Tag Archives: Empowering Women

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.

Fanning the Flame

By Dawn Carnill
Mrs. Zione Maloni is a widowed mother of eight from a small village in Malawi. She’s also a beneficiary of the Kindle Orphan Outreach Kolezani program.

Kolezani means “kindle a fire” and comes from the idea of fanning a small spark into a brightly burning fire. Kindle wants to do just that – help families use the knowledge and resources they have, add to them, and show them how they can become self sufficient and even thrive.

kindle1Kindle (Kids in Need Deserve Love and Encouragement) is a long-time Extreme Response partner. They exist to address the physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of orphans, vulnerable children and their guardians within their own communities through education, healthcare and community development.

The Kolezani project is party of their community development program. They have developed a five-year program for Mrs. Maloni and her children, helped them with training, fertilizer, seeds and livestock at various times in the five years, with a gradual weaning from Kindle support as they save money to purchase items for themselves.

kindle2This year the the family is expected to harvest 30 50-kilogram bags of maize, which is expected to provide them with food for the entire year. They also will have a good harvest of peanuts and “cow” nuts. With the sale of their goats and extra harvest, Mrs. Maloni has been able to pay for schooling for two of her four high school-aged children. The other two are supported through Kindle’s school sponsorship program. She also is nurturing 572 trees.

Kindle is helping fan the flame for Mrs. Maloni and her eight children. She’s a great example of how Kindle is making an impact on the local communities it serve s, one family at a time.

Learn more about Kindle Orphan Outreach at www.kindlemw.org.

Gracious, Glamorous Golden Grads

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 .

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.

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.

A Complex Land Made Simple Through Compassion

IMG_6086ER Director of Women’s Advocacy Kelly McClelland just returned from a trip to the Philippines to visit our ER Asia staff, including Regional Director Joshua Benevidez and his wife Anne. Kelly shares some of the impact she experienced.

By Kelly McClelland

Last week, I spent a day with several women living in deep poverty. For these gals, every day is a struggle to obtain food, decent shelter and necessities that we take for granted. I would feel hopeless if I was in their situation, but these women were full of joy.

IMG_6078Let me explain a little about Golden Hands Sewing. This group is the result of the vision, compassion and hard work of our ER Asia staff. Golden Hands was created in order to help women escape abject poverty.

I spent 13 hours with the women, providing teaching, encouragement and a listening ear. We invited them to a luncheon at a local mall and it was evident many had not been to a mall or IMG_6057a restaurant. Looking at the menus generated both confusion and shyness. All the ladies ate half their meals and saved the other half to take home. It was humbling to see them react in such a gracious manner.

Throughout the day, the women worked on making skirts. They were like busy bees, cutting patterns, sewing and humming songs that lifted my heart. Even though they have nothing, they have IMG_6005everything. I was undone by their joyful spirits.

The previous night, I had dinner with Joshua and Anne. We experienced a beautiful sunset against the ocean. As dinner progressed, Joshua and Anne shared their love story of pain, sacrifice and rejection as they entered into full-time service to the poor.

IMG_5974As I reflected on their journey, my mind revisited scenes from earlier in the day. Anne and I had passed a man washing his clothes in a little plastic bowl. It appeared he was living next to a parked new car. The contrast was stark.

I also noticed a teenager sleeping on the sidewalk in broad daylight. It’s very possible he has been living on the sidewalk since he was a little boy. My heart sank as I thought about his life. IMG_5975In the Philippines, street children are rampant because of extreme poverty.

But my spirit was quickly buoyed with gratitude for Joshua and Anne because of their tender hearts for people living in desperate conditions. Like the rest of the ER Asia staff and our partners, they are committed to helping rescue street kids and adults, as well as people living in squatter communities.

FullSizeRenderTo those of you who have supported the work of ER’s Extreme Women, thank you so much for your investment into the lives of people who need our compassion and help. Golden Hands is one example of how we are changing lives by working together. We have many other initiatives, partners and short-term team opportunities taking place around the world. We’d love to have you join us.


KellyFor additional information on Extreme Women and how you can get involved, please contact Kelly McClelland at a kmcclelland@extremeresponse.org or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.

The Impact of Human Trafficking

Kelly in Nepal
The people in this Nepal village were friendly with Extreme Response staff.



Kelly McClelland is ER’s Director of Women’s Advocacy. She oversees Extreme Women, a program designed to empower women living in extreme conditions. Here she shares her experience of meeting human trafficking victims while working with ER partner KI Nepal last summer.

My work for ER includes advocating for women in extreme circumstances around the world. When I visited one of KI Nepal’s border crossing stations, the notion of extreme circumstances took on a whole new meaning for me.

KI Nepal works to fight human trafficking and violence against women – first by rescuing them from trafficking attempts at border crossings, then by equipping them with skills and knowledge to bring about positive holistic change.

Interview boothRescued girls are brought to KI Nepal’s temporary safe house. There they can file a report with local authorities and identify their trafficker(s). Then they can enter a resident safe house and begin the process of healing.

When I visited, I learned that five girls had been rescued from the hands of traffickers the previous day. I was asked if I would like to meet the girls, observe the counseling process and offer them a word of encouragement. Of course I said yes.

What I encountered were three girls, one with her head down, looking at her hands, the other two whispering and giggling. I guessed they were between 13 and 16 years old. I don’t know exactly what I expected to find, but it was not giggling girls. As I settled in, however, it soon became clear that those giggles were from nervousness. Girls are the same, no matter where they are in the world!

Eventually the shyness melted away and the girls warmly welcomed me. I was then invited into an inner office, where two more girls sat at a table with a pair of military inspectors and a KI Nepal counselor. These girls had begun the process of reporting their experience, which hopefully would result in their trafficker being prosecuted.

As I looked around, I saw a cell with a man inside. He had walked up to the cell door to see who had entered the room. It took some courage for me to look him in the eye. Not only was I meeting these precious victims, but right there was a trafficker, the man who was part of their nightmare. I felt an intense surge of anger as he smirked at me! Hanging on to the back of a chair, it took everything I had not to lash out at him.

Months later when I was back home, I had the opportunity to meet with a man who had been a trafficker. He had served a prison sentence in his home country, undergone a change of heart, and was now living in the U.S., where he shares his own story of life change.

My takeaway from these experiences is that human trafficking is a tragedy for everyone involved. Help is needed for both victim and trafficker to experience restoration and healing. I’ll keep doing my part, and I’m grateful for the amazing work that KI Nepal is doing.

Extreme WomenExtreme Women wishes to see women around the world rescued from the horrible perils of human trafficking. Our goal is to see the girls restored, counsel them on their road to recovery, provide them with job training and life skills, and work to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. This task is quite large and we cannot do it alone. We are so grateful to work alongside our global partners. For more information on Extreme Women or how you can help stop human trafficking, please contact us at extremewomen@extremeresponse.org.