Category Archives: Women’s Advocacy

Let’s Celebrate! 20 Ways To Engage With ER This Year

ER Save the Date 20 Year Postcard

Having grown up in Ecuador and experiencing ER’s outreach to the poorest of the poor first-hand, Rheanna Cline created the following list to encourage everyone to celebrate 20 years of ER Christmas parties in the Quito Dump.

By Rheanna Lea Cline

Through the work of Extreme Response, thousands of people living in extreme situations are experiencing significant life change. With programs and partners in nine countries, ER provides many opportunities to get involved in our life-changing work with at-risk people. Here are a few of those opportunities:

  1. Tell your friends, coworkers, and family members about us.
  2. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and learn more about what we’re doing around the world at www.extremeresponse.org/newsletter-signup.
  3. Like us on Facebook.
  4. Join one of our Christmas Outreach Teams to bring hope to the hopeless during the holidays.
  5. Bring a few of your friends together to donate $100/month to Safe180 and help a girl rescued from human trafficking stay in a safe home.
  6. Check out our Changing Lives Blog to read more about the people impacted by our work.
  7. Become a coach in our Leadership Community to help encourage and inspire developing leaders.
  8. Donate to our Extreme Women initiative to help us provide education, counseling, intervention, nourishment, medical support, and job training for at-risk women.
  9. Gather a few friends from your church, school, or business to go on an Extreme Team volunteer trip.
  10. Consider joining our team as a Career Worker to use your skills and talents for one year or more to help the poor and vulnerable of the world.
  11. Give $20/month to provide for all of one boy’s needs for a year in our Manila Children’s Home.
  12. Host your own fundraising event, such as a car wash or bake sale, and send the funds through ER to ensure that those most in need benefit from your efforts.
  13. Follow us on Instagram.
  14. Host an informational event at your home with one of our leaders there to speak to your group.
  15. Shop through AmazonSmile and select ER as your designated charity to have 0.5% of all purchases automatically donated to us.
  16. Donate a few dollars a month to the Extreme Kids Scholarship Fund to cover the costs for a South African kid to attend and stay in school.
  17. Send your disaster relief donations to ER and directly impact people affected by the disaster.
  18. Donate $20/month to provide a Quito Dump Kid with lunch for a full month.
  19. Collect hygiene items and toys for our Christmas Parties around the world.
  20. Intern with us for a summer at one of our locations in South America, Africa or Asia.

For more information on any of these opportunities, please visit our website at www.extremeresponse.org or contact us by email at info@extremeresponse.org.

Gracious, Glamorous Golden Grads

IMG_3557
Anne and Johshua Benavidez flank graduate Emelita Sumaya.

By Anne Benavidez, Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program Director

IMG_3568Like caterpillars emerging as beautiful butterflies from their cocoons, eight members of the Golden Hands Livelihood Education Program celebrated being the program’s very first graduates. Each of the women wore dresses they made themselves and enjoyed a time of recognition, glamour and thankfulness.

The graduation ceremony was a very big deal. You see, all of these women came from humble backgrounds. Most live in squatter communities and struggle with extreme poverty, substandard living IMG_3630conditions and a lack of opportunity.

Two years ago, none of them would have envisioned themselves being celebrated. They had little hope that their lives would improve. But today, in a fancy ceremony that involved flowers, photos and the presentation of new sewing machines as graduation gifts, the women were honored for their achievements.

So what caused the transformation to take place?

The short answer is that people cared. Extreme Response Asia staff members saw the needs and became determined to find a way to encourage, inspire and equip these women to strive for better lives. We saw the potential in the women, even though many of the women could not yet see it in themselves.

IMG_3648Our desire to help the women led to the formation of the Golden Hands Sewing group, which evolved into the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program a year later. We had to change the name because the program was accomplishing far more than teaching sewing skills.

For one, the women were discovering self-respect and confidence. For another, they were growing trusted new relationships. They also were learning life skills, business skills and spiritual depth. They were becoming well-rounded people, filled with hope and grace.

IMG_3650So that’s why celebrating the graduation of eight women from the Golden Hands program was so big. It was so much more than certificates and gifts. We affirmed them in a very powerful way.

To get to this point, the women had to commit to attend weekly classes for eight months and finish all their assignments. They had to learn cutting, pattern making, basic sewing, crocheting and some knitting. Eight of 10 enrollees made it all the way through the program.

IMG_3645As a special incentive, ER provided a sewing machine and starter kit for all eight graduates. Going forward, the women will receive continuous training and coaching. Most of them are planning to start businesses, including six who want to pool their capital, work as a team and share profits.

