Tag Archives: World Neighbors

The Inextinguishable Power of Women

This month is somewhat of an anniversary celebration for me.  Ten years ago, I naively flew off across the ocean to an alternative clinic in Germany looking for answers, hope  and healing, for my undiagnosable medical condition.  Weighing in at 89 pounds on a 5 foot 6 inch frame, I was a walking skeleton and apparently looked like the only thing I was about to cross, was death’s door.  My daughter had even given me permission to die.  That truly shocked me.

The direness of my situation was confirmed by the team of medical doctors who at one point could only suggest, “perhaps you should pray.”  They were very clear that I’d have to alter my lifestyle dramatically and they emphatically told me I would never be able to travel again.  The harsh reality hit home when I stood, almost naked, in front of their full-length mirror, wondering where my body had gone.  After three and a half weeks, I flew back across the ocean, arriving home no better than when I’d left.  The complexity of my condition remained a mystery.  Physically I looked frightening, but I knew that I’d have to rally from deep within me, my inextinguishable determination to live.

So, this year when I was invited to join World Neighbors on a physically challenging trip  to visit the forgotten people in the poorest regions of Peru, I admit, I was very hesitant.  Then I realized I was being offered an opportunity to test my physical resilience, almost ten years to the day after literally being unable to even walk up a short flight of stairs.  The only answer was yes.  Always my philosophy: Say Yes to Life.

The trip demanded more of me than I thought I was capable of.  Cold nights in high altitudes without heat or hot water.  Hours of driving on what I came to call “non-roads”.  Soon the luxuries we take for granted in North America were a longed for distant memory.  I slept in layers of clothes and developed a new gratitude for all I was blessed with, including fleece pants and a jacket which became my comfort.  I could write extensively about the challenges, but they soon took a back seat to the real story.

The story of the poorest people of Peru, who although “poor” by our lifestyle standards, have an incredible richness of spirit, with sincere love and commitment to community.  I discovered that World Neighbors uses a methodology that is somewhat unique.  They work with the community to understand their specific needs.  They don’t give handouts or decide what is best for the people.  In Peru, they work with a savings and credit model and each person must match the credit offered…50/50.  No exceptions.  Even a very small initial credit can foster confidence and as the recipient thrives and pays back the credit or loan, they soon apply for larger credits to expand and enrich their lives.

One of the things that struck me was how the women of even the smallest communities, find a personal sense of empowerment.  In a society that would be considered patriarchal by nature, we found women with equal status and often men declared that their wives were equal decision makers in all aspects of their lives.  Gender equity, which we might take for granted, is one of World Neighbors focuses in all 45 countries they work in.

Often they go to the end of the road, where no-one else offers help.  It reminded me of being metaphorically at the end of the road and how the smallest glimmer of hope kept me going in my most critical of times.  World Neighbors offers hope to what I’d call the lost people of Peru.  Their work is done in the forgotten communities, where they form community committees, working with them for eight to twelve years, supporting and educating until the community is self-sufficient.  Long term solutions, not short-term fixes.

An absolute stand out for me, was Candelerea, a humble, yet brave woman, who was uncomfortable about having her picture taken, as she had not dressed up for the occasion.  Yes, women are women everywhere!  She was one of the original ten on her community committee, the only woman.  I saw her light up like her name, when she proudly told us that she was currently on her fifth loan and with this help, had been able to send two of her children to university (previously unheard of), one studying to be a teacher and the other an accountant.  She explained why the World Neighbors system works.  “It requires the participant to match the loan, it keeps the recipient motivated and interested to the make the effort to repay the loan.  And their contribution then helps the community as well.”

Economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T., who studies poverty, found that often anti-poverty programmes “go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide.”  It is the injection of optimism that dramatically improves both the mental and physical health of recipients.  Her studies confirmed that it is an absence of hope, that contributes to keeping people trapped in their poverty.

This was very clear to me in Peru.  Many of the people had fled their homes during the 1990’s rebel uprising, and felt hopeless on returning to virtually nothing.  As World Neighbors offered hope and built trust, communities soon began to thrive again.  This was true from the smallest of communities of 19 families, to the largest of 1200.  As I discovered from my own personal experience, hope is a powerful fuel, which drives the human spirit.

