and now, a word from a sponsor…

May 17, 2011  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

kristina steelman has been a women for women international (wfwi) sponsor for six years and has offered financial assistance to a number of women around the world. she spoke to us about her passion for the mission of the organization and about what it has meant to be able to help women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives. kristina is a national sales manager for the h.h. brown shoe company and lives in long island city, new york with her husband and dachshund, jake.

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when did you first become a wfwi sponsor?

i first became a sponsor in 2005. i had watched the movie hotel rwanda and was horrified to see the violence against women in that country as a result of war. shortly after i saw the movie, i learned in an article that the tutsis and the hutus (the warring factions in rwanda) had moved their fight into east congo. i became so upset that the women in east congo were then experiencing the same kind of violence as the women in rwanda. i wanted to do something to help. i did research online and discovered that wfwi was one of the first groups giving assistance to women in the region.

how many women have you sponsored?

over the years i’ve sponsored about 12-15 women and i’ve gotten at least one letter from all of them. it’s amazing to read about their struggles and it’s heartwarming to hear how thankful they are to know there are people who are trying to help them improve their lives.

what kind of information do you get about the women you sponsor?

i love the way that wfwi communicates with its sponsors. they send a letter introducing you to the woman you’re sponsoring (they call her your “sister”) with as much information as they have about her life at the time. they also send photos, which is a great way to make an instant connection. when your “sister” graduates from the one-year wfwi program, they send you a copy of her exit interview. all of the women i’ve sponsored have said their lives have significantly improved after graduation— everything from their reading and writing skills to their relationships with their families to their ability to send their children to school. most of the women i’ve sponsored didn’t send their female children to school until after they learned in their wfwi classes about the importance of educating their boys and girls equally.

tell us about your “sisters”:

right now i’m sponsoring two women—one from east congo and one from sudan. my “sister” in east congo has given birth to six children, two of whom are no longer alive. she also has three additional children dependent on her for care. she described her daily life to me in a letter: she gets up in the morning, sweeps the house and washes the dishes. afterwards she goes to work in the field where she grows beans. when she gets home, she takes a short rest, cooks food, washes her children, eats and goes to bed. she concluded her letter by saying “i am very grateful for the financial assistance i am getting from you. it is helping so much.” i love that if the women can write, the organization sends the letters in their own handwriting with a translation attached.

how often do you write to your “sisters” and what do you say to them?

i don’t write as often as i’d like—to be honest, sometimes i feel reluctant. in their letters they ask about where i live, what my life is like and if i have children. i feel uneasy sending them pictures of my comfortable new york apartment and telling them i have a dog but no children. sometimes i don’t know what to say which i know is a poor, poor excuse for not writing. the things i get stressed out about in my life are so insignificant in the grand scheme. i just have to get over this and write more because i know it means so much to them.

what does being a sponsor mean to you?

it gives me a feeling of connectedness and pride that i’m able to do even a small thing to change someone’s life for the better. i wish i could sponsor a hundred women a year. it’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds. in 2002, i took the year off to travel and do humanitarian work around the world. i struggled during that time because i wanted to be on the front line—helping people directly—but a lot of the projects i was involved in needed money. as an aid worker, i wasn’t making enough to give away. now that i’m back to my career in new york, i don’t get to be on the front line, but i have the money to contribute to the organizations i believe in. i feel so lucky to be in that position now, and i try to tell everyone i know about wfwi and the amazing work they do.


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