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By Miracle Nwankwo

In commemoration of the International Women’s Day we would like to appraise the efforts of women philanthropist and humanitarians in war-torn areas and refugee camps all over the world, working towards making life worth a living for most refugee women.

As such, we bring you the story of the inspirational activities of two women in Jerash Refugee camp in Jordan.

In a world where women are compelled to carry the burden of providing for their families in refugee camps as a result of war, Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sofia founded a women-led social enterprise, Sitti Soap – to empower women in Jerash Refugee camp.

It all began when Noora started working in a refugee camp and she founded an NGO called Hopes for Women in Education. Through her NGO she got connected with many other refugee camps, including Jerash, where Sitti is currently located. She soon met Jacqueline, who just arrived Jordan as a Fulbright Fellow and they immediately bonded. During the same period, the Italian Embassy had empowered a group of women with the skill of cold-pressed olive oil soap making. Of which most of the women were from the Jerash camp.

Having learnt the art of soap making, the women were disadvantaged in terms of lack of means to market the product or to make any money out of their newly acquired skill. Fortunately, they met Noora and expressed their concerns. It was on hearing about the situation that Sitti began to take form in the hearts of Noora and Jacqueline.

Noora and Jacqueline decided to partner and join forces to help these women achieve something with their lives. They knew these women needed to find a source of sustainable income to help their families.

When Sitti was conceived these two women began to work hard to make the idea a reality, not for their own gains or for the advertisement of the soap itself, but most importantly “to amplify the stories of these women whose desires are now geared towards finding purpose. 

The soap making business whether produced from natural or chemical, handmade or machine-made is not new to the business world or the manufacturing industry. However, what is somewhat new is a bunch of refugee women making and selling handmade olive oil-based soap which is now a multi-national brand and can be found in various outlets across the Middle East and North America.

The zeal of these resilient refugee women, who, out of nothing, wanted to make something out of their lives ignited hunger in Noora and Jacquiline who are now spending the significant parts of their lives creating employment for refugee women.

Some of the women had never worked before and they did not have access to jobs outside of the refugee camp. So Noora and Jacquilie concluded that if they have to help these women achieve their dreams then it would require creating a conducive environment for them to work. So they found a place in the refugee camp and renovated it from start to finish.

They did not stop at that, they went further to organize a crowdfunding campaign and they were fortunate to gather enough fund that covered the salaries of three full-time workers for about a year. As result Sitti came to into existence.

 

According to Noora, ‘Sitti’ is an Arabic word which means ‘my grandmother’. The idea for the company stems from the traditions of how grandmothers used natural ingredients to make household materials with their hands.

Currently, Sitti product line has grown from a signature square bar of cold-pressed olive oil soap to a line of over 10 skincare and home good items. Sitti has also continued to provide fair wage employment to its all-female staff as well as creating several beneficiary programmes that contribute towards the company’s mission, throughout the past years.

In pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals, Sitti aims to support other areas of the Jerash economy.

A great philanthropist once said: “It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved.” –Mother Teresa

As years and decades pass by new troubles and problems continues to unfold all around the world. From hunger to war, climate change, gender inequality, female genital mutilation, poverty, deteriorating health care, insecurities and the list is endless. 

As such various international organisations and non-governmental organisations are continuously established and launched to help solve these problems for a better and peaceful world. 

However, what is more striking and inspiring are the individual responses and reactions through aids and supports channeled towards saving humanity from the various problems that they face daily.

In Nepal Rita Thapa founded Tewa after returning from Beijing, where she spoke on a panel at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing. (The same conference where Hillary Clinton famously declared “women’s rights are human rights.”)

She had been granted a full scholarship to study at a university in New Zealand, but on returning from Beijing she quit her job, declined her scholarship and cleared out a room in her house to start what is now known as Tewa.

Twenty-two years later, Tewa is a well-established nonprofit in Nepal, driving out discrimination and injustice through women’s empowerment programs. Unlike most nonprofits in the country, Tewa, which means support in Nepali, strives to collect more than half of its funds from within Nepal. It is a radical vision for a nonprofit in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the average annual income per person is $2,520 and foreign aid in 2015 totaled $1.2 billion.

