Street Photography Havana

International Women’s Day: A Tribute to Women and Girls

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.— Kofi Annan

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. It is International Women’s Day, a day around the world to honor women and girls and to look at the progress that has been made and the work that remains to be done. For those who have followed my blog for a while, you know that the rights of women and girls lies near and dear to my heart. I’ve witnessed the inequities and injustice firsthand throughout my travels around the world.

Women and girls are more likely to be poor, unable to go to school, be married young and not have the same opportunities as boys and men. Women still die during childbirth at alarming rates, and are being victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking even here in the United States. The list of tragedies goes on and on.

However, the exciting news is this reality is rapidly changing. More women and girls are being empowered with education, training, and access to healthcare, mobile money, micro financing and the internet. The future is looking much brighter for women and girls than it did just a decade ago. So instead of dwelling on the bad things, I want to honor the good things that are happening by highlighting a few of my favorite women and girls I’ve met along the way.

Bolivia

Woman in La Paz Bolivia

Cerro Austria Bolivia

Eugenia, our cook, inside the “kitchen” tent gives us a big smile.

Ethiopia

Mosebo Village Ethiopia

Children in Mosebo Village 42 k away from Bahir Dar in Ethiopia.

Faces of Ethiopia

Faces of Ethiopia

Midwives in training

Ethiopian Woman

Mother.

Ellilta Products Ethiopia

Weaver at work.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Inside we meet a mother and her expectant daughter. They walked two hours on foot to reach the Lie and Wait house. Her mother delivered all 8 children at home with no help.

Tanzania

Mkura Maasi Training Camp Tanzania

Mkura Maasi Training Camp Tanzania

Moshi Tanzania

I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken with these lovely girls.

Me and Mary learning how to make Maasai jewelry that she can sell to earn a profit.

Haiti
papier-mâché artisans Jacmel Haiti

Carnaval 2015 Port-au-Prince

Our group, #Bloggers4Haiti

Cuba

Cienfuegos Cuba

Lovely smiling sisters.

Street Photography Havana

The abeulas of Cuba

The abeulas of Cuba

Guatemala

Maria. Guatemala.

Costa Rica

Dos Brazos de Tigre Lokal Travel

Xiña leads the way with her walking stick ready.

Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

Inside Zulay’s house

Xiña and her sister who lives in Puerto Jimenez and will be our cook for the next day.

Honduras

The girls in Honduras where I volunteered.

India

Indian girls inside a Delhi slum

Smiling and hopeful Indian girls within a Delhi slum

Meeting with Frontline Health Care Workers in The Indira Kalyan Camp

I will forever be grateful for the amazing women and girls I’ve met along the way that have inspired me to do more and fight for them.

Want to learn more about International Women’s Day and what is happening? Follow the hashtag #BeBoldForChange or #IWD2017 online. 

Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls

The Graceful Beauty of a Rainforest Flower

“Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth”. –  Bradley Whitford

As I am filled with utter dread about the stark reality that our nation now has a leader who appears to be against every single thing that matters to me and my beliefs, I search the darkness for a shimmering light. A candle in the unknown that glows and grows within me.

I was not able to attend the Women’s March in DC yesterday nor the local one here in St. Paul, Minnesota. I doubted my choice over and over again but despite not physically being present I was there 100% in spirit. When I browsed over my Facebook feed late last night, I felt nothing but pride. There were all my amazing friends and fellow advocates, all around the world out there standing up for their beliefs. None of the protests that they attended were violent or disrespectful. They were all full of beauty and grace.

It restored my faith in democracy, and it gave me hope again in humanity. I fully believe that every person should be able to have their own beliefs, even if I don’t agree with them. However, I am not going to support a government that does not respect human rights and our planet nor am I going to become complacent. I have joined several causes -even more than ever before – to get educated on what I need to know and what I need to do. I am not going to give up quietly. There is too much at stake.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”. – Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.

In the meantime, I wanted to leave some photos of the gorgeous flowers I found in the rainforest of Costa Rica. Their graceful, fragile beauty symbolize the beauty of the women I know and have never met who have fought so hard to be treated as equals.

At yesterday’s Women’s March in Saint Paul, Minnesota (with record attendance of over 90,000 making it one of the largest political marches in Minnesota history) Newly elected State Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis (the first Somali woman in the United States to be elected to public office) poetically said:

“I hope to remind people that it is our differences that make our country beautiful.” 

