Women’s Global Connection, UIW professors, students assist women in Africa
By Ashley Festa
As they have each year since 2003, volunteers with Women’s Global Connection are traveling to Africa this summer to collaborate with women who want to begin microbusinesses to support their families.
Tere Dresner-Salinas, the executive director of the Women’s Global Connection (WGC), which is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, will travel with Dr. Dorothy “Sr. Dot” Ettling, CCVI, co-founder of WGC and a professor at UIW, along with four volunteers, UIW faculty members Dr. Alison Buck and Dr. Michael Guiry, and UIW doctoral students Liz Holbrook and Jim Simpson, during two separate trips between June 21 and July 31. Continuing work they began on previous trips, these volunteers will work with village women in Tanzania and in Mongu, Zambia, to support their personal and group development.
“Here at UIW, we always say the ‘Universe is Yours.’ This project is living that in a Mission-related way,” Ettling said.
During the past 12 months, WGC training projects in Africa have directly helped 324 women learn basic skills in business, computer literacy, communication and self-development. These programs have touched more than 1,600 lives through the families of the women enrolled.
One such outreach is the Mother Infant Care program began by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Mongu. It offers bottle feeding and parenting education for mothers who are HIV positive. The program provides formula to prevent infants from being infected through breastfeeding.
“What I think is neat about working with these women is that there’s still such a stigma associated with the disease,” Dresner-Salinas said. “They’re getting medication and are living longer, but don’t have a support system, so they have to earn a living.”
Other workshops teach the women how to begin and promote their own small businesses, such as raising chickens or goats, growing coffee or tea, or selling palm oil or hand-woven baskets. Guiry, an associate professor in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration, shows the women techniques for branding and marketing, and how to position themselves as product leaders. Even his students at UIW learn from the program, because he brings back his experiences to share with them.
“The concepts that I talk about here are concepts that I talk about there and vice versa,” Guiry said. “I talked in my MBA marketing classes about what I did in Tanzania last year. It’s a good way to talk about the UIW Mission in class, talking about the work WGC does.”
At the end of each training program, the WGC presents certificates to the women.
“The certificates are very meaningful,” Dresner-Salinas said. “It’s like a real graduation.”
During this summer’s trip, the group will also be setting up solar-powered laptops donated by Genesi USA, a San Antonio-based company that designs, develops and produces energy efficient computing products. Simpson will be assisting in the installation of the solar-power system as part of an internship to complete his Ph.D. from the Dreeben School of Education with a concentration in International Education and Entrepreneurship. He’ll also be teaching the villagers how to use the computers.
“We’re kind of building the airplane as we fly it,” Simpson said with a laugh.
About 20 small, low-energy laptop computers will allow the village women to log on to wireless Internet, connecting them to important information they need for agriculture, health and business. Ettling hopes the computers will also accommodate videoconferencing to allow doctors to help villagers without having to travel long distances from cities. With videoconferencing capabilities, Simpson will also be able to troubleshoot any problems the women might have even after he returns home to Texas.
The computer station will be an expansion to the learning center that the Women’s Global Connection established several years ago with a single computer. And the women live “right on the equator, so it’s a perfect location for solar power,” Simpson said.
“It’s certainly been a hands-on adventure and will be much more once I’m over there,” he said. “My life has changed 180 degrees since getting involved with the Women’s Global Connection.”
The trip is not easy for the volunteers, who pay their own way. They spend countless hours traveling by plane and bus, eat unusual food, and cope with cultural differences such as sleeping under mosquito nets. They visit a different village nearly every day. Dresner-Salinas doesn’t even have contact with her family during the trip. She only posts pictures on Facebook to let them know she is fine.
“I’m there, and I want to be present,” she said. “I’m there to work, and we totally immerse ourselves.”
That will be especially true for Simpson, who is making his first trip to Africa. “I’ll be staying with one of the ladies in Africa, so it will be total immersion,” he said. “I’m from a tiny town in Texas, and I need something that will just blow my mind.”
The relationships that are built are based on respect and mutual learning. “It’s made a difference in how I view life,” Dresner-Salinas said. “I always return from these trips feeling inspired, knowing that I’ve learned even more than I’ve taught.”
“It’s work, but I don’t think of it as work,” Guiry said. “It’s a good thing to do. It helps me understand what the Mission is all about. It makes it more tangible.”
WGC is a nonprofit organization founded 10 years ago by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. UIW is a founding partner of the organization. “Without UIW, we could never have done it,” Ettling said.
Women’s Global Connection is always seeking volunteers, and it is not necessary to travel. For more information, contact Tere Dresner-Salinas at 210-832-3208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.