Thapa’s decision to launch Tewa may have appeared abrupt. But it was in fact the culmination of a lifetime of events, starting with Thapa’s forced marriage to an older man at the age of 18. Her husband later died in an accident, and Thapa was plunged into the harsh world of Hindu widow rituals, which range from wearing all white to verbal abuse to solitary confinement.

“If a privileged woman like me in Nepal was suffering so many discriminations and backlashes on account of being a ‘Hindu widow’—quote unquote, that’s what everybody thinks I am—I felt that … I had really no choice,” said Thapa of her decision to start Tewa.

Thapa’s struggles as a widow were followed by a period of professional struggles, also central to Tewa’s conception. After her husband died, Thapa went into the field of development to support her children and moved into a house her parents owned in Kathmandu.

To get Tewa off the ground, Thapa asked her girlfriends to sell their best jewelry and donate the proceeds to her fledgling operation. She recruited affluent housewives and influential women in Nepal to become Tewa advisors and support the organization through membership dues. She referred to herself not as an executive director, but as a coordinator, eschewing the hierarchical structures that she would see thwart progress at large INGOs.

Thapa envisioned an organization that would be free from the flaws that she would encountered again and again in her early career. In most of her positions prior to Tewa, she was managed by white, male foreigners who she said disregarded the advice of their Nepali staff at the peril of their programs. The more time she spent in aid and development, the more concerned she became. At a refugee camp in Nepal, she found out that men in charge were distributing extra supplies to women who lived at the camps in exchange for sexual favors. In the grantmaking sphere, she saw nonprofit leaders crafting proposals to cater to the whims of funders; others received grants only if they promised a kickback to the granting officer.

“I could not be part of a system which was contradictory to the very thing it was offering to do. Working to eradicate poverty and injustices from within structures where poverty and injustices were reproduced on a daily basis seemed a little short of schizophrenic to me,” Thapa wrote in her essay, “Feminist Action in Aidland: Experiences in Nepal.

“I felt development had to be done differently,” she wrote, “with more heart, respect and compassion.”

Empowering women through grantmaking

Tewa has done things differently. To date, the organization has awarded nearly 600 grants, typically to registered women’s organizations in remote Nepalese communities.

“That group takes the money for whatever their greatest need is. It may be a beekeeping project that they want to do with the community women. It may be a goat-raising project. It may be a vegetable-farming project. But basically, they are building a small infrastructure for income generation or capacity building projects,” Thapa said.

The value of Tewa’s locally rooted approach crystallized in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015.

The quake killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed more than 500,000 homes, and left some 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Major aid organizations scrambled to reach the hardest-hit communities. But Tewa reached 120 communities in 15 affected-districts within 70 days, often delivering the first wave of relief in struggling remote villages.

While many INGOs struggled with bureaucratic trappings, Tewa mobilized a group of 22 Nepalese women named “Shadow Barefoot Volunteers.” They carried cash to earthquake-devastated communities and gave it away to survivors in $100 batches.

“We were told it would not be secure, but we felt whenever disaster strikes suddenly people become victims. But people are like you and I. Yes, we’d be in shock for a little while, but how would we lose our common sense and our integrity and whatever we hold dear? So, we just trusted that they knew what they most needed for themselves,” Thapa said.

Tewa’s disaster relief model quickly evolved to include asking grantees if they would be willing to redirect $1 of their $100 grant to another earthquake survivor in need. Almost universally, they agreed.

“We met with the same success everywhere. You treat people like people and not victims, and they’ll respond like that,” Thapa said.

Tewa’s success stands in stark contrast to earthquake recovery as a whole in Nepal. The Accountability Lab, a nonprofit that operates in Nepal, reported earlier this year that barely 5% of earthquake-destroyed houses have been rebuilt.

Direct giving programs that follow similar models to Tewa’s have also yielded promising results. MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, in partnership with an American charity, GiveDirectly, found that people don’t waste direct cash grants on cigarettes and booze. They use it to buy better food for their families, invest in their children’s education and start profitable businesses.

