One Voice, Joining with Others to Create Change


On March 8, 2011 I made my way to Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women”s Day and to attend the national CARE Conference. Along each leg I checked Facebook to see the posts about this auspicious occasion being celebrated all over the world. Each time I would feel a flutter of excitement and solidarity knowing that I too would be joining in with other women (and a few good men) from around the world to mark this anniversary and this special day.

I had several new and very moving experiences as the week progressed. I joined in with 1,200 other CARE supporters from around the world - spanning from 9 to 92 years old! I danced to the inspiring music of social advocate artists Michael Franti and Indie.Arie. I was held captive by impassioned speakers - Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, former First Lady Laura Bush, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women”s Issues Melanne Verveer, CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle, Rajiv Shah with USAID, and PBS Senior Correspondent Judy Wodruff. Tears rolled down my face several times, one of those being when the “I am Powerful’ award was given to Peninah Musyimi of Kenya. A woman who was so driven to become educated that she walked 9 miles each way to her secondary school and then taught herself to play basketball in 1 month in order to earn a scholarship to college. She now runs Safe Spaces, in the Mathare slums where she grew up, providing education, support and mentoring for girls. In a break-out session I heard what it was like to be a Country Director (there were 40 attending this conference), and how social media is being used for social change. I was trained on key issues that we “took to the Hill’ on our last day. AND, I actually lobbied for Foreign Assistance, Education for All – especially girls, and microfinancing/microsavings!

What did I learn?

What touched me the most?

How was I changed?

Warning - climbing up on soap box now…

What did I learn?

I learned that only 1% of the total U.S. budget is spent on Foreign Assistance (many Americans think this number is 25%! Wrong!) And what does this 1% of our budget do? IT SAVES LIVES! IT BUILDS ALLIES! And in the long run IT SAVES MONEY! My opinion (shared by many others) is that it”s not only the right thing to do, it”s a smart investment.

Think about this…by giving a woman in a developing country a $100 microloan, she can start a business. She learns new business skills, makes an income and is able to feed her family. She repays the loan and provides a service or product to her community. This makes her less likely to be a victim of abuse (from her husband or other men), gives her dignity, lifts her out of poverty and mentors her children. She is EMPOWERED! And this all started from a $100 loan.

Developed countries are more stable and less vulnerable to fanatical groups and behavior. So doesn”t it make sense that if we assist countries in developing, that they will become our allies and lessen the odds of becoming a threat to the U.S.?

Other health initiatives like a vaccine for pneumonia (one of the tops killers of children in poor countries) and contraceptives for women so that they can plan for their families (like we do!) are also an important part of this 1% aid.

I also learned that 71 MILLION children do not have access to an education – and 3 out of 5 are girls. If you can believe this, in 2011 there are still 12 year old girls being forced (through arranged marriages) to marry men the age of their grandfathers! BUT, a girl who is in school most likely will be saved from this. A girl who is educated will marry later, have children later, and want her children to be educated as well. She is less susceptible to violence and is valued in her family and community. And, her earning potential is increased 10-20% just by getting a primary education.

And, again, a more educated country becomes less vulnerable to terrorists and dictators who are looking for weak and uneducated people to oppress and dictate.

So these are the choices I encourage you to think long and hard about…

  1. Do we help developing countries to become stabilized – even prosperous – and educated, and in doing so save lives and build strong countries and relationships?
  2. OR, do we wait until these undeveloped countries have been ravaged by terrorists and dictators, millions of lives have been lost, and then send in our military troops – putting them in harms way – to assist with the crisis and chaos.

If you believe that #1 is what resonates best with you, PLEASE let your Congressmen/women know! Even this 1% line item is in danger of deep cuts. Will eliminating or reducing this1% really help us with our deficit – I doubt it. Will sustaining or growing this 1% do a world of good – YES!

(Climbing down off soup box.)

What touched me the most?

As I mentioned before, on several occasions I was moved to tears as I stood in a room filled with 1,200 people (mostly women) who supported the initiatives of CARE and who believed in empowering women – and who are empowered themselves!

Collectively, we had come here to celebrate women AND to speak for those women who know, and don”t know, we are here fighting for them.

It confirmed my belief that we are all connected and ONE. Despite the thousands of miles between us, I care about these impoverished souls and they need me (and ALL of us) to fight for them!

How have I changed?

I am more empowered - with knowledge, tools and stories. My cup has been filled with compassion, grief and love for impoverished women worldwide. Empowering ourselves is key – for how can I empower others if I, myself, am not empowered? This experience has affirmed in me a passion that has long been in my heart, but not at the forefront - the passion of empowering women.

What does an empowered woman look like? She exudes confidence, dignity, knowledge, self-worth and love. These qualities are attainable and necessary for the health and evolution, not only of women in the world, but for our entire planet.

And last but not least…

I am indebted to Dining For Women - the organization that first educated me about these world issues and ignited my passion for empowering women - for offering me the opportunity to go to the CARE Conference. If you don”t now about DFW, I encourage you to look at the website (, find or create a chapter near you, and attend a meeting. It just might change your life. It did mine.

Cindy Ballaro

March, 2011