Surviving to thriving

Saving the world, one woman at a time

Many Americans have an undying fear of being poor.

We tend to think poverty is shopping at Goodwill or your electricity getting shut off every once in a while.

Meanwhile, women in Northern Uganda can’t even go to the bathroom during the day because they don’t have bathroom facilities.

Because of their religious culture, they can’t relieve themselves during the day for risk of modesty issues.

Using the bathroom at night is also a problem for these women because they are at risk of being captured and raped by warring tribes, according to Betsy Verwys, Ferris professor and SowHope representative.

“Once women are raped, they are outcast from society,” Verwys said. “Something as simple as going to the bathroom becomes an absolute risk to life in the community.”

Solving this problem for an entire community of women and allowing them to maintain their dignity cost SowHope only $300.

I learned about this heart-wrenching story and many others at the SowHope documentary for Women’s History Month I attended March 18.

I couldn’t accurately describe the looks on the faces of these women I saw in the documentary when SowHope was there, empowering them and giving them the tools not only to survive, but to also thrive. It’s as if they were coming back to life.

These women walk miles every day to a river for their water supply, carrying the heavy buckets home. Yet, we simply turn on the faucet to supply our water.

Another African woman used a microloan to purchase a sewing machine. She took the profits from the clothes she sold to buy another machine and taught sewing classes to other women in the community.

“Microfinance has really supported my family,” the African woman said in the documentary, “I am so proud. I feel happy.”

Life is much different in the U.S., however. If Americans want new clothes, we simply visit our favorite stores and purchase what we need.

Verwys plans to empower these women in developing countries by raising awareness through what she loves: running.

On April 13, Verwys will run the Gazelle Girl half-marathon in Grand Rapids. She decided to run “with a purpose.”

She partnered with SowHope and is working to collect pledges for each of the 13.1 miles she runs. All proceeds will be donated to SowHope.

“Anybody can do this,” Verwys said. “We tend to think that you have to be wealthy, have a job, or have extra time on your hands in order to be involved with a great organization, but I’m taking something I love to do-running- and I’m raising money for an organization that I really believe in.”

These women in developing countries are often forgotten and left behind, struggling to survive without even the most basic necessities that we often take for granted.

SowHope has helped more than 38,000 of these women and continues to change the world one woman at a time.