Institute of Cultural Affairs, another nonprofit in Nepal, also distributes grants to women with entrepreneurial goals. High above Kathmandu valley, in a hilltop village called Changunarayan, an ICA-funded women’s center is transforming the community. When I visited Changunarayan a few months ago, I met a woman who makes sanitary napkins, by hand, to distribute to other rural communities where menstruation is still taboo. I met a woman who manages a thriving candy-making enterprise, using a fruit native to Nepal. I met Devaka Shrestha, who runs the center, including its new library, and the grant program that is fueling it all.

“The community has changed a lot,” Shrestha told me from a tidy room on the top floor of the center. “Instead of the men, the women are taking initiative. They’re not limited to household activities.”

Backed by Tewa, women in a village hit hard by the 2015 earthquake, Sindhupalchowk, are also stepping into new roles. One woman in the village recently ran for public office. This is exactly the kind of locally led progress that Rita Thapa has fought her whole life trying to foster.

“It’s women who are holding the peace in their communities. It’s women who are holding their communities together, and without focusing on them, there is nothing,” Thapa said from Kathmandu, where she remains determined to change the aid system in Nepal, no matter how long it takes.

Source: Forbes

“We are connected to nature, we find our resources in nature, we protect it; nature is completely intertwined with our culture and way of life.”

Those were the wise words of a West African woman environmentalist who is fighting for the survival of her people in a little place in Chad. Born in Chad in 1984, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim spent her formative years between N’Djamena the capital city of Chad where she studied, and her holidays with her community, the indigenous Mbororo people, who are traditionally nomadic farmers.

During her undergraduate days Ibrahim was discriminated against as an indigenous woman, she was also aware of the ways in which her Mbororo counterparts were excluded from the educational opportunities she received. Having borne the pain of discrimination, she founded the Association of Indigenous Peul Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT) in 1999, to help promote the rights of girls and women in the Mbororo community and inspire leadership and advocacy in environmental protection.

This was not the last of her inspirational impact towards raising awareness among world leaders about the rights of indigenous people and climate change. Because she was convinced of the importance of the existence of her people, and also because no nation, tribe or people deserves to be treated less or in disdain, Ibrahim has always been ready to go the extra mile for her people.

As such, she once said “If we don’t take action against climate change, it’ll be my people who will disappear, and disappearing with them will be not just their culture, but also their precious knowledge of the environment.”

Ibrahim is the third child in a family of five brothers and sisters. Although the Mbororo culture did not give full consent to the education of a girl child, Ibrahim’s parents allowed her and her sisters to attend school in Chad’s capital. 

Having witnessed how the life of her community is threatened by climate change, she mobilized her own people, and challenged them to raise awareness among her village’s elderly chiefs of the value of women’s advice, and to think together about how to adapt to adversity. 

The Mbororo people are an ethnic subgroup of 250,000 members of the Fulani, the largest nomadic people in the world, inhabitants of central and western Africa. They survive from small-scale farming and cattle-raising in the arid Sahel area, in the southern part of the Sahara Desert.

According to Ibrahim, the Mbororo people, practice large-scale transhumance (the seasonal herding of livestock to fresh grazing grounds) in the Sahel region every year following the rhythm of the season. In doing so, they along with their herds, contribute to looking after the ecosystem, fertilising the soil and thereby protecting biodiversity. But for the past 10 years, maybe longer, the environment has been rapidly changing. In the community, the older generations no longer recognise the seasons. They are confronted by intense droughts, heatwaves, and then, all of a sudden, by floods. This is climate change and its social, economic and cultural consequences are hitting the community hard. 20 years ago, their cows produced milk twice a day during the dry season. Today, because of climate change, they can milk them only once every two days.

While international organisations are doing their best to help save lives and preserve communities, from the heat of climate change in many places around the world, there is still a need for the likes of Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim to help facilitate the processes.

In pursuit of curbing climate change, Ibrahim developed an innovative project in Chad that brought together 500 indigenous herders to map natural resources in the region in 2013. The project was divided into two groups, the first group consist of men who documented mountainous areas, rivers and places considered sacred, while the second group consist of women who mapped the springs. The project caught the attention of the national government, which began using the survey to inform public policy and on the other hand this brought Ibrahim’s identity as a thought leader to the spotlight. 

