After over ten years of sponsorship, one super-supporter reflects on her experience.
Any supporter will tell you the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program is not only transformative for participants; it also makes an incredible impact on its supporters and sponsors. Beverly Thompson, a supporter in Virginia was drawn to the sponsorship program because it directly provides sisters with the tools to change their lives and those of their loved ones and community members.
A Decade of Dedication
As a career scientist and engineer, Beverly had a charted course for her career. But when she began her journey with Women for Women International as a sponsor, the course shifted, and Beverly began to envisage a future for herself in peacebuilding as a community engagement consultant.
Beverly heard stories of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while she was a volunteer at a shelter with Junior League. Every Saturday, she taught photography skills to kids so they could record their personal stories. Eventually, Beverly grew to know the mothers of the children she worked with.
“I met a family from the DRC and through Saturday conversations I learned about their unique journey to the US. As a result of hearing their stories, I wanted to do more.”
It was luck that Beverly would see Zainab Salbi on the Oprah Show in 2009. After hearing Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International, discuss the organization and the sponsorship program, Beverly decided to become a sponsor. Her volunteer work with Congolese women and children through Junior League inspired her to request to sponsor a sister in DRC.
“[I] heard their stories and wanted to do more,” she said. “I immediately signed up and asked for a woman to sponsor in the Congo. I was fascinated to learn about the country facts of the women I sponsored, as it expanded my knowledge in a new and exciting way.”
Eventually, as her affinity for humanitarian and peacebuilding work grew, Beverly took a course in international development and traveled to Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe to volunteer in 2010. The trip affirmed her new career path, and in 2011, Beverly went on to enroll in a dual program achieving a Master in Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary and a Graduate Certificate in Peacebuilding and Development from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program through the School of International Service of American University.
For a conflict development course, she conducted a project design evaluation on Women for Women International’s program in DRC. She worked through our DC office to get more information on program infrastructure and our men’s engagement activities. Beverly has now had sisters in our DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Nigeria programs. “Learning about the country of origin of each sister that I’ve sponsored connected me to that sister and provided foundational knowledge for several country-level conflict assessments required for my graduate studies,” Beverly reflected.
In addition to her studies, Beverly continued her career with Leidos as a scientist and powerful female force in the technology industry. As a role model, board member, and Africa Lead for Career Girls, the largest online video platform to scale and amplify the voices of diverse and successful role models, she found a way to combine her career with her expertise in humanitarian efforts for women and girls in several African countries.
The Power of Connection
Beverly’s work with Career Girls often brings her close to Women for Women International’s offices in Rwanda. During her most recent visit, she met with representatives from the US Embassy in Rwanda, the Imbuto Foundation, Mothering Across Continents, and the Akilah Institute to discuss a Career Girls pilot project to bring STEM and girls empowerment programming to Gihogwe and Acts4Rwanda, two educational institutions in Rwanda.
During the month-long pilot, developed by Career Girls in partnership with Starlight Africa, one hundred girls between the ages of ten and seventeen met on weekends to engage in a curriculum that included information technology, health science and arts, and audio and video communications. The participants learned these skills as solutions to local and global problems like poverty, hunger, gender equality, and access to education and healthcare. The curriculum was developed in alignment with the competency-based curriculum proposed for the Rwandan educational system as part of the United Nations fourth Sustainable Development Goal.
Beverly’s experience with Women for Women International has taught her the importance of investing in women and girls. “Women for Women International invests in women and gives them the tools to become financially independent. When women are given these tools, they can pay school fees so their kids can get an education. This is especially important as they act as role models for their own girls and teach them confidence and inner power,” Beverly remarked.
She also expressed her gratitude for what we do and how it has changed her life. Her role as a sister to one woman ten years ago and her ability to work with Women for Women International through her studies started her journey as a peacebuilding and community engagement consultant. “I’ve been able to grow my experience as a peacebuilder through Women for Women International,” Beverly remarked about her experience so far.
Through her frequent travel for the Career Girls pilot program, Beverly has learned that girls realize their power when they see and hear other women share their stories. Investing in healing and recovery efforts for women affected by war and conflict also heals their families and ends the cycles of violence perpetrated against girls.
A Reunion in Person
During her latest trip to our Rwanda country office in late 2019, Beverly had the chance to interview Jacqueline, one of her sisters from Rwanda. Jacqueline’s final letter to Beverly, shown above, details what she has learned from the program.
Jacqueline arrived in a beautiful blue dress with her young son and told Beverly she and her son had traveled through the rain to meet Beverly, whose sponsorship not only supported Jacqueline as she participated in the program, but provided resources for her to purchase a bicycle and goats. Beverly truly understood the significance of this meeting when she realized Jacqueline took an entire day to prepare and travel to Kigali. “This is a once in a lifetime chance for a sister to meet her sponsor,” Beverly said, “and it’s not lost on me, that she sacrificed a day of work to meet me.”
“I am impressed with how much Women for Women International is able to accomplish with a monthly $35 sponsorship,” Beverly said, reflecting on her meeting with Jacqueline. “As someone who has supported programs for women in other countries, I know that this level of consistent investment in women has a long-term impact.”
Beverly and Jacqueline discussed the 30-woman hairdressing cooperative that Jacqueline was a part of, and the conversation quickly turned to how Jacqueline came across the program and what it means to her. Women for Women International representatives had come to her neighborhood to publicize the program and Jacqueline decided to join to develop her business skills and generate income for her family. Jacqueline said she enjoyed learning how to run a business and was excited to graduate in the coming weeks. Her post-graduation plan was to teach the things she learned to other women in her community.
Jacqueline emphasized how much her family meant to her and told Beverly that her one-year-old son’s name in English meant “for an answer.” Beverly asked what he was an answer to, and Jacqueline explained that her first-born child had died at a young age and that her son was the answer to her prayer for another chance at motherhood.
“The women who join the program share a similar story about the vital role of their women cooperatives and what they’ve learned, how they support each other, and their long-term desire to do more for their families. That story never changes. Never,” Beverly said. “I continue to see the impact that sisterhood has on them, their confidence, and their ability to take ownership of their livelihoods.”