“Over the past century, women have broken through barriers to achieve political, economic and social advances never before imagined. Yet, there are still many places where gender defines a person’s ability to reach their full potential. The fact that more than a thousand people have gathered here in Washington to speak out on behalf of girls and women in poor communities is a testament to the compassion of the American people” – With these words, Dr. Helene Gayle opened CARE 2011 National conference, exhorting all in attendance and define our purpose for this important meeting. Over a thousand activists gathered in the international ballroom center of the Washington Hilton Hotel to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day and CARE’s 65th anniversary. The energy was exciting, hopeful, and purposeful. These activists will celebrate CARE’s many achievements and prepare to storm Capitol Hill on Thursday, March 10th, 2011 to advocate on three main issues – the importance of foreign aid, providing financial opportunities for women, and empowerment through education.
CARE is one of the largest private humanitarian organizations that has evolved to continue meeting the pressing needs of society. It was founded in 1945 when 22 American organizations came together to coordinate and rapidly provide relief packages to survivors of World War II. It has since evolved to become a leader in fighting global poverty by providing resources to women and using them as leverage to change communities globally. CARE unveiled its virtual CARE package initiative as its anniversary present. An individual or a group can build a personalized CARE box online that can be sent to women and girls anywhere in the world. “Women are at the heart of CARE’s community-based efforts to improve education, health, and economic opportunity” (CARE.org). The CARE 2011 conference emphasized this focus of women and girls by providing tickets to a number of young girls 10-14yrs to attend this wonderful event. This is quite powerful, educating the future change makers by bringing them to experience solutions that have been proven to be effective globally in addressing social injustices against women.
When I arrived at the hotel, I eagerly descended a flight of stairs unto the international terrace. With each quickening step, I could hear voices filled with excitement and life. I encountered the most breath taking sound and sight – the timbre of people from different races and ethnicities flooding the terrace. After a quick scan, with a few nods and smiles of acknowledgement, I made my way to the media table and began the registration process. It was fairly typical with name bags and schedules, but I was really impressed when one of CARE’s staff pronounced my last name correctly – Asonganyi! At that instant, it became clear that this was more than a national conference, I had entered a strong, powerful, and caring international community.
The kick-off session in the International Ballroom was invigorating and a wonderful energizer. It set the tone for the upcoming conference's jam-packed panel and advocacy training sessions. This opening night's atmosphere was relaxed, playful, yet focused. Some of the people I met included job seekers from Rwanda, free lance reporters with Christian organizations, recent college graduates, students on alternative spring break, activists with a passion for women’s issues, and sub-contractors of CARE. Despite the technical difficulties and the energy of the room blowing out some speakers, the liveliness was infectious, enduring and unstoppable.
Performing artists and fellow activists featured Michael Franti, Crystal Bowersox (American Idol runner-up), Sarah Darling (representing Join my village initiative), and India Arie. These artists helped us remember that we have a commitment and an obligation to the world to fight for peace and social injustices. Our actions as activists are essential as humans. The night closed with these words sung by India Arie “This is my prayer for humanity that we respect our women and protect our girls”. Day 1 closed leaving me radiating with optimism and hope that it only takes the power of one to change the future!
(Videos to come soon!!)