“People gradually accepted me as a leader,” says Ibrahim. “I have been changing the way women are seen and treated in our communities.”

Ibrahim is a leader in various leadership capacities and her commitment to advocating for the importance of indigenous knowledge in mitigating the effects of climate change is enormous. She is co-Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, representing the group at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and of the Pan-African Alliance Climate Justice (PACJA), where she also acts as the chair of recruitment. 

She is also a member of the Policy Board of the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Partnership (UNIPP) and of the Executive Committee for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC).

Ibrahim was recognized as a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer in 2017, a program that recognizes and supports outstanding scientists, conservationists, storytellers, and innovators. In that same year, she was featured as one of the BBC’s 100 Women project, recognizing 100 influential and inspiring women every year. In 2018, she was listed as one of BBC’s 100 Women.

Beyond her overarching dedication to fight for climate change and the right of indigenous people and women, is a heart for humanity. The world needs a lot of people like Ibrahim.

Miracle Nwankwo

By Miracle Nwankwo

“Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health,” says Sanjay Wijesekera, former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

Menstrual hygiene seems to be a difficult experience for most women and young girls in rural areas of developing regions. Although the problem persists, we must not lose strength in our pursuit of promoting menstrual equity which is key to achieving women empowerment. As such, the world should work towards ending period poverty and guaranteeing access to portable water and sanitation for all by 2030. 

Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management.

While enormous efforts are ongoing in different parts of the world to help women and young girls maintain a proper and hygienic menstrual lifestyle, Lolo Cynthia, a public health specialist and sexuality health educator, gathered 250 girls in southwest Nigeria last August with the aim of tackling period poverty with reusable pads.

Last summer Cynthia spent the break training and educating 250 girls on how to sew their own reusable menstrual pads from linens and cloth. 

The initiative which was fully funded by the first lady of Nigeria’s Ondo state, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, ensured that each girl went home with two washable pads and materials to make more reusable menstrual pads.

Cynthia’s period pad initiative also involved straight talk about sexual health which is not so common among teenage girls and in a country like Nigeria where discussions around menstruation and sexual health are often seen as a taboo.

According to a study conducted in three Nigerian states by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a large percentage of teenage girls “believed that menstruation was a secret and unclean experience.” While menstruating, they experienced anxiety, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and a loss of appetite. 

The scarcity of menstruation and sexual health education among Nigeria female children is not the only present problem to tackle. Another major issue is the high cost of sanitary pads. In a country like Nigeria where an estimated 44 percent of its population (87 million people) live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.90 per day, menstrual products are heavily taxed and a pack of sanitary pads costs an average of $1.30.

“Lolo’s eco-friendly pad is a viable business that should be replicated across Nigeria,” says Oritseweyinmi Erikowa-Orighoye, a friend of Cynthia’s and project manager at the Coastal and Marine Areas Development Initiative. “If women learn how to make reusable sanitary pads, they can also use it as a means of livelihood, turning it into a wealth-creation avenue.” Indeed, women in Ondo have already started to make money since the training.

While this seems like a lasting solution to ending period poverty in Nigeria, Cynthia faces a lot of challenges in getting the people to embrace the innovation. Challenges like cultural beliefs around sex to raising funds and making contacts to penetrating certain corners of society. 

Another challenge was getting funds for the project. “Most times I reach out to people to donate for projects, and we haven’t been able to get proper grants and sponsors,” Cynthia says. 

When she realized that she could not get enough money for the project she entered a partnership with the Ondo state first lady and Dolapo Olaniyan, executive director of the Gender Equality and Empowerment Network, which helped to kick of the project.

Dealing with period poverty amongst Nigerian women is a concern to Cynthia who understands the everyday struggles of single women in the country. “As a woman, when you grow up in Nigeria, you would see so many things that are unacceptable and you would see real big issues that affect every single woman,” Cynthia says. “We sometimes look at it as a conversation that does not matter and prefer talking about the economy, so I decided to do something about it.”

