This January, I returned to my home country of India with a group of Opportunity’s donors, all women, from the United States. We traveled to a tribal region in eastern India, meeting women living with big dreams but limited resources.
These women—and the generations before them—have known suffering and struggle. They have survived decades of poverty and oppression, exclusion and pain. But despite these impossible circumstances, they were the picture of grit, determination, and strength.
They proudly showed us how small loans, hard work, and their Trust Groups have changed their lives.
The women who came before them lived in dirt houses; they are now building brick and mortar structures for their families.
They watched their grandmothers and mothers graduate from walking to riding bicycles—and now they are driving their own scooters and motorcycles.
They have gone from barely being able to feed themselves to opening food stalls that feed hundreds of fellow villagers.
Their children—previously uneducated—are now enrolled in English-language schools, learning the skills they will need to break free from the generational poverty that has plagued their families for generations.
As our hosts proudly showed us their kirana (merchant) stalls, their small restaurants, and their newly built homes, I was struck by just how similar we all are. We are all working to build better futures for ourselves and our families. We share love and passions, we seek respect and opportunity. We are motivated by our ambitions and dreams.
Our new friends excitedly welcomed us into their homes, businesses, and very lives. We spoke about our children, our goals, our families, our futures. The distance between “us” and “them” felt insignificant as we gathered and shared our stories.
At one point, an Indian woman ran up to one of the women traveling with me, exclaiming, “I know you! I can’t believe you’re here!” The women had never met, of course, but the traveler happens to be a well-known television personality. Surprising all of us, our new Indian friend said that she regularly watched the show—it was her favorite program. The resulting friendship was immediate and powerful—a connection born from tiny black-and-white television in a pieced-together home in rural eastern India.
As the only man on this trip, I had a front-row seat to witness what happens when we bring women together from different countries, faiths, communities, and experiences. They forge relationships, recognize their shared experiences, and drive us all forward. They become more powerful in community with one another—and it is evident that, together, they will change the world.
This International Women’s Day, join me in celebrating and supporting this incredible global community of women.
Women around the world still face discrimination, abuse, hardship, and economic disadvantages. We have made dramatic progress, but there is still work to be done. It’s why we at Opportunity International are committed to empowering women and girls, giving them opportunities to learn, build businesses, develop their skills, and support their families.
But sitting among incredible women from around the U.S. and their new Indian sisters, I was reminded of how far we have come, how similar we are, and how much we can accomplish together. What an honor to witness this firsthand.
I can hardly wait to see what happens next.