NGO Spotlight: Plan International USA

Here is a guest blog from Plan International sharing the story of Christina from Sierra Leone.

“The schools of Sierra Leone reopened in May after a nine-month closure due to the Ebola epidemic. Currently, schools are on break and only the students who have not passed their exams are attending.

One student is Christiana, 18, a member of Plan International’s Youth Advisory Panel. She is engaged in Plan’s project to stop child marriage, teenage pregnancies, and sexual violence against girls.

The Ebola epidemic, which hit Sierra Leone in the past year, has led to a dramatic increase of all these issues. Schools were closed for a whole academic year and used as holding centers, quarantines, treatment centers, and camps.

“Many of my friends have had to leave school because of Ebola,” said Christina. “Some are pregnant, others have been forced into marriage. I feel very sad that they are not here with me in school anymore.”

Christiana described how poverty in Sierra Leone contributes to the vulnerability of many children, who get abused by teachers and other staff at the school.

“Children are forced to work for free after school hours at the teachers’ farms or are sometimes forced to perform sexual acts,” she said. “Those who refuse are threatened with violence or receive failing marks in school and cannot proceed to the next level.”

Christiana has personally experienced this kind of treatment.

“When I was younger, my teacher forced me to work at his farm until late at night,” she said. “I was so tired when I got home that I could not do my homework.”

As she got older, Christiana was exposed to sexual extortion from the principal at her school. He used the fact that Christiana had been disowned by her family and did not have anyone who could pay for her school fees.

“I am from a village far from here,” she said. “My parents are poor. They were given money from an older man in Freetown who I was forced to marry when I was 16 years old. He forced me to have sex and when I refused, he and his family assaulted me severely. I managed to escape back to my village after four months.”

Christiana’s goal was to move back home and start school again. But her family would not accept her because she had broken the marriage and they would have to repay the man in Freetown. Christiana was disowned and forced to stay with friends. She started school again and the principal offered to pay for her tuition at first.

“I was happy that he would help me, but then he started to ask for sex,” she said. “I refused and then he started harassing me. He insulted me and said horrible things about me in front of my classmates. He threatened me that I would not get my marks.”

She did not know what to do and there was no one at school to talk to. When she reported the incident to one of the teachers, nothing happened.

“All the male teachers protect each other,” she said. “I was so frustrated! This headmaster abuses a lot of girls in the village, and makes many of them pregnant.”

Christiana decided to try to stop the abuse of girls at school. She got in contact with Plan‘s project for girls’ rights and started to inform the other girls and told them to say no to the teachers’ suggestions.

“But I was getting increasingly harassed by the principal, who didn’t like what I was doing,” she said. “In the end, he threatened to assault me, so I had to move from the village and change schools.”

Plan supported her move and now Christiana lives with a female teacher in a new town, where she has started school again. She is still an ambassador for girls’ rights and wants to contribute to changing the lives of girls in Sierra Leone.

“I have chosen to advocate and be a spokesperson because I have experienced the problems that affect girls in this country,” she said. “I advocate for my friends because I do not want anyone to experience the same difficulties that I went through. I pray to our government that they stop sexual violence in schools, child marriage, and teenage pregnancies. We have laws against this. Make sure they are put into practice.”

*Christiana’s name has been changed to protect her identity. “
Plan International USA

Plan International USA is part of the Plan International Federation which works side-by-side with communities in 50 developing countries to end the cycle of poverty for children. Plan develops solutions community by community to ensure long-term sustainability. Our solutions are designed up-front to be owned by the community for generations to come and range from clean water and healthcare programs to education projects and child protection initiatives.

Help protect a girl from sexual exploitation here.

How Far Do People Walk for Water?

This is a guest blog from Drop in the Bucket! This video is a relatable representation of the time it takes for many Africans to collect their daily water. The average jug full of water can weigh about 40 lbs when full. The burden of fetching water is more commonly placed on women because in about two-thirds or 64% of households women collect water for the family. There is a strong need for clean and safe drinking water since nearly 300 of the 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in a water-scarce environment. While this video highlights collecting water as an “African” problem, we must remember not to generalize because most African’s  communities do have access to water.

We must do all we can to assist those who have to walk hours to collect water. We can help is through supporting the construction of water pipelines for indigenous groups in Tanzania here.

“The video is titled “How long do people in Africa walk to get water?”. The video attempts to frame the water crisis in a different way by setting the long walk for water, that many people in Africa do every day, in an American location.

The video one was directed by Nathan Karma Cox and shot on location in Studio City, CA at Black Market Liquor who generously allowed us to shoot during the day before they opened. The video was produced by Cory Reeder and features music by Stone Sour drummer Roy Mayorga who played all of the instruments on the track including kazoo. Vocals were provided by Stone Sour guitarist Christian Martucci and the graphics were created by Rodrigo Gava from Gava Productions.” –Drop in the Bucket

Exemplary Nations for Women: Cabo Verde & Palau

It is important to support countries that are socially responsible. Our CEO Pamela Hawley tells us about Palau and Cabo Verde!

