“Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Ancient Chinese proverb
“Teach a woman to fish…she’ll feed the whole village.” Appended by Hillary Rodham Clinton
March 8th is recognized around the world as International Women’s Day. It’s not an invention of some politically correct, 21st century, radical feminist. In fact, it traces its beginnings back to 1911 and has been celebrated globally by men and women for over a century now. The original purpose of the day was to highlight women’s economic, political, and social achievements throughout history. Today, the focus is more likely to be on the work yet to be done and the role women can play in shaping a better future for themselves, their families, their communities…and the world. Internationally, organizations like Women Thrive, Women for Women, and 60 Million Girls have taken leadership roles in this important work as it relates to the issue of global poverty. Locally, our very own Caroline Center has redirected the lives of thousands of urban poor women in Baltimore City and, in the process, has paved the way towards a successful, safe, and secure future for each.
The sad fact is, women are no strangers to poverty. Today, they make up 70% of the planet’s poor. Most live in underdeveloped countries in the third world. Now, it’s a universally accepted belief that a key to ending poverty is education…not just for some but for all. And as the notable saying goes: When you educate a woman, you educate a nation (attributed to everyone from Brigham Young to Mahatma Gandhi to James Kwegyir-Aggrey… all men, I might add). According to the 60 Million Girls website, “research convincingly shows that programs directed to the education of girls are more effective than virtually any other community investment in the developing world.” The point is, to paraphrase the Women Thrive website, “When women thrive, everyone thrives.”
This is as true for the developed world as it is for the undeveloped world. Let’s take a look at our own back yard. While the poverty rate in the United States, the richest nation on earth, hovers around 16%, in Baltimore City, the poverty rate spikes upward to 27%. And 77% of poor families in Baltimore are headed by a single female. Most of these women were born into a culture and system that worked against them from the start. Those who run Caroline Center know that if they can help these women turn their lives around, they not only give them a shot at a better life, but also give their children and communities a more hopeful future. And they do it through education. At Caroline Center, in addition to providing job training in careers where there is the potential for advancement, they also offer the required course work necessary to fill in long neglected math and literacy skill gaps; skills critical for success in the working world. Caroline Center also provides guidance in life skills including financial literacy, budgeting, coping skills, personal negotiating, and more. Beyond the course work – and perhaps more significant – Caroline Center functions as an advocate for each woman before, during, and after she is enrolled in the program. There is almost nothing Caroline Center won’t do to get one of their women out of a scrape, back on track, and headed in the right direction. Those who make it and find themselves on the other side of hopelessness pay it forward in big and small ways every day. They share their hard won knowledge with those women who come after them and hold nothing back in the telling. Speaking from experience – both good and bad – Caroline Center grads share wisdom on everything from relationships to child rearing to housing to professionalism.
It’s not that women have a corner on transformation. Every human being has the potential to make the world a better place. But perhaps women have a special role because of their nurturing spirit and their natural inclination to share what they know with others.
There are those who believe the soul of the world – the anima mundi – is feminine in nature. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But I do know, for this little part of the world…Baltimore…women are at its heart. And if you reach one of them, you do indeed reach an entire community.