The theme continued to be communities built on co-operation, not competition.  I remembered hearing author-speaker Gregg Braden, talk about 400 peer-reviewed scientific studies that explored what level of competition created the maximum results.  The findings:  Zero.  Said Braden, “Darwinian evolution doesn’t work.  Although “survival of the fittest” has always been accepted as the standard for biological behavior, we are more inclined toward peace than war, more wired for co-operative existence and mutual aid than competition.”   And this is what I saw in all the villages we visited.  Everyone had the chance to flourish, with opportunities for each and every person.  We met women doing a wide variety of work.  From raising guinea pigs (the Peruvian national delicacy) and using the manure to enrich their crops, to women expressing their artistic souls, using their talents weaving exquisite blankets and sweaters.

Another absolute light for me was Maximina, a smiling cherubic 44-year-old mother of 5, (ages 5 to 26), whose entrepreneurial spirit shone.  After she put aside her initial fear of having never managed money, she was one of the first eight in her community to receive a credit.  She hid hers at first, afraid she wouldn’t be able to pay it back.  With the reassurance and support from the World Neighbors team (all local Peruvian people) she gained the confidence to build a small empire for herself.  Starting with 500 soles (about $192), she bought a small cow.  Next she supported her son’s schooling.  The third credit helped expand her home.  And the fourth allowed her to finally buy the loom to begin weaving her colourful blankets, which people come from miles around to buy.  She was sold out on the day we visited.

As Maximina expanded her business, she continued to realize her dreams. She reminded me of the “every woman”.  Hoping for a better life for her family and keen on traveling and learning more about building her business.  She’d already learned about medicines for animals and now sells them in her small store.  In her words, “I am now capable of managing anything.  Before World Neighbors I never thought I could have a position of authority in my community.  Now, I was president of the community.”  She has a deep desire to travel to other areas to learn about other women’s work and to encourage them.  Several days before we visited she took on a student, apprenticing a younger niece in sweater making.  I joked with her that she was really “maximizing” on her name.  She laughed, proudly, at being recognized for all her accomplishments.

This for me, is the real joy I witnessed in Peru.  The journey was challenging and tested my resilience.  These people must rely on their resilience every single day.  They are people who have little, yet appreciate everything.  The children often eagerly walk up to two hours each way to school.  Universally, the women have the same dreams and hopes that all women have.  To be better.  To see their children have more than they do.  Their hearts are with their communities.  They support each other.  They encourage each other.  What World Neighbors offers is hope and support.  They understand the people they are helping because they are the people.

A recent piece in the N.Y. Times, “The Campaign Against Women”, caught my eye and I read it with interest.  The piece talks about women’s rights being attacked by the Republicans on Capital Hill.  It made me realize that the heart and soul of women is not about politics or legislation.  My trip to Peru confirmed for me that real power comes from within.  It is born of spirit.  We are entering a time in our own history, I believe, where the feminine energy is rising.  The power, the fire that lives in us all, cannot be extinguished.

And as so often happens when I’m writing, something shows up that perfectly fits.  This Gaping Void by Hugh MacLeod had me smiling.

Subject line:  Rock n’ Roll.  The message succinctly says it all.

“One of the great tragedies of life, and you’ll find it deeply imbedded in every major world religion and mythology is to know that the power, the life spirit, is within you, and yet you choose to ignore it.

Call it rock n’ roll. Call it the voice of God. Call it anything else.

Only you as an individual can decide to awaken it. 

It’s a decision only you can make.

And thank goodness for that….”

Thank you to World Neighbors and the people of Peru for their inextinguishable spirits.  Words cannot really express my gratitude.  It was truly an extraordinary celebration.

I invite you all to experience and share your inextinguishable power.  It is always there.  Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone to be reminded of how alive we really are.  Rock n’ roll.

Visit me at:  beverleygolden.com

photo by: Alex E. Proimos

7 Interesting Things I Recently Learned

In a world where every minute of every day we are exposed to non-stop information from a myriad stream of sources, in the last few weeks there were moments when I sincerely felt I’d reached the point of information overload.

Generally, if you ask me what I consider fun, I’d say “learning something new.” Then I’d smile. Not what others might consider their way of having fun. Being Aquarian, an air sign, I love to bring ideas down to earth, to share with others. So when I was at the point of feeling overwhelmed, I stopped to look at what stood out, picking the seven most interesting and fun things I actually heard or learned about recently, also making note of how they showed up for me.

The first, was all about books. In my piece on my love of bookstores, I openly declared that I adore real books and don’t enjoy reading them online. Although I’m apparently in the minority, I was thrilled to learn about two projects that are determined to honour and preserve the printed book.

