After her visit to Rwanda, Jennifer L. Windsor, the new CEO of Women for Women International, said in a recent phone interview, “Our approach to supporting women is not only effective, it is absolutely essential, and I learned that partners play a key role.”
She was referring to women who sponsor women in countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sponsors are also currently supporting Syrian women refugees, which is such an urgent need because of the instability in their country.
When asked, “What did you observe and learn in Rwanda,” Windsor said, “What I found most moving was that it was obvious to me that something profound happens during the Women for Women’s twelve-month program. When women access support and education from each other, there is a connection that is not broken. So, even after they graduate from the program, the women who have been part of it are still connected as a group.”
Windsor related a story about two graduates who wanted to improve their selling skills. They pooled their savings so they could hire an expert tailor to help improve their products. They knew this would bring them more money. Windsor saw first-hand that no matter how poor or marginalized women are, they still hold the drive and the dream of making things better for themselves and their families.
It was obvious to her that the teachings of Women for Women are being shared at home and are having a powerful effect on the men. For example, a man in Afghanistan no longer beats his wife, and another has realized he should not send his young daughter off to be married so young.
When asked what aspect of the work really stood out for her during her field visit, Windsor responded, “What was striking about Rwanda, given its history, is the impact of conflict. One of its key features is that there’s a breakdown of basic social structures. For women that means their support systems and relationships that they have relied on every day were shattered. I think 20 years after the conflict and genocide, rebuilding those relationships between people and trust between people is at the center of how Rwanda is going to move forward. There’s a need for people to feel connected and that they trust each other, and I feel our programs are really filling that need. You can see that by observing the women continuing to stay together as groups even after our program is over. I was very impressed by the resilience of the Rwandan people. Not too many societies have gone through what they’ve gone through and be where they are today, but a lot more work needs to be done.”