DVD soundtrack) the women creating beautiful mud cloth in their excellent video which shows the far-reaching impact of micro-loans as small as $60-$100.
What a spectacular first year! Averaging $1,000 per dinner, we raised more than $12,000!
Onward in 2012
In the first half of 2012, we will fund programs in Nepal, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Kenya. Programs funded in the second half of 2012 will be announced soon.
Thank about starting or joining a Chapter. Mentoring is available. If you are interested in more information about Dining for Women, check out the program Web site or fill out a member interest form. This is one evening each month where you can truly know feel that you are “changing the world one dinner at a time.”