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“Sooner or later, even the fastest runners have to stand and fight”. – Stephen King

Global Issues Humanitarian SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges Women and Girls
Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

My Walk with the Maasai

“In the Book of Life, the answers aren’t in the back.” – Charles M. Schultz

Setting off on foot through the heart and soul of Maasai culture has always been a dream of mine. I had first heard of the Maasai people when I was volunteering for a week in Morocco. I was speaking with a fellow volunteer – a young American woman- who confessed her favorite travel stories in her life occurred when she visited the Maasai. Her embellished images of warrior men in black and women dressed in brightly colored clothing while drinking cow’s blood under the moonlight sky in the bush were what first intrigued me. Was it true that a people like this still lived on earth and still practiced their long-held traditions and cultures?

Years later, when I began my work as a social good blogger, I began to learn more about the Maasai people and the threat against their way of life. Some of the things I had believed to be true long ago were more or less myths yet other traditions both good and bad continued until this day. It wasn’t until I set out on foot with my english-speaking Maasai guide, Jacobo, in the Mkuru Training Camp near Arusha, Tanzania that I would discover for myself what the Maasai people were truly like and what challenges remained.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo leads the way and I follow along for the next four hours on foot, touring a small part of the Maasai community.

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t”. -Pete Seeger

I was thankful that I had Jacobo, the Camp Manager, who was born and raised in the community, to lead the way. He was exactly as I envisioned a Maasai warrior to be: Tall, elegantly thin, muscular and generously kind. He has faced some criticism from the community by integrating too much with Western culture yet overall his work and passion for his tribe outshines a few negative viewpoints. Although he is also the camp driver, speaks English, and is the face of the camp with all foreigners, he has retained his culture even down to what he eats.

We set off shortly after lunch in windy, dry weather. I had hoped the weather would be better but at least it wasn’t raining or boiling hot. I followed behind Jacobo, pen and paper in hand and asked him as many questions as I could about his way of life.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Welcome to the bush

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

The Maasai are among the best known ethnic groups in Africa due to their distinctive customs and dress. As nomadic pastoralists, they traditionally herded their cattle on seasonal rotations across the open savanna of Kenya and Tanzania yet new laws instituted by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments ended their traditions and forced many into camps where they have suffered poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and economic opportunities to survive. It is an all too common story with native cultures across the world and today many governments and NGOs are doing their best to preserve and protect these tribes from disappearing off the face of the earth.

Mkuru Training Camp Maasai Tanzania

The grounds of the Mkuru Training Camp Maasai in Tanzania

As we walked, Jacobo pointed out the dried up river beds and the sparse vegetation. Most of the crops (maize and potatoes are the of the primary crops grown in the area) had already been harvested and the long barren months of the dry season had begun. One of the main problems for the Maasai community is malnutrition especially in children. The diet is basically meat, goat’s milk and grains with little or no fruit or vegetables. Although the camp has tried to alleviate malnutrition by providing meals at school, many Maasai hesitate to send their children because they are needed to herd the livestock (boys began herding as young as five years old), tend the house, fetch water and cook (the main responsibility of the girls). Despite the building of new schools in the community, attendance is very low and frequently dropping especially for girls.

The Maasai have a very unique social structure that is central to their culture. The head of society is the warrior class made up of boys and men, and status relates to age. A young boy starts out as a herder at the age of five and once he reaches puberty, he is set aside with the boys who will be soon circumcised and become junior warriors called “morani”. The morani range from 13-18 years of age and after circumcision remain in isolation and are dressed in black until they are healed. Once they reach maturity and have sufficient strength they become a full fledge warrior, dress in colorful clothing, and are in charge of protecting the community. They no longer kill a lion with a spear since that tradition has become illegal (by the government) but they are trained to fight.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Jacobo on left with his four brothers who have just been circumcised and wear black until they are ready to become moranis.

Maasai women and girls are traditionally in charge of the home and all work associated with family life such as fetching water, cooking and cleaning, making clothing and watching the very young children. Maasai women are known for their amazing beadwork and brilliant clothing. (I had written a great post about Maasai beading here)

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s mother

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Maasai beadwork has been integrated into the Mkuru community to empower women and give them economic opportunities to sell their work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A gorgeous Maasai beaded ankle bracelet.