During the last year, the women have built a lot of self-confidence, created a community among themselves and become closer than ever. They acquired skills that they say will not be taken away from them, that they will bring with them wherever they go. Even if they are forced to leave the places where they now live, they will bring skills that will provide livelihood wherever they relocate. They now have a weapon to fight poverty.

IMG_3590Anne Benavidez is the director of the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program located in Makati City near Manila. Click here and here to learn more about the Golden Hands program.

Sowing Hope While Sewing Clothes

Emily Abajar
Golden Hands has helped Emily Abajar learn not only about sewing, but to have hope in her life.

By Pen Pen Bullo, Extreme Response Asia Staff

In today’s short-cut society, there are “life hacks” that teach us quick and easy ways to fix things. But when it comes to lives broken by poverty, abuse, abandonment, oppression, human trafficking and neglect, there are no short cuts, no simple hacks to make things better.

IMG_6837Faced with huge challenges regarding the plight of women struggling with poverty and lack of hope in the Philippines, the ER Asia staff knew it had to use long-term, sustainable tools to help women and children, who often are marginalized in Filipino society.

About four years ago, a group of mothers and women from a small community of poor informal settlements in Makati City decided to meet on a regular basis. Their purpose is to spend productive time learning more skills rather than hanging out with neighbors playing cards and chatting.

IMG_5668Extreme Response Asia’s Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program took the initiative to train, educate and organize the women, most of whom come from the informal settlements. The aim of the program is to empower and change the lives of women living in extreme and often life-threatening situations.

Last year, program director Anne Benavidez developed a community-based curriculum for the group. They meet once a week for values formation and skills enhancement. They were taught how to do basic sewing and pattern making for skirts, swing bags, double-sided aprons and a whole lot more. During the training, the women developed not only their skills, but also self-confidence and trusted relationships.

Edwina Cautivo
Edwina Cautivo

Edwina Cautivo is one of the members of the group and a single mother of a deaf and mute child. They used to live in a small house with no proper electricity or water supply. During the meetings she was encouraged by the group to find a proper place for her children, a safer home in which to live. With courage and faith, she made the decision to rent an apartment for her family, which we celebrated. She is now an empowered woman with a changed life.

As a group of bonded women, we rejoice when we see that lives are being changed. Lorna Serano (lower right) and Emily Abajar (top of page) are examples of changed lives. Each has experienced abundant blessings and are enjoying the hope of freedom from poverty. Little by little, they are acquiring the skills and talents through the livelihood sewing program which they will use to meet their financial needs.

Lorna Serrano
Lorna Serrano displays one of the bags made by the group.

Emily Abajar is now in the process of launching her own home-based alteration shop She said the skills training received through Golden Hands have given her the opportunity, confidence and knowledge on basic sewing and pattern making. She is excited and looking forward to the culminating ceremony on the April 1. She will be among the first women to graduate from the program.

We at Extreme Response Asia are truly encouraged to see changed lives and empowered women in the community, thriving to overcome poverty, oppression and injustice in the society. Indeed every single day is a blessing, a spark of hope and an avenue for change.

Pen “Pen Pen” Bullo serves at-risk communities in and around Manila as part of her duties with Extreme Response Asia. She also travels to remote villages to help teach disaster preparedness and response.

Learn more about the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program and our work and partners in Asia .

Every Day Should Be International Women’s Day

IMG_9207
ER volunteer Roxanne Wilson shares a hug with a woman in Quito, Ecuador.

by Kelly McClelland, ER Women’s Advocacy Director

Starting today, you’ll see lots of news stories touting gender equality and equal rights for women in recognition of International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8. This is a worthy cause and deserving of our attention, consideration and support.

But Extreme Response (ER) won’t be holding any special celebrations to mark the occasion. You see, our mission – every day – is to come alongside and help women and children who are struggling with extreme conditions like poverty, abandonment, hunger, lack of education and human trafficking. The women ER and our partners serve are mostly in developing countries like Ecuador, South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, the Philippines, Nepal and Haiti.

Two years ago, we took an extra step to assure that we were focusing on the needs of women by forming the Women’s Advocacy team within ER. These “Extreme Women” are committed to traveling to places of the world where women are forgotten, rejected and have no societal safety net to help them.

“Throughout the world women and children live in substandard conditions in comparison to their male counterparts. We have the ability to make a difference and we have a responsibility to reach out and help these women and children with education, hygiene, counseling care and shelter,” said Kelly McClelland, ER’s Women’s Advocate Director.

It is no small task to help women struggling in these situations. Many have been deeply hurt and often abused. So we start by building trust, acknowledging their self-worth and showing them how much we love and value them. From there we provide encouragement, counseling, skill-building, nutrition and more. It’s a long but worthy road. Helping women looks different in each place we operate so we rely tremendously on our regional staff and partners.