The journey to ending period poverty began during her study days in South Africa. She encountered some girls complaining of the high cost of sanitary pads. When she returned to Nigeria, she took what she calls a triple-A approach to period poverty —  access, awareness and affordability which started with the NoDayOff Campaign, distributing over a thousand disposable menstrual pads to women and girls in her local community of Festac Town.

Her work soon earned recognition, from the UN Refugee Agency to the “New Establishment List” by Nigerian news outlet YNaija to the continent-wide “Social Good Awards.” 

About Cynthia

Lolo Cynthia was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She relocated to South Africa in 2009 for post-high school studies. At the age of nineteen she earned two degrees from public health and sciences and HIV-AIDS and health management, at Monash University.

She started out in the media, performing on a TV screen test in 2017. She also shuttled between the media and a medical social job with an assisted living facility in Lagos. Afterwards she joined Nigeria’s Rave TV as a broadcaster on a live breakfast show about current affairs, politics and lifestyle. She also produced an ongoing documentary series called Stories Unheard, focusing on the lives of street children, abuse of anti-malaria medication and other issues that affect women in Nigeria.

Currently, Cynthia works as a consultant to help fund her initiative. She scouts for more donations and sponsors to help the initiative survive. She looks to a future of nothing less than a nationwide behavioural and mental shift to women menstrual health. She is also working on a sexuality education syllabus for schoolchildren across the country.

She also pursues a long-term partnership with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health and Education to establish a system that ensures access to six reusable pads to each female student every new school year.

Scarcely do we hear or experience the stories of extraordinary people who go the extra mile to help humankind, and setting an example in stone with their iron-clad will. However, Amazons Watch Magazine does not hesitate to celebrate these unsung heroes who have managed through lives’ difficulty to make the world a better place for others. Amongst these rare existing individuals is Padma Shri. A one-woman army who was stocked with the purpose of building a hospital, for people who cannot afford medical care.

For 45 years she pledged her life to this course, which she birth when her husband, for whom she could not afford medical treatments, passed away.

“When my husband passed away, I was in shock initially. Then I realized I had four hungry mouths to feed… I had no education and couldn’t even tell the time. So I decided I would do whatever work that was available.”

Mistry tells IANS her story,

Her husband, Sadhan Chandra Mistry was an agricultural worker, who fell sick while working on the paddy farm. Suffering from a case of diarrhea, he was rushed to the hospital, but doctors and nurses refused to pay attention to him, as both the husband and wife were penniless.

 “When my husband passed away, I was in shock initially. Then I realised I had four hungry mouths to feed… I had no education and couldn’t even tell the time. So I decided I would do whatever work that was available.”

Widowed at a young age of 23, Subhasini had to take care of four children, all on her own. What followed was abject poverty and extreme hard work to make ends meet. She worked as a house maid, a manual labourer, and sold vegetables and made a living.

One determined soul, Subhasini did not let anything come in her way. She tells IANS, that she had put two of her children in orphanage because she could not afford their education. 

She sacrificed, saved, and economised which, as she says, was for the ‘greater good’.

According to India Today, she gathered enough savings over years to buy one-bigha (one-third of an acre) plot. In 1993, the Humanity Trust was formed and a temporary clinic was set up with the help of the residents. 

Gradually, a permanent building of Humanity Hospital came into being in Hanspukur village near Kolkata, in the year 1996. A lifetime of patience and crushing hardwork had led to this moment. The hospital building was inaugurated by the then-West Bengal governor, K.V. Raghunath Reddy.

Apart from building a hospital that runs on charity, her dream was to see one of her children as a doctor in her hospital. Now, among the 12 doctors at the hospital, one is Ajoy, her younger son, who carries on his mother’s vision.

She told United Nations in India, that ‘no one should be denied medical attention’. With this fundamental message in her mind, major surgeries take place in her hospital for less than Rs. 5000, whereas minor ailments are taken care of for Rs. 10 only. She has also started another hospital at Sundarbans.

This powerhouse of humbleness and magnanimity received Padma Shri earlier this year for her social work. She gathered the award clad in simplicity, wearing chappals.

She also received Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award in the mind-of-steel category, in 2009.

