I met Caroline four years ago on my first visit to Kenya with CARE Canada. She and two dozen friends greeted me with songs and outstretched hands.

 

Despite the happy welcome, this public display of joy was new to Caroline. Less than two years earlier, she had been ashamed to walk the dusty roads of her village. Forced to borrow money to feed her children, she was seen as a beggar and a burden.

 

She was alone.

 

But when she decided to join the women in CARE’s co-operative Savings and Loans Group, Caroline discovered she wasn’t alone; she was part of something bigger.


Every two weeks, each woman in the co-op put $1 into a savings pool. Within weeks, there were enough funds to start borrowing money to invest in education, home businesses and their farms. Every two weeks, the pool grew, expanding the possibilities.


Caroline invested in her small home business. She became a pillar in her community. She could afford to send her children to school. And now she was the one lending money to her neighbours, she said with fiery pride. Thanks to the women’s group, she was reaching her full potential.


Sitting with Caroline in that far-off village, I suddenly understood the power of the women around me.


As individuals, they struggled to make ends meet, but together they made each other — and their community — stronger.


Canadians — men and women — can learn so much from them. I have often felt that, as one person, I couldn’t make a difference. It took a trip across the globe to understand that I can be more: I can be one of many.


This International Women’s Day, I challenge you to take Caroline’s lead — to join together to improve our lives and our community.


How? It’s easy. Visit your community resource centre to see where the needs exist for women and girls, who still represent 70 per cent of the world’s poorest. Explore websites that offer volunteer opportunities, like Charity Village or Volunteer Canada. Join your community association, become a Big Sister, or bring a group together to fundraise for organizations that help empower women and girls.


And become part of a global collective committed to change.