Women of the world are an overlooked, dismissed resource for unimaginable change. Over generations, societies which tolerate or promote gender bias and deny girls and women full participation in development squander and repress the contributions of half of the world’s population. With our focus on human and economic development, Global Volunteers is committed to working with community partners who invest in women’s equality in education, mental and physical health, leadership, and economic opportunity. (Banner photo: Global Volunteer Alumna Jahnissi Tirado)
Parity in women’s and girls’ opportunity is fundamental to Global Volunteers’ development work worldwide. Through our alignment with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, we encourage and enable volunteers to invest their skills and energy in local community projects that advance equality at local, state, national and international levels.
Providing equal educational opportunities is a primary way we can care for individual women and girls, and promote nation-wide innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. Yet, for many girls and young women around the world, attending school is only a dream. In primary and secondary schools in partner communities, Global Volunteers strives to help remove barriers to girls’ education by recruiting volunteers with teaching skills, collaborating on school programs aimed at raising girls’ and women’s educational attainment, raising funds for classroom resources and girls’ lavatory projects, and educating parents about the family and community benefits of secondary and post-secondary education and occupational training for young women.
The United Nations’ International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8 in many countries to recognize women for their achievements without regard to national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political divisions. #Women’s Equality is the 2023 theme highlighting every country’s role in opposing gender bias.
By emphasizing equal access to health care and nutrition for girls and women, Global Volunteers helps ensure that they grow and develop to their highest potential to become full participants in society. Girls and women who confront pervasive economic, social and political discrimination in daily life frequently live with depression, anxiety, violence and sometimes, suicidal ideation, caused by distorted societal norms. Psychologically distressed and malnourished pregnant women and mothers are unable to adequately care for their newborns and young children, which perpetuates generational malnutrition, economic decline and wholesale poverty. In partner communities where we work to deliver 12 essential services, we introduce psychosocial support through volunteer assignments in schools, clinics, refugee relief projects, homes, and community centers.
For instance, in the Ukwega Ward of Tanzania, the focus of our Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP) in five villages is on the first 1,000 days of children’s lives. Pregnant and post-partum women who are vulnerable to mental stress because of family conflict, physical illness or disability, food or economic insecurity and many other threats participate in workshops, psychological therapy, family counseling and life skills training to ensure healthy deliveries and a network of care as the child reaches their second birthday. By helping mothers secure their children’s future, they can likewise grow in their own self-care, confidence, independence and autonomy, leading to greater participation in community life.
As nurturers, entrepreneurs, educators, laborers, and so much more, women play a global role in community and national development. In their homes, women are the lead caregivers of children and elders, and teach their families about self-care and healthy lifestyles. That’s why programs aimed at women’s health, education and employment benefit the larger community, and is the reason mothers and children at at the center of Global Volunteers’ RCP Program.
Raising Up Communities, One Woman at a Time in Tanzania
Women’s personal embrace of the RCP Program also enables Global Volunteers to help local people visualize optimal community-wide mental wellness in rural Tanzania. Mentally and physically fit families and children ultimately are the foundation for communities’ and nation’s advancement in all sectors. Raising up women to reach their full potential is a necessity in this and all communities’ development plans.
Taking a decidedly personal approach in a January, 2023 qualitative study, Global Volunteers interviewed women along with village leaders and men about their mental health needs. Depression, recovery from alcohol abuse, healing trauma, resolution of family conflict, and protection from gender-based violence were top concerns. These responses are the basis for a qualitative study by Global Volunteers Alumni Volunteer Dr. Shelley Haddock of Colorado State University.
A research report will identify long-range medical and educational interventions to meet the community’s mental health needs. This two-phase assessment follows the launch of the RCP Mental Wellness Initiative, providing psychosocial support for RCP families living with pervasive poverty, lack of access to adequate health care, insufficient education, gender bias, and related societal problems.
Volunteers with professional and learned experience share their personal mental health knowledge through workshops, public presentations, and supportive therapy. Engaging women individually and one-on-one has proven to produce significant results in the RCP Program – such as the 57% decrease in childhood stunting – which is at risk if mental health needs are not simultaneously addressed.
Community leaders have pledged their support and full engagement for interventions centered around women’s health and wellness. This includes Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) training and certification for RCP Caregivers, who will lead women’s support groups, self-esteem and life-skills training for young mothers, substance-abuse interventions for teens and adults, men’s conflict-resolution sessions, research on emerging income-generating activities for women, and presentations on all topics raised by community members.
By leveraging their own skills and compassion within a broad, hopeful knowledge base for mental wellness, Global Volunteers’ team members contribute to women’s life-long personal and global development. In this way, volunteers are the infinitely renewable resource in a community’s tool box for improving women’s status in the world.
Volunteers, staff, community leaders and families together, working for the health, safety and equal opportunities for women, will build a national model for optimal mental wellness in the Ukwega Ward of Tanzania.