Now, Subhasini aims to make her hospital function like any other modern-day 24-hours facility hospital. As of earlier this year, an ICU was yet to be set up in the hospital. According to India Today, there remains, at times, a lack of ready availability of doctors and nurses since the hospital runs on donations and they are not paid.

Despite all the shortcomings, Subhasini keeps her head high and her heart strong to take down problems as they come. Unstoppable, this woman, is the real star of India. And it’s because of people like her that our faith in the genuine goodness of humankind gets reestablished.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, actor-turned-producer, Dev Adhikary announced that he will produce a biopic on the life of Subhasini.

Subhasini dedicated her whole life to realise her vision. We salute this testament of strength and philanthropy that extends beyond the ordinary.

Philanthropy in recent times can be seen in the light of a conscious act and an interventionist tool to fight discrimination of all forms. As an anti-discrimination system, philanthropy gives opportunity to the less privilege to measure up with the privileged folks. For example, giving a scholarship award to a poor individual to study at the Oxford University, providing comfortable homes for the homeless, providing funds for poor & sick people as well as providing food for the hungry all bear philanthropic leanings. These acts bridge the gaps in between the privileged few and the less privileged majority.

In line with the sustainable development goal 2, which seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security, the impact inspire story for this week is centered on Topaz Page-Green a  philanthropist from South Africa who provides meals for school children in some parts of the country.  As you read this article bear in mind that you may never understand the real pain of discrimination until you experience it.

Before founding Lunchbox, Topaz Page-Green would never be seen walking along dirt roads in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, until she embarked on a journey with a friend to visit schools within the country. 

She was moved to start a charity to provide school-day meals to impoverished children across her native country and though this involves visiting children with bellies swollen from malnourishment and hearing endless stories of illness and abandonment, Ms. Page Green never felt overwhelmed by it.

Though her high cheekbones, lithe limbs and piercing light-green eyes betray her earlier career as a model, she searched for a diplomatic way to say she hated being one. “I found it difficult to apply myself,” said Ms. Page-Green, who modeled for MAC Cosmetics, Diesel and other brands after being discovered in an Underground station in London.

Ms. Page-Green moved to New York, in 2001 where she had the opportunity to get a visa via fashion, and that enabled her to stay and ultimately get a green card. She felt more at home at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she studied Africa, sociology and human rights. 

In 2004, while still studying and modeling, she visited Johannesburg, where one of her childhood teachers took her to visit the township of Soweto. Although she grew up outside of Johannesburg, she had never witnessed that level of poverty before.

One particular scene took her breath away, where she noticed a group of school children sitting apart from the others because they had no food and didn’t want to sit with those who did. “It rung in every single part of my body,” Ms. Page-Green said, punctuating her comments with salty language. “That’s not something you can walk away from.” This moved her into philanthropy and she started a charity to feed those children

With help from high-profile friends whom she met over the years, she has been able to keep up this good work till date. These friends include; Prada who is a repeat sponsor of the Lunchbox Fund’s annual gala, Liv Tyler and Joaquin Phoenix , chairwoman and chairman of the charity’s executive board, as well as Salman Rushdie who sits on the advisory board.

Personal life of Topaz Page-Green

When she is not running the charity, Ms. Page-Green says she is a homebody, preferring to invite a few girlfriends over. She also makes pottery; her cupboards are full of monochromatic plates, mugs and saucers she created at a nearby community center. Nights out are spent at restaurants she thinks do vegetables well, like Navy and ABC Kitchen. 

Ms. Page-Green, in the meantime, is not entirely done with modeling. She stars in Kenneth Cole’s “Courageous Class” advertising campaign as one of five “role models” using their platforms to promote social causes. Wearing a belted coat and high-top sneakers, she is seated on a stool, flashing a warm smile toward the camera. The ad copy reads, “Model Turned Activist.”

“When it was to sell a pair of nylon tights or hair ties,” she said, “I felt a conflict in myself that was difficult to manage.” But when modeling is mixed with a charity, “I am able to relax more and enjoy myself.”

Source: New York Times

I subscribe to the school of thought that it is almost impossible for the indigent to be involved in philanthropy, however on the flip side, I have been convinced otherwise by the thought-provoking story of Chen Shu-Chu, a vegetable seller in Taiwan. 

