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What Can I Do To Help?

When I hear of a social problem or an issue that touches my conscience and  heart, my natural response is to ask, “What can I do to help?” It is an almost automatic reaction. Sometimes the answer is quite clear and, of course, sometimes there is no answer but to wait for an answer. I don’t know where this came from in me. My family is much more reserved and analytical – some would say more prudent. But for me, I have a compelling need to find something to DO – to help in some way to bring about a solution.

On January 11, 2009, the Second Annual Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in the U.S., I spoke to UCCLM about this issue. I was exercising that need to do something about this horrifying problem that human rights groups estimate enslaves between 12.3 million and 27 million people in forced or bonded labor, child labor, sexual servitude or involuntary servitude at any given time. With a problem that great do I believe that my Moment for Mission will lead to a solution? Well, in a word, YES! I told you, several of you were obviously moved and I’m guessing you told a few people who had not heard about this issue and they probably went home and did a little research then told a few people, and so on and so on and so on. What I did at UCCLM was repeated throughout the U.S. on January 11 and will be next January 11, and so on and so on and so on.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.“ I believe it. Over 25 years ago I joined a small group of thoughtful, committed women called Soroptimists who since 1921 have been working to improve the lives of women and girls locally and globally. The name Soroptimist, from two Latin roots, means “The Best for Women.” Of course, not everything we do is this lofty and serious – we also have a heck of a lot of fun together. But when we join hands with Soroptimists in over 120 countries and territories, and when we speak through our volunteer representatives in the halls of the United Nations centers in New York, Geneva and Vienna, UNESCO in Paris, the FAO in Rome and UNEP in Nairobi we are changing the way the world looks at women and girls.

Through local projects such as Operation Fairy Godmother, a project of my club, we collect gently used formal dresses for girls who might not otherwise be able to attend their proms. Through Project Shue, the project of another Soroptimist club, senior women tutors are paired with young girls whose families do not speak English at home for help with reading and homework. Local awards help female heads of households who need additional education to support their families are helped, others reward teenage girls who have exhibited outstanding volunteer service to their communities and honor women whose volunteer efforts or work have improved the lives of other women and girls

International projects bring drinking water to villages in Senegal and Chiapas, Mexico, so women do not have to spend half a day gathering water, and can make sure their children attended school and that they themselves learn to read. Micro-credit lending projects provide women who have survived local wars with capital funding for small businesses such as bread baking, upholstering or chicken/egg raising so they can find dignity and provide for their families in Rwanda, Bosnia and Afghanistan. I know that Soroptimists have made a difference, because I know the names of many of the women we have helped.

Just today my club received a letter from the Bosnian woman we are supporting through our partner NGO, Women for Women International. Our sponsored woman is a survivor of the war in Bosnia who 15 years later is still trying to put her life back together. Through the help of Women for Women International and my Soroptimist club, she will get life skills and occupational training for a year. When she graduates from the program, she will have opportunities through microcredit lending to start her own business. She will partner with women in her community to market their products and together they will pay back their loans at an astounding 98% rate so other women can do the same thing.

Sometimes the most I can do is shed a little light on an issue – bring about a small amount of awareness. That was the case with Human Trafficking. I’m not in law enforcement, so my hands on efforts are limited. But now I know what I’m looking for, and if I see something suspicious I can report it. I can also advocate for the rights of women who have been trafficked. Sometimes I can write a check or encourage others I know to give to the cause. Sometimes I can actually take action and do the work that needs to be done – serving meals to homeless women, packing Christmas gifts for Tecate orphans or helping furnish an apartment at a transitional living center.

Christianity, as I have experienced it, calls me to DO something to make Earth a more equitable and just place. Injustice and inequity call me to awareness, advocacy and action. I know there is no shortage of need in the world, but the reality is that whenever and wherever suffering occurs, more often than not women and girls bear the brunt of it.

Consider this:
• Of the 1.4 billion people worldwide living in abject poverty, on less than $1 a day, 70 percent are women. Women generally earn less than half of what men earn.
• 65 million girls are kept out of school worldwide, increasing the risk they will suffer from extreme poverty, die in childbirth or from AIDS and pass on those dangers to their children.
• One in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime and, according to a recent report, of the estimated 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually for the purpose of sexual slavery, 80% are female.

Actress Nicole Kidman, who is now serving as a spokeswoman for UNIFEM may have put it best when she said, “If you help women, you help children and men. You help the family, because women are the heartbeat of the family.”

I have chosen Soroptimist International as the outlet for my need to DO something. Although it is non sectarian, its mission to improve the lives of women and girls resonates with me. Through my Soroptimist involvement I know that I have a voice in international decision making, that I am holding hands with women throughout the world and together we are DOING something.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”   Helen Keller

Article Written by Sam Buchenau
United Church of Christ of La Mesa

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