Note From Joanna: We have a team of passionate and talented volunteers working on all aspects of Erase Poverty. In the coming weeks, you'll have the opportunity to hear from several of them, starting with this post from Sarah Zoric. She has been a tremendous help! Thanks Sarah! Now she's off to Nepal (read below) for a bit, but will always be a part of our team here at Erase Poverty. If you're interested in joining our volunteer team, visit http://erasepoverty.org/volunteers
You can follow Sarah's adventures on her blog here: http://www.mayakathmandu.blogspot.com/
When Joanna asked me to share my story of how I became involved with Erase Poverty I instantly agreed. I was excited to help and I’ve loved working with Erase.
I met Joanna Wasmuth through my friend Debbie. I’ve known Debbie for about 3 years now and since I’ve met her she’s been a bit of an inspiration to me. She’s one of the most non-judgmental and welcoming people I know. Not to mention completely independent, strong-minded, and smart. Thus, I felt like she would be a good person to ask for advice on whom I should work with. When she suggested Joanna Wasmuth and Erase Poverty, I believed in her recommendation whole-heartedly.
After returning from visiting my sister in Tanzania last spring, I felt completely inspired to get out of my rut in San Diego. I had been waiting tables at a cute little gastropub for the past 5 months. While I absolutely love the people I worked with, the food, cocktails, and environment, it’s just not what I want to do with my life.
I went to graduate school at San Diego State University for Women’s Health Communication, with a focus on Feminist Studies. Going to graduate school was probably the most important decision of my life. It was graduate school that really raised the veil for me on oppressions that women face in society. I studied the injustices that occur through class, race, sexuality, and sex that all my life I had felt, but hadn’t have a definition for, or a means to analyze. I realized my passion in life and since have never been the same.
When I contacted Debbie I was looking to work with an organization that dealt with empowering women, primarily in 3rd world countries. She wrote me, “I have just the person in mind. I have a friend launching an organization called "Erase" built to erase poverty around the world, specifically through education and financing of women. I can’t think of a better match, frankly.” Perfect!
I met with Joanna on a beautiful San Diego afternoon. As we talked I realized how much we have common. Although, she has a lot more experience than me in the professional realm, I feel like we share the same passion for women’s rights. She shared with me that her quest to help women began after the police discovered and shut down a sex trafficking brothel within a few blocks of her in Canada. She had literally walked by it every day on her way to work and had no idea. She felt she had to find a way to help women have other choices, other options.
Why do women practice sex work? Lack of Resources. Lack of Money. Lack of Options. So how can women avoid sex work? Through having other means to support themselves and their families in a sustainable and successful way. And by having the opportunity to start their own business.
That’s where micro-loans come into play. Many micro-loan suppliers actually target women as prime candidates for micro-loans because they are the primary providers for their families. Furthermore, women are more likely to put the money they have earned back into their families and their communities. Not to mention, having the autonomy and financial independence that comes with owning a business gives a woman the option of not participating in sex work and helps to serve as an example to empower women in the community to do the same.
Microloans seem like a great solution to a lot of the poverty in the world. One that is a lot more sustainable than aid programs and many other culturally incompatible programs that are often implemented.
So I began working with Joanna on little things to help launch the organization -- revisions of marketing and fundraising materials, preliminary research for branding, and social media networking. While I’ve had a great time working with Erase, I recently received the opportunity to do an internship with a Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC – www.worecnepal.org) in Kathmandu, Nepal. My aunt works for the European Union in Kathmandu and in the midst of merely requesting her advice on volunteering opportunities there, this internship came about.
Still working as a server and being in the “what do I do with my life” mind-set, I was planning (and saving up for) a trip. A year-long trip to be exact, around the world -- stopping in Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia, and Nepal. I was trying to find volunteering opportunities at each destination in women’s organizations so I could get some experience, while also seeing the world. This proved a little difficult– do you know they actually charge you to volunteer in some places?
None-the-less while explaining this to my aunt she said, “Well, Sarah, why don’t you come here and do a longer internship? There are tons of women’s organizations here. You could live with me. It will give you experience and not be so expensive for you.” She gave me a list of organizations to contact, send my resume and cover letter to, and request internships. WOREC just happened to get my attention due to the extremely welcoming nature of their executive director and the opportunity to work in their Women’s Health Department – what I did my degree on.
I left in January for a 3-month internship in Nepal. I will be helping to evaluate their Women’s Health program in the Dang District (a remote and poor district in mid-west Nepal) which works with STD prevention, women’s nutrition (pregnancy and early adulthood primarily), and safe childbirth practices.
I will also be volunteering with their “Chhahari” program (meaning “safe space or shade of solidarity” in Nepali), which focuses on providing a safe haven for sex workers in the community. The program provides access to health care, legal and counseling support, alternative options for work, and awareness and capacity building in the community.
I’m very excited and hoping this opportunity opens up other doors to work in the women’s health and/or women’s empowerment field. I feel very fortunate to have a family member in the country that I can stay with and can help me acclimate to the culture and surroundings as well.
Be prepared however, this will not be the end of my time with Erase. I plan to give Joanna updates about my work and experiences, so you may see a blog post or two of mine in the future.
I want to thank Joanna for all the hard work and passion she gives to Erase. She has such an incredible vision and I know as time goes on it will continue to grow and flourish. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the movement!
Off to Nepal,