In eastern Taiwan, 63-years-old Ms. Chen works 18 hours a day selling pepper, taro, mushrooms, and vegetables after which she uses the money to support the poor. She was not born with a silver spoon neither did she have a smooth upbringing. As a matter of fact, Chen lost her mother who died after a difficult childbirth while she was still in primary school, because her family could not afford a proper treatment.

Life has not been a smooth sail for Chen who has been dedicated to helping creating access to health and education for the poor over the past two decade.

According to BBC, she has donated over 10 million Taiwanese dollars ($350,000; £210,000) to the building of a school library and a hospital wing. She has also given to a local Buddhist organisation and orphanages.

In a world where philanthropy has been tagged to be the rich man’s game, Chen believes that no one is too poor to give.

“Everyone can do it. It is not just me. It is not how much money you make that matters, but how you use your money,” she says.

“I do not see money as being that important. After all, you cannot bring it with you when you start life and you cannot take it with you when you leave this life.”

It is amazing how in the midst of the hustle and bustle all over the world, while people are working enough to gather for themselves and their unborn children, we can still find souls who are living for others and most likely people they do not know. 

Although Chen struggled with poverty for most part of her youth, having had to quit schooling to work at the family’s vegetable stand in the Taitung Central Market, in order to support the family, these situations motivate Chen towards giving. 

Life did not get any better after her mother died and she had to quit school. Few years down the line her younger brother came down on a flu. Again her family was struck with another impossible situation and because of their inability to raise enough money to pay for his advanced medical care, he died.

The loss of her brother was a difficult situation for the family but for every incident that caused Chen pain, she turned it into a motivation to give back so that others do not have to pass through what she has suffered. 

“I feel I owe people a lot. I feel I have to make more money to help others,” she says.

“I feel very happy after donating money. I feel like I have done something right. It’s a feeling that comes from the inside. It makes me so happy that I smile when I go to bed.”

She is an amazing personality, whose acts of kindness raise so many eye brows including that of the director of an NGO, Kids Alive International, who after he receiving a donation from Chen, was further convinced that truly, you do not have to be rich to help others.

According to the director, Mr. Daniel Lu, “She is a vegetable lady, alone and single. It is not easy for her,” he says. “I thought if she gives T$5,000 that would help.”

“When she gave me T$1m, I was surprised. [I said:] ‘Wow, you give me T$1m? What can I do?’ She said: ‘Whatever you had planned, you do it; you help the kids.””

I have heard people say that good deeds can be likened to pregnancy, which means that it cannot be hidden from the public knowledge for too long. Same with Chen, her loving acts of kindness has not gone unnoticed. She has attracted both local and international attention through her rare philanthropic activities. Once her news began to spread across, it got into the ears of the media and in 2010, Times Magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential people. Also the Reader’s Digest named her “Asian of the Year” and Forbes Asia selected her as one of their “48 heroes of Philanthropy”.

Few years back, she was also named one of six Ramon Magsaysay Award winners for helping the poor and given a $50,000 cash prize.

She portrays what philanthropy should be like and spurs the hearts of others to do same, an example was when she donated the entire $50,000 cash prize to Taitung’s McKay Memorial Hospital, this particular act was mind blowing and it prompted many people to support the hospital in building a new medical wing.

She is unbelievable and her story has moved people from far and near to visit Taiwan just to see Chen the vegetable seller. On one occasion a visitor from Hong Kong who has been inspired by Chen left her a note of admiration amongst her vegetables.

Chen is unmarried and has no children. She is a Buddhist and a strict vegetarian who lives on easy diets like cured tofu and rice. Being an unmarried vegetarian has helped her save so much. She is also Altruistic and has little desire for material things. Having attracted the media, she is unwilling to be in the public scene, she has said that she will only want to engage in media activities such as being interviewed if the reports will motivate others to be kind to people.

Although Chen has health problems, she has no plans to retire, saying she hopes to “do this forever.”

“My wish is that I can work till the day I collapse. Money is only useful if you give it to people who need it.”

 

By Miracle Nwankwo