The first story was about a modern day “Noah”, Brewster Kahle, who personally has invested $3 million to buy and operate a real book repository. “We want to collect one copy of every book. You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture,” Kahle told the New York Times. Each week, 20,000 new volumes arrive, many of them donations from libraries and universities delighted to find a home for material that no longer has a place in the Internet age. “Wow” I thought. “How incredible that someone would undertake such a monumental task.” It left me smiling and definitely wanting to pass it on.

Then I heard about a small individual project started three years ago in Wisconsin, by Todd Bol. Called Little Free Library, today it has grown to include locations in at least 28 states and six countries including Canada, Australia and Afghanistan, with people from more than a dozen other countries expressing interest, according to Bol. The premise: take a book, return a book. What a simple, yet exceptional way, to engage people and contribute to building community. Both of these stories came to me via the Internet as links within emails. Glad I clicked on them.

Second thing I found really interesting, was revealed in a face-to-face conversation – my all time favourite way of communicating – by a young man I’d just met, who himself had literally just heard about this on the radio. A study by German researchers discovered that when people glanced at the colour green for two seconds before doing a creative task, it actually boosted their creative output in comparison to briefly looking at other colours, like white, grey, red, and blue. As someone involved in all kinds of creative undertakings, I was fascinated by this new bit of colour information. As I write, I’m trying it out by looking at a wonderful green elephant plant.

Number three came in one of my favourite daily emails, Gaping Void, with a tongue-in-cheek look at how we don’t really talk to each other anymore. The stats are pretty wild. As author Hugh MacLeod wrote, “Truth is we live in a world dominated by mobile phones – there are actually more phones than there are people in the U.S. – yet we barely speak to each other anymore.” Really? More cell phones than people in the U.S.! I got the details. According to a piece in the New York Times, there are 327.6 million wireless customer connections, equal to 103.9 percent of the United States population. Honestly, for me this wasn’t really that much fun to learn about. I’m with Hugh when he says, “Our phones have become everything but a device to speak into (unless you’re one of the iPhoners who talk to Siri).  Phone or no phone, we should talk more, don’t you think?” I do think.

The fourth actually took me by surprise. Personally, I support many charities and organizations that do amazing humanitarian work around the world and really thought I was well-versed in who was doing what. Then I learned about World Neighbors, who have been building self-sufficient, independent communities for 61 years in over 45 countries around the world, and I had never heard of them! Their current campaign “Stop Saving The World, Start Changing It,” is a great opportunity to join a movement that shows the world how to actually bring about lasting changes, not just offer short term aid. They’re truly changing the lives of people living all over the globe, all on less than $1 a day. This one arrived compliments of a dear friend who herself had just been introduced to the inspiring work World Neighbors does.

Health and food items are always biggies for me, so this article in a real printed magazine caught my attention and became number five. It’s about a condition called fructmal (fructose malabsorption), which is little known, yet makes it difficult to digest fruit sugars or fructose. Yes, this means even healthy fruits like apples, dates, pears, mango or cherries can upset your digestive system. It’s associated with tangible symptoms that range from bloating and gas to depression.

Number six I heard about from a friend who saw it on a Sunday morning television show and told me about it over the telephone. (Make mine a landline, of course!) Already included in my piece about old things becoming new again, I liked it so much, here goes again. Old typewriters are making a comeback! Love it! Yes, old-fashioned typewriters are making a comeback, not only with collectors, but with a new generation of users too. “Type-ins” are a new kind of social event for those in their 20s and 30s. “You type so much quicker than you can think on a computer. On a typewriter, you have to think,” Brandi Kowalski told the New York Times. She began a vintage typewriter business last April with a partner, and so far they’ve refurbished and sold more than 70 machines, many to first-time users. Their slogan is perfect: “Unplug and reconnect.” And yes, I did find my 1970s portable Smith Corona in its original box in my collectibles-filled basement.

Number seven on the list was a fun one I heard on the radio. It seems there is a new wine on the market called “Hot Flash” created by B.C. winery House of Rose, especially for middle-aged women. Great product name. It caught the attention of the media when Brooke Shields ordered two cases after wrapping up production on her new movie called The Hot Flashes in Louisiana. I don’t drink, but I’d love someone to let me know how this one tastes. Apparently it’s not only for women, but men too!

I admit, there is so much to learn. It never ends. What interests one person may pass by another without even a glance. Sometimes I wonder how we can possibly continue to keep up with so much information? I can only trust that whatever I need to learn will show up for me at exactly the right time. It always has so far.

In retrospect, I had a really fun few weeks of learning. How was your week? Love to hear something interesting you learned or heard about recently.

Visit me at: www.beverleygolden.com

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photo by: eflon