Jacobo gave me a tour of his family boma, traditional mud huts made out of mud, dried cow dung and branches. Since the Maasai can have more than one wife, the entire family of husband, wives and children typically live together in a compound of 3-5 bomas depending on wealth. Each compound is surrounded by an open circle and fence made of thorny branches, where the livestock sleep safely at night, away from predators. The bomas are extremely basic with no electricity, no running water and oftentimes unsafe charcoal cookstoves are used inside the hut. The smoke from cooking turns the ceiling black with soot and you can imagine how bad it is for the family to inhale the fumes.

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Entering the Jacobo’s family home (the fence for livestock is on the left hand side of the photo).

http://thirdeyemom.com/2015/10/25/learning-the-art-of-making-maasai-jewelry-in-tanzania/

Jacobo’s extended family.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

One of the bomas.

 Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A child peeks out and smiles. His face is covered in ash from the cookstove.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Since there is no electricity inside, the bomas are very dark. I tried my best to capture what they are like inside. You can see the cookstove on the far back righthand side of the photo.

Non-profit organizations such as Solar Sister (who I climbed Kilimanjaro with) are working hard to provide clean, safe cookstoves throughout the world. The benefits are immense and life-saving but sadly they have not reached the millions of people like in this community who need them. Not only are clean cookstoves healthier and safer, they also save ridiculous amounts of money which can be used on other essential things like education, farming, and crops.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The ceiling of the boma is black from the charcoal cookstove inside.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

An up close look at the thorny fence and corral for the livestock.

To my relief, I was well received by my Maasai friends who gladly gave me a tour of their bomas for a very small fee. I also purchased some beautiful handmade jewelry from Jacobo’s mother, a couple of bracelets and a necklace that I love to this day.

As we headed out to see more of the vast area, we ran into Jacobo’s dad, a retired warrior. I found that many of the men have a pretty luxurious life compared to the women. No longer truly in need of a warrior class to protect them against invaders, the men usually have plenty of leisure time to sit around and talk while the women did all the work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s dad

Jacobo brought me to a special place that once a year the morani and warriors go for a few months to eat meat. Tradition holds that morani and warriors must remain strong and be the best fed of all. Therefore, every year they head up to the forest where they eat goat meat for two-three months. The women stay at home.

As we neared the camp, I could see women walking their donkeys with yellow plastic jugs. I asked Jacobo where they were going and he told me about the well. A few years ago,the camp dug a well which is open from 5-7 pm every day. Before the well, women and girls would spend hours each day fetching water so the new well has made a significant impact on their lives.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The women at the well

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

I thought about how such simple things as water are so easily taken for granted in the developed world. All I have to do is turn on the facet and out it comes, in plentiful supply. Seeing the well in person was a reminder how millions and millions of people around the world live. With little or no access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”. – Kahlil Gibran

Once we returned to camp, I was exhausted. It was quite an eye-opening day. I had a quiet dinner with Camila and the other European camp volunteer and they told me some of the more difficult stories about the camp. That female genital mutilation (FGM) is rampant in Tanzania despite it being banned and illegal by the government. That the process is horrifying and the young girl is cut with unsanitary knives and left to lay and bleed alone for months inside the boma. That Jacobo lost his first wife in childbirth because she was unable to deliver her baby safely after her the trauma caused by FGM. And the list goes on.

It was hard for me to reconcile my beliefs on how as a world we should intervene. Despite the belief that we should respect certain cultures and traditions that have been held since the beginning of mankind, it does not make them right or justifiable. Sadly change is difficult but not impossible.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

View outside my tent that night

Want to learn more? Here are some excellent articles:

“In Tanzania, Maasai women who reject FGM are refused as Brides” via Reuters

“Maasai in Tanzania: World Fame but Empty Stomachs” via the Guardian

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

WaterAid – Tanzania (Fact: 14 million people in Tanzania have no choice but to drink dirty water from unsafe sources).

Author’s note: This post is one of a series on my visit to the Mkuru Maasai Training Camp. To read all posts in the series, click here.

Adventure Travel Africa Conservation/Environment Food Security Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD Tanzania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls
Faces of Ethiopia

International Women’s Day 2015 #MakeItHappen

“Whatever the conditions of people’s lives, wherever they live, however they live, they share the same hopes, the same dreams, as you and I”. -Melinda Gates

Today, March 8th is one of my favorite day’s of the year because it is a day that honors women around the world. It is International Women’s Day.

I think of all the progress we’ve made over the last few decades yet remember all of the challenges that remain ahead. Too many woman still die during childbirth. Too many women are victims of sexual violence and exploitation. Too many women do not have the opportunity to live up to their potential due to lack of education, status and rights. It is such a pity given that there is so much potential to make the world a better place for all if we just include women and girls.

