International Women's Day - Why are You Here Instead of Her? - Revisited

Two years ago, on International Women’s Day, I reflected on a question that was posed to me live on Sierra Leone National Television. "Why do we need another white man telling us about the work that is going on in our own country? If this is another woman's school, why isn't she on the television? Why are you here instead of her?" I want to revisit that story.

Some 8 years ago now, that journey to Sierra Leone also yielded other unintended impacts. Because I had been visible in the community, the landlord at the time, who had taken over the original building Esther’s school resided in, threatened to increase rent rates. and began calling me personally demanding an absurd price to buy the building outright - one of many reasons we moved the school.

International Women’s Day Logo

International Women’s Day Logo

When I was studying International Development, my anthropology professor at the University of Toronto would talk about the power dynamic inherent in development. Simply by being present in the community, there are impacts that are often unanticipated. Because of my origin in the West, even during my first visit to Sierra Leone as an undergraduate student, and as a man, I was ascribed authority although in the midst of people who were experts in their own communities. I realized shortly after my arrival that the way many organizations think of development was coloured by a sense of “white saviour” thinking.

This photo of Esther and I that I use often is actually IN the greenroom before that very interview

This photo of Esther and I that I use often is actually IN the greenroom before that very interview

I am grateful that interviewer reminded me of the dynamic I was creating - and to be mindful of. Going on air was Esther’s idea, because she believed doing so provided credibility for Women in Action by demonstrating the school’s international connections. However, I should have brought her on air with me - a missed opportunity to empower someone else and create space for equity while reminding audiences that a local woman is champion and entrepreneur of this project.

Remaining as Esther’s echo, rather than Esther’s voice, is important to us and I was reminded of that conviction by the interviewer. This is why, wherever possible, I try to ensure the Women in Action Development Project can also share a first person voice. So, on that note, new videos! (below). This video shows the catering classes preparing breakfast for Esther and the staff as a review of things they’ve learned. All this is happening because of you. If not for your recent donations, the school would not presently be open. Furthermore, with some of the funds left over from our most recent donations, Esther said that we were able to help cover some outstanding teacher salary payments. Thank you ALL so much again for your donations.

Also be sure to check out the International Women’s Day movement online at https://www.internationalwomensday.com/. Quoted from the website, International Women’s Day is “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women (Like Esther!) The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Prior to this the Socialist Party of America, United Kingdom's Suffragists and Suffragettes, and further groups campaigned for women's equality.” There are events going on around the world today. Check and see if one is near you.

Once again, my sincerest gratitude to all of you! If you are able to make a contribution in light of International Women’s Day today, it would be greatly appreciated!

-Sincerely,

-Matthew

Donate for International Women's Day

Esther sits down to a breakfast prepared by the catering classes as an example of their learning for the staff.





Valentine's Day is 'Women in Action Day' and We're OPEN!

Echoers!

Today is an important anniversary! Esther's school, the Women in Action Development Project, was founded on February 14th 1996. And today, because of your support, they are able to celebrate their 23rd birthday! 

We did it! YOU did it! 

Over the last few days, the remaining donations we needed to clear that rent debt arrived and Women in Action will be able to complete another school season. I cannot thank you all enough. So many of you came through for us. Thank you, thank you. Gratitude, and appreciation are also coming from Esther and the staff and students of Women in Action as well. One of the recent videos that Esther sent me is a thank you to Esther's Echo which also goes out to all of you. I have linked the video below. ALSO, today Esther (centre red in the pics below) sent me photos from their anniversary celebration complete with heart shaped cakes for Valentine's Day. See all of that!? You made that happen! 

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What's next?

Because of the challenges with this current landlord, Women in Action will likely be moving come the Summer. I was anticipating this would be the case. But because of the recent fundraising we don't have to move locations in the midst of the school season. My ultimate goal for Esther's Echo was always building Esther her own school. We will be continuing to put funds aside for this project as well as for potential rent funding should we need to continue renting come the Fall. It's a big project, about 30K, but one of the largest steps, owning a plot of land, we've already accomplished. 

Thank you all again for your support. If you're able to give today in celebration of Women in Action's anniversary, I've included a Valentine's themed donation button below!

Wishing you all a day full of love!

Matthew

Esther Kanu sends a thank you from the staff and students of the Women in Action Development Program to Esther's Echo Esther's Echo is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Women in Action Development Project, a vocational training centre for young women and girls in Sierra Leone.

Only A Few Hundred Left to Go!

Dear Echoers!

Earlier in January, I wrote about an impending rent deadline for Esther and the Women in Action Development Project. Since that time you have all helped shrink the gap on the outstanding funds we needed to help Esther keep the school going for another semester. Thank you! And thank you to our new donors who have recently joined our community of support! Also a big shout out to web developer and designer Wes Bos who promoted us through their social media network to help support our fundraising efforts.

Wes Bos Social Media Campaign for Esther’s Echo

Esther was given until the end of January to come up with the remaining funds, about $1100US. With all your support, we got that down to about $450US. Esther wasn’t able to make the scheduled court date last week and so they gave her another week which means we only have a few days left. Without the rest of the funds, it is possible that the court could rule in favour of the land lord and push for the school to leave. We’ve had to relocate once before as a result of outstanding rent payments and the process is very disruptive to the school and could result in a long-term cessation of classes. Let’s see if we can avoid that and get those funds in by Thursday!

