By Jennifer Timmons, Safeworld Field Partners Manager & Editor
There was a time not so long ago when co-workers and friends would give me a “I feel sorry for you” glance tinged with pity when I told them my husband and I were doing nothing for Valentine's Day, and nor would we be exchanging gifts or cards.
“How unromantic!” they'd exclaim.
“Tell him to get with the program!” they'd tease.
Or perhaps more biting: “What's wrong with you two?”
Nothing was wrong with us, to my mind!
In earlier years, I probably have felt more defensive and indignant that such well-meaning (I hope) colleagues and friends would poke at our choice of how we chose to observe a much celebrated and highly commercialized day, but today – no more.
Why should my spouse and I be made to feel “less than” if we don't succumb to pretty and sentimental cards, a box of chocolates, a dinner at a restaurant, or a night out at the movie theater?
That's not to say I wouldn't enjoy those things...far from it! I love beautiful things and chocolate!
But it's not high on our priority list of things to do. It's just the way we are.
Everyone has their own way of celebrating.
From romantic gestures between sweethearts, expressions of affection between good friends and family members to humanitarian acts of solidarity to show support and raise awareness for any number of causes such as gender-based violence, homelessness, veterans, etc.
All are worthy causes and I can't imagine there wouldn't be something out there that wouldn't appeal to someone looking to make their Valentine's Day less conventional, and I dare say, less materialistic.
Being Field Partners Manager & Editor for Safeworld has opened my eyes and heart these past few years. Though I have never met in person any of our Field Partners, in my communications with them and editing their news, I have learned so much about the grassroots efforts of small organizations in rural areas throughout Africa and Asia doing incredible work to help women and children in unimaginable situations.
They work in areas which pose high security risks for them, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, and the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region of Pakistan.
They serve women who've been raped, children born of rape, women discarded by society because they have HIV, AIDS or some other sexually transmitted disease. They serve women who have been discarded by society because they are widowed or old.
These Field Partners serve women and children who lack education, job skills, and reliable health care.
Why just women and children?
Because they are the most vulnerable, when war, poverty, jobs, and health are involved. Our Field Partners have a number of programs unique to their own area to try to lift these women and children out of poverty and give them hope:
Education for children and craft skills for women in the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.
An internet cafe for women-only in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Small animals to raise or a small section on a plot of land to cultivate in the DRC.
A Maternity Waiting House for expectant mothers – so they won't have to walk miles (and days) to a hospital in the nearest city in Uganda.
A savings program for women in rural Malawi.
Shelters for Pakistan flood survivors.
Teaching youth leadership skills in rural Nepal.
Shelter for women-led families after two devastating floods in Pakistan.
There are SO many more programs to list – phenomenal programs; I don't use that word lightly because it is true – these small grassroots organizations we call Field Partners are operating under often dire circumstances that include cultural and tradtional societal expectations, severely limited funds and other resources. And they are often vulnerable themselves to the winds of political change, constant threat of warfare – or direct threats to their lives.
As was one of the co-founders of our Field Partner in Pakistan who was so brutally murdered last summer, due to her tireless efforts to empower women in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
One might ask: “Well, what about men? Don't they count?”
Of course they do. In fact, over half of our Field Partners ARE run by men.
Men dedicated to help give women in their community an equal footing in society so that they may thrive and succeed in all aspects of life.
They are men who see the rampant injustices to women on a daily basis that I only read and edit, here in the USA, to publish on our webzine to share with the world. They know, and they each have told our team at Safeworld time and again that without education, economic sustainability, reliable health services access, and justice, their community cannot progress.
They do not have huge, multi-national corporate sponsors, and their funders are few, if any.
Some do not even have their own website, let alone reliable internet access.
This is why I wake up every morning: to help shine the light on our Field Partners.
Because very few people know about the grassroots efforts of these small groups in rural corners of the world. Even we did not hear of most of them until they approached us to enquire about being a Field Partner.
I want them to be heard. Everyone at Safeworld wants them to be heard.
And they certainly want to be heard.
Not just to let others know of their challenges and needs, but to celebrate their achievements, big or small. Because for most of them, they have no other platform with which to tell the world they exist.
And on Valentine's Day, I do wonder if the day is even recognized among our Field Partners – and in particular, their beneficiaries who are just trying to survive day to day.
I commend those who have extraordinary abilities to organize small or large regional or worldwide events to raise awareness about any particular issue of burning importance to them. More power to them!
But just like any holiday or a day like Valentine's Day, we each have our own way to celebrate.
And to my mind, there's no better way (next to greeting family and friends) to recognize a day meant for showing affection to those who mean something to you, than for me to salute our Field Partners, who show their love daily for the women and children in their communities.
They give me inspiration.
They give me perspective – to remind me how lucky I am to have what I have.
Like my spouse, whose daily support of my work with Safeworld and our Field Partners gives me fuel to keep on going for as long as I am able.
He doesn't give me flowers (I'd neglect them anyway) or anything fancy. I do like flowers very much so, especially brilliantly colored ones.
But his ceaseless support for what I am impassioned about – women's rights advocacy, via Safeworld, is a daily gift in and of itself.
I'd rather see each of our Field Partners bloom like a brillant flower...that would really make my heart swell!
That's my choice, and I'm proud to say so, without a trace of defensiveness or indignation, if anyone should ask what I want or what I'm going to do for Valentine's Day.
Every day is my own personal Valentine's Day, working on behalf of our Field Partners!
Activist Rosa Parks expressed best what I feel:
“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”