Rather than dwell on the sometimes numbing statistics, I’d rather share some of my favorite photographs I’ve taken over the years honoring women around the world. Real women who are powerful, resilient and inspiring in their own right.

I hope that the world my daughter and grand children live in is a better place with more equality and opportunity for women and girls worldwide. This year’s theme is “Make it Happen”. Only together as a community, we can.

Aymara Women La Paz Bolivia

Carnival Port au Prince, Haiti 2015

Mosebo Village

Fasika holding her fourth child, nine-day old baby boy.

Faces of Ethiopia

Coconut Seller

Selling Coconuts in Honduras

Project Mercy Ethiopia

Proud Grandma, Ethiopia.

Xela, Guatemala

Guatemala

Woman begging outside the church walls in Guatemala.

Havana, Cuba

Old Cuban Friends

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Havana Cuba

This post is a tribute to all the amazing, strong women around the world who are fighting to make it a better place.

Let’s Make It Happen.

These amazing documentaries are inspiring yet bound to also make you cry. I highly recommend watching one or all: 

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Girl Rising

A Path Appears

Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD
Yetebon community Ethiopia

EngenderHealth launches “Where’s the Family Planning?!” campaign

EngenderHealth works to improve access to maternal and reproductive health care in more than 20 developing countries. At the end of September, EngenderHealth launched their new campaign, WTFP?!” (Where’s the Family Planning?!) to raise awareness among Americans of global access to contraception.

Although for many Americans, access to contraceptives is relatively easy, around the world, this is not the case and there remains a huge, unmet need. In fact, over 220 million women in developing countries want contraception and family planning but lack access. There are a variety of reasons regarding why women do not have access – poverty, lack of education, lack of health care facilities, culture and religion – however it is proven that when women have access to contraception they are more likely to survive childbirth, have healthier children, and go further in their education.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Mother holding her 9th child in rural Ethiopia. 

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The Power of Social Media in Making Change: #YesAllWomen

Last Friday was a beautiful, summer day in Minnesota. After a long winter, bright blue skies and warm weather had finally arrived and I was looking forward to a lovely, three-day holiday weekend that would launch us into summer. Then I read the news and my heart sank. Another devastating killing spree had shocked our nation. Another disillusioned young white man by the name of Elliot Rodger had taken out his displeasure on the world by killing six innocent others near the campus of University of California in Santa Barbara . Yet this time, he had another motive: Misogyny, the hatred of women and girls.

Screenshot of a tweet. Photo source: CNN

Screenshot of a tweet. Photo source: CNN

His disturbing YouTube video illustrating his utter hatred of women has shocked and angered people across the globe. And his shooting rampage has sparked a global feminist outcry of anger, rage, grief and sadness in social media with many women sharing their own stories of harassment, sexism, violence and rape.

An exempt from the transcript of his video is enough to make you sick:

“Hi, Elliot Rodger here. Well, this is my last video. It all has to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you.

For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, never to me. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it. I take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male. [laughs]

 

The social media hashtag #YesAllWomen that has been used on Facebook and Twitter since last Friday has been trending worldwide and continues to rush out a torrent of tweets at breakneck speed. On Sunday, the hashtag peaked at 61,500 tweets per Twitter and continues to run strong with continuous tweets about life in a sexist world. The hashtag which didn’t even exist before May 24th has been attached to over 1.2 million tweets and isn’t showing any signs yet of slowing down per Mashable. Similar to the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls that was invented as an outcry over the Nigerian school girls kidnapped on April 15th by extremists,  #YesAllWomen has become a social media phenomenon as a way for people to use their collective voice to promote change.

Photo of a tweet. Source: CNN

Photo of a tweet. Source: CNN

Some of the most powerful tweets I’ve read on #YesAllWomen are a powerful reminder that women are not safe, no matter where they live. I’ve written extensively on my blog about women’s rights and violence against women in poor, developing countries however obviously violence against women and sexism continue to be blatant even in our own country.

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There is no woman that has never been touched by sexism. The lucky ones live their lives without being harassed while many live their lives with the painful dark nightmare of being hit, groped, abused or raped.
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“Miss Representation”: How Women are Truly Viewed in Society and Why it Damns us

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. – Alice Walker

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A few months ago I watched a brilliant documentary called “Miss Representation“. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the award-winning film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. I have been meaning to write about the documentary for months yet had left it in the back burner until the Olympics began and some of the media coverage of the women althetes outraged me.