We also recently posted a new series of videos from Women in Action that Esther sent me. I have posted them to our new YouTube Channel. I recently e-mailed out a new video to all donors - Esther’s introduction to the daycare centre. I wanted to share another, it is an overview of Women in Action and its founding given by Esther herself.

Thank you again for all your support! Let’s make this happen!

-Matthew

Esther Kanu founded the Women in Action Development Program in 1996 in the midst of the Blood Diamond Civil War. Here she gives a brief overview of the project and introduces some of the students Esther's Echo is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Women in Action Development Project, a vocational training centre for young women and girls in Sierra Leone.


Happy New Year! (And a Thanks from Ms. Karoma)

Happy New Year Echoers!!

I hope that 2019 is off to an amazing start for all of you! 

Big thank you all to those who contributed to our 2018 Holiday Season fundraising campaign. Between donations through the website, those who donated in person to me over the break, and funds that came through on Facebook we raised just over $3000 which beat out last year's record! Hoorah!

Where does that leave us?

We had to close the gap on Esther's outstanding rent for the end of 2018 to ensure that the Women in Action Development Project could remain in their present location. The balance was $3500US. $3000CDN translates right now to about $2100US so we are still looking at another $1400US to go. 

Esther is already receiving pressure from the landlord. We've moved the school once before because of outstanding rent payments. The process disrupted an entire semester at the school - something which we'd like to avoid. So let's ensure that we get the school off to a strong start in 2019. 

I also wanted to share a video with you. I posted this to the Facebook fundraiser but I had yet to post it to the blog. The video is a brief interview that Esther filmed with Ms. Karoma who is the cosmetology department teacher at Women in Action. You'll also hear a shoutout from the cosmetology students to the Esther's Echo supporters - YOU! Thank you for all you have done. You have made all of what you see here possible. 

Once again, Happy 2019!


Holiday Season Fundraising

Hey Echoers!

We’ve had an online fundraising campaign going on live on Facebook through December. If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, check it out here!

We also relaunched our YouTube Channel. You can find it here:

And to get the blog caught up, here is the letter that was sent out to all our donors below.

I wish you an incredible 2019!

-Matthew

Hello Echoers!

Happy Holidays!

For those of you who have been tracking our online fundraising campaign on Facebook, we made our initial goal of $1500! For those of you who contributed on Facebook, thank you so very much. Because we hit the goal with more time to go in the Holiday Season, I've decided to raise the target to 2000 dollars. Let's see if we can make it!

Where do these donations go?

All of your donations go directly to Esther's school, the Women in Action Development Project, which Esther founded herself in 1996. A small transaction fee of $30 is charged by the bank each time we do a wire transfer which is typically once a quarter. I offset this cost myself. Our only other overhead expense is the monthly cost of our website on Squarespace which is also about $30 and I offset that too. The Esther's Echo staff work for free, thankfully, so that doesn't cost anything! (Our staff of one ;) ) The rest goes overseas to cover Esther's expenses in operating her school which typically graduates 20-25 students per year depending on enrollment numbers and environmental, political, or financial disruptions such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 or the heavy flooding in 2016. The largest expense is the rent on the building that Esther's school currently resides in.  

Why do we keep paying rent?

Great question. Unfortunately, when we first started Esther's Echo, the rent rates on Esther's building were less than half of what they are now but rising rent rates are a continuing problem in Sierra Leone.  Rent doesn't sound like an exciting fundraising goal, but ultimately what we're really fundraising for is the education of vulnerable people in one of the toughest places in the world to live. Our goal, in the future, is to build Esther her own school. A small portion of what we fundraise goes to this end as does the money raised by Esther locally. This year, we finally broke ground on the new location!

How much is left to fundraise this year?

Esther needs to pay the rest of the 2018 rent off by the end of the month, which is coming up. $3500 US is outstanding. We have about $2500 of that raised so we are close! If we get that in, the school stays open, if not, the landlord can force the school out. We've gone through that once before when we transitioned to the current location after Women in Action was forced to leave their original location when the landlord decided to tear the building down. It is not something we want to repeat as the process usually costs the school an entire semester of class time if not more. 

The education of young women is one of the most effective ways of transforming a society. I am asking you help us make that possible. Our donor community is a small one, so every donation makes a huge difference! It also means we always welcome new donors so if you are willing to share our campaign with others, I would be ever grateful. I will write them and thank them personally for donating. I also give public presentations on international development to schools who are interested in fundraising for Esther's Echo. The cost of a presentation is simply a donation to the organization. If your school or classroom needs a speaker, let me know!


All my gratitude to those of you who have already donated. I know there are so many charities tugging at your sleeves this time of year. That you choose to donate to Esther's Echo means so much to me, Esther, and the women and girls of the Women in Action Development Project. 

You can find our Facebook Donation Campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/204167650489110/

Or donate on our website by clicking the donate button below!

Help Keep the Women in Action Development Project Open!