IMG_8821
ER’s Women’s Advocacy team reaches out to women with encouragement, life skills, crafts and helping meet physical needs.

So what does it look look like to actually go and help women in crisis?

Roxanne Wilson is one of our Women’s Advocacy team members from Michigan. She jumped at the chance to visit Ecuador in order to pour into women in crisis. Here is her first-hand account of visiting ER partner Dunamis, a Quito-based organization that helps restore girls from the abuses of human trafficking.

“When I walked into Dunamis, the girls were all seated around a table listening to one of their teachers speaking words of love and encouragement to them,” Roxanne said. “They greeted us with “Holas!” and welcomed us into their safe place with hugs.

“At that moment I was so humbled that these young girls were so willing to spend the day with six U.S. strangers. Our team had planned on doing a manicure for each of the girls while we there. Little did we know that the girls wanted to do them on us! It was such a special time to give and get in return.

IMG_8875
Painting nails is one way the volunteers show honor and build the self-image of at-risk women.

“We were able to communicate to the girls through interpreters. As I listened to them speak, I realized how young they were. Some were just 12 years old. I listened to them talk about hair, make-up, clothes and Taylor Swift. These were all typical “tween” and teenage topics, yet some of these girls already had babies.  All of them had been involved in human trafficking.

“Their families had hurt most of them, yet they still had love and concern for their abusers. ‘How could that be?’, I thought. I cannot fathom the horrors their little eyes have seen. Although I spent only a day with them, their faces and hurts are burned into my memory. The work Dunamis is doing in Quito is so inspiring,” she added.

ER remains committed to helping victims like the girls at Dunamis. Our Extreme Women host volunteer teams, do projects and raise funds for women who have no where else to turn. We would love to have you join us.

KellyExtreme Women is an advocacy program created by women to help women in need. Extreme Women aims to: restore women from human trafficking, counsel the abused and abandoned, provide job training and life skills, develop leaders, and break the cycle of poverty. For additional information on Extreme Women and how you can get involved, please contact Kelly McClelland at a kmcclelland@extremeresponse.org or click here to learn more.  

Dunamis is an ER partner located in Quito, Ecuador, that seeks to restore the rights of young women and adolescents victimized by human trafficking. Its work includes teaching workshops to help young women reintegrate socially and successfully enter the workplace. Many of the girls have children, so Dunamis also has created a childcare program that takes place during workshop hours. The organization is currently seeking to purchase land in order to provide a safe home and training center. Learn more.

Dunamis Helps Teen Mother Take Steps Toward Healing

Dunamis-2In Quito, Ecuador, ER partner Dunamis seeks to restore the rights of young women and adolescents victimized by human trafficking. Here volunteer Rebekah Byrnes shares the story of how Dunamis touched the life of one of those young ladies – and how her own life was touched as well.

The first day is always a little awkward. You don’t know quite what to say, or what to do. And the girls aren’t sure about you yet – not sure if you speak Spanish, not sure if they can trust you. So you just watch.

But Paola made my first day at Dunamis just a bit more comfortable. During a jewelry workshop, she invited me to sit and work with her. Right from the start, knowing Paola has been a blessing to me.

Paola, 15 at the time, had dark, shoulder-length hair and a thick accent common to Ecuador’s coastal region. She had a baby, Naty, who was not quite a year old. I noticed she spent a lot of time in the baby room with Naty. She clearly loved her child, but it was also evident that often she would wake the baby up simply because she didn’t want to be a part of an activity the rest of the girls were doing.

Dunamis-3As I observed these frequent “escapes,” I learned more of Paola’s story from the staff members, and her behavior began to make sense. When she was young, her mother had sold her to an old man who lived nearby, and he abused her sexually. Later, she sold Paola to some of the man’s friends as well, and then to a brothel, where the police eventually rescued her.

Paola’s baby was a result of the abuse she suffered. Another consequence was that she became schizophrenic, a disorder characterized by an inability to recognize what is real, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and auditory hallucinations.

We also discovered another reason she didn’t want to participate in group activities: She didn’t know how to read. She would always disappear during book club times. Our book club teacher, Lena Dietz, bought some children’s books for her one day. When it was suggested that Paola and I read together in private, she jumped up enthusiastically, giggling and happy. She was really excited to have me read to her.

Dunamis-1The first few weeks, I read aloud to her. Then I started working with her on the alphabet. We went through the alphabet and talked about what sounds each letter made, then wrote down some words and how to spell them. She was good at spelling her name, so she would proudly write that in every session. We played some literacy games; between games, I would read to her, making her sound out a few words on each page. By the end of our time together, she had read an entire page of that children’s book on her own.