Two recent articles in particular (“Medals aren’t enough: Women athletes still have to sell sexiness” and “Scantily Clad Russian Olympians Are Making Us Uncomfortable“) made my anger flair and made me realize that as a society if women’s rights are ever going to improve, me must stop looking at them as sex objects. Certainly one can argue that it is in our biology and nature. Men will always covet and admire women and their bodies. Yet what I want to argue is that it is fine to admire a woman’s beauty but our powerful media does not need to continue to objectify women. It has come to the point where it is so commonplace that one often turns a blind eye to it. Let’s face it sex sells.

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A Girl called Braveheart: India’s broken heart

They called her Braveheart, a name that symbolizes a fighter. People have also called her Fearless and India’s Daughter.  Due to Indian law, the real name of a rape victim is withheld from the press. For some reason the name Braveheart seemed to stick.

Months after her tragic, horrifying death Delhi’s Braveheart continues to tear away at Indian society and many Indians’ cry for change. Braveheart’s December 16th gang rape on a moving bus has gained worldwide attention, outrage and grief. Further high-profile rapes such as the recent rape of a Swiss and American tourist have continued to push the not so pretty truth about the status of women in India into the forefront. Meanwhile, India’s tourist industry has been reeling with a 35 % decline in female tourists for the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year (Source: Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India).  It is evident that foreign women travelers are concerned about the dangers of traveling to a place with such a tarnished reputation for women’s rights and safety.

In a country where a rape is reported every 21 minutes, and gruesome rapes of young children are inundating the news, you would think that it would be enough to push for societal and governmental change. Yet has anything really truly changed for the millions of women in India and around the world who are faced with violence, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, neglect and unworthiness every single day of their lives?

Indian Women in Delhi

Global Issues India Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls

Being Half the Sky

“Women hold up half the sky” – Chinese proverb 

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Exactly a year ago today I was in Xela, Guatemala on a week long volunteer and spanish immersion trip when I heard the noise off in the distance. It sounded like a parade. I asked my teacher Lilian if she knew what on earth was going on and she replied with a smile, “It’s International Women’s Day!” and asked if I’d like to go see the festivities. I had never heard of International Women’s Day before yet it sounded spectacular. I packed up my school work and Lilian and me were off in a flash to the main square.

There I watched in awe and joy how a community could come together as one and celebrate the rights and beauty of women. It was so incredibly touching that I rushed home and instantly wrote a post on the experience titled “El dia de la mujer in Xela, Guatemala“. Even a year later, the memory of that day will forever be engrained in my heart. It was beautiful so heartbreaking yet also so full of hope.

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Violence against women is an enormous problem in Guatemala and sometimes women are victims of abuse and even murder. Lillian told me that this was the first time she remembered having so many men participate in International Women’s Day and was hopeful that it would lead to change.

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The color of Advocacy in Guatemala

A Word in Your Ear, a fantastic travel blog that I adore, started a fun travel and photography challenge called “A Word of the Day”. Basically she lets her dictionary open to a word and voila. That is the challenge. Her recent challenge is “colorful” similar to a recent photo challenge I did.

I adore colors, especially on a gray, dreary day like today. They brighten my mood and make me smile.

These photos were taken back in April in Xela, Guatemala on the International Women’s Day. The entire town was involved in a grand celebration and a huge, colorful parade honoring women and advocating for women’s rights. In a country in which domestic violence against women is a significant, unspoken problem, it was wonderful to witness so many people coming together to share their voice and fight for women’s rights.

Here are some of my favorite colorful pictures from the event.

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Half the Sky: The movement

This post is part of my Social Good Sunday series. “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” is a highly aclaimed book written by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. A compelling four-hour documentary on the book is being shown for the first time on PBS on Monday, October 1 and Tuesday, October 2nd. See below for details. 

Women hold up half the sky. – Chinese Proverb

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Although this is a bold statement to be made, I can truthfully say that I have. “Half the Sky” is a book that changed my purpose in life forever.  It is the book that motivated me to transform from a modern stay-at-home mom to a life as an advocate, activist and a voice for social good and giving back. A path that started three years ago, and has evolved into unimaginable ways. A road I’m utterly excited to be following; a dream I’ve had for years. It is time to give back and there is no time more important than now.

So why did Half the Sky have such a powerful impact me? What is the book about?

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