Unfortunately, due to the way the shelter system in Ecuador works, Dunamis is not always able to keep the girls for extended periods, and the time came for Paola to move on. It was decided that she would go back to live with her mother again, this time under the watchful eye of her aunt.

When the day came for her to leave, I told Paola that God is always with her and she began to cry. I had never seen her cry until then; in fact, showing any sort of emotion was rare, though she smiled or laughed often enough. She shed only a few tears, but I could see real emotion and I believe that she loved Dunamis more than she could express.

Sexual abuse dehumanizes a woman and destroys her sense of worth. In Paola’s case, it even destroyed her sense of reality. But we know that broken people can be healed and made new. I believe Dunamis was exactly where Paola needed to be during that time in her life, and that she was able to see that she truly is loved. We made a difference for her, and she made a difference in my life, too.

Learn more about how Dunamis here, and go to extremeresponse.org/take-action/extreme-women for information on how you can help protect at-risk girls and women like Paola.

Panty Project To Help Women in Poverty

By Kelly McClelland, ER Director of Women’s Advocacy

Imagine digging through the garbage on a daily basis for recyclable items likes plastic, cardboard, glass and metal to earn your living. Now imagine surviving off of what you uncover in the garbage by selling what you find, eating IMG_3301leftover food, and reusing any goods you find, including underwear. For many families living near the Zambiza dump in Quito, Ecuador, this is their reality.

Last year when I toured the dump, I noticed the deplorable situation many workers face. The conditions are oppressive and can appear hopeless. Women are using dirty underwear, making themselves vulnerable to diseases that could not only affect them physically, but also their livelihood. They struggle to get medications because they might miss work to visit a doctor.  They cannot afford the medications without working. It perpetuates the cycle of defeat.

The Panty Project was born out of this great need. The project aims to provide fresh, clean underwear for women PP logoand children. It’s but one small step in helping to break the cycle of poverty. This September, our Women’s Advocacy team has set a goal to provide 100 women and children with underwear for 2016.

When I put my several pairs of clean underwear in my drawer after doing laundry, I’m reminded that women globally don’t have this luxury. The Panty Project is something so simple, yet so positive. A pair of undergarments really does make a world of difference to these girls!

Would you consider helping us this fall? $50 provides underwear for one woman or child for an entire year. If you would like to help, visit our donation page and designate your gift “WA Panty Project”.

KellyTo learn more about Women’s Advocacy, email Kelly McClelland at kmcclelland@extremeresponse.org or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.

Heartrending Stories, Radiant Beauty

By Kim Merrefield, Extreme Women’s Communications Writer

Extreme Women volunteer Kim Merrefield recently returned from a visit with ER partners in South Africa. Here she describes her experiences meeting women of uncommon inner beauty.

“The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.”
–Audrey Hepburn

Extreme Women-1At the beginning of 2015, my husband and I decided to join a short-term trip to Cape Town, South Africa with Extreme Response. Specifically, we were going with the Women’s Advocacy team – Extreme Women – to love on the women and children we advocate for.

In the months leading up to the trip, our fearless leader, Kelly McClelland, told me many times that when I actually met the ladies we advocate for, I would be forever changed. I was excited, yet had no clue what to expect, having never gone on a short-term trip before.

After months of prepping and planning, the day finally came to board the plane and see the ladies. Over the course of the 10-day trip in August, we got to sit with several different partners to hear their stories, ask them questions, and most of all, just love on them. Each day I was filled with emotion, from heartbreak to gratitude, as I listened to their stories, hugged their children and tried to comprehend their circumstances.

Extreme Women-2I heard stories from women that made me laugh. I heard stories of rape and poverty that made me want to cry and hold them tight. But most of all I heard stories of hope and strength. In the midst of uncontrollable and desolate surroundings, the beauty that flowed from these women – many who have few material possessions – left me in awe. Their smiles had not been withered by the storm, their hearts had not been hardened, and their eyes still had that flicker of light beaming from them. Their beauty was as radiant as ever.

Kelly was right: I am forever changed. I cannot un-hear their stories. I cannot un-see the look in their eyes. I cannot go back to where I was before going on the trip.

Extreme Women-4Extreme Response exists to “change the lives of those living in extreme, often life-threatening, situations,” but I think the ones most changed are the individuals who volunteer to work alongside them.

Somehow the love in their hearts and the beauty in their eyes manage to leave a lasting impression – one you cannot help but be forever changed by.

For additional information on Extreme Women, contact Kelly McClelland at kmcclelland@extremeresponse.org or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.