Adobe Spark (8)Cabo Verde, previously known as Cape Verde, is a drought-prone nation made up of ten islands located about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. Although the country lacks natural resources, they have a strong reputation for their efforts to create political unity (BBC 2016).

Cabo Verde is also taking a strong stance for women’s equality, as nine of seventeen cabinet positions and three members of the supreme court are women.

Palau is another island nation that has developed a social structure where women are highly respected. Palau is made up of 200 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean (Palou 2014). Palau is a great model for many nations, specifically because their inheritance regulations have supported women for hundreds of years. They believAdobe Spark (13)e in a matrilineal system, meaning that descent is determined by the mother. The emphasis on female kinship ensures that descendants inherit property based on a natural female lineal link. This long-held belief helps Palau sustain strong woman’s rights, such as ensuring that women receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

It’s nice to see these countries providing greater opportunities for women as a natural part of their culture.

It is important for us to support women and these small socially responsible countries. Next time you are planning a trip, consider traveling to socially responsible nations. Our tourism can benefit Cabo Verde and Palau which are two of the Top Ten Best Ethical Travel Destinations of 2017.    

Additionally, we can support women who do not have the benefits of living in a matrilineal nation like Palau by helping them gain access to family planning. 

“Palau.” Countries. Infoplease, 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

“Cabo Verde Country Profile.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Honoring Strong Women

UniversalGiving is fortunate to have a team led by many bright and powerful women who work hard to create positive change! 

Below are some strong women that the UniversalGiving team chose to honor today!

From Pamela Hawley-CEO

Frances Blaisdell Williams was the first woman woodwind at Julliard School of Music in 1928.  She was a pioneer for women and women flutists all over the world.  Most importantly, she was my grandmother and one of my best friends

My dear Oma, a pioneer woman flutist in the 1920s (read about her in the New York Times) began teaching me flute at the age of 8. She was a profound influence on my life and was as phenomenal of a teacher as she was a performer. Read more here.
From Miko-Intern
Anne Frank is a very strong woman. Anne was very young when she died. Under WWII, Jewish people were in a horrible situation, but Anne was very positive, hard-working, and never gave up.
From Lisa-Executive Assistant Intern
For International Women’s Day, I chose two of the most inspirational women in my life, while I had was lucky enough to have Christa as a coach and Taylor as a coach and a teammate, I consider them both to be some of my most helpful friends and mentors. ThIMG_2240ese two women have taught me a lot about what it means to be strong and have helped me love who I am. I have strived to be the best athlete, friend, and person I can be because of them. I am so thankful for all they have shown me and done for me.

 (Right Christa Prior/Left Taylor Curdado)


Appreciate the strong women in your life, and lend support to women internationally…

Empower women through gardening!

Support women with obstetric fever.


HeForShe: Building a World without Gender Barriers

By Morgan DeLuce
 brian oconnor
Why is “feminism” a movement only for women? It’s a question that has garnered a lot of attention recently. Many have seen the magenta photos of Emma Watson as the face of the UN Women’s HeForShe movement, which promotes gender equality as a human issue that must be tackled by everyone, men and women alike. The San Francisco chapter of the U.S. National Committee threw a celebration in honor of the men in our community who are working to promote gender equality and enact real change for women. The HeForShe Champions for Change Celebration was held at the beautiful WeWork office space in San Francisco on April 14th. Five incredible men were honored as changemakers in the gender equality sphere.ray arata
    It’s not often that you see men standing up for the empowerment of women. Denying traditional masculinity in favor of gender equality is uncomfortable for many people, particularly men and boys who have been raised with the typical “Man up!” or “Boys don’t cry” sentiments that promote physical strength and emotional distance as the epitome of manhood. The men who were honored noted that one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is overcoming other men’s discomfort in accepting that uplifting women and promoting equal rights does not mean they are weak or feminine. Even if it did, the fact that “weak” and “feminine” are terms so interconnected– that being a woman is inherently bad– is the problem our society is facing.
    john marcotte
John Marcotte, founder of Heroic Girls, spoke in depth about the role that media and toy companies play in shaping children’s perception of gender roles. His goal is to cross the gender line– to show boys that there is “nothing shameful in a man doing a role that is normally filled by a woman… Putting yourself in a woman’s shoes does not make you less of a man, it makes you more of a person.”
Other honorees included Brian O’Connor of Futures Without Violence, Ray Arata of the Gender Leadership Group, Casey Bates, Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County, and David Batstone, Founder of Not For Sale.
 david batstone
The evening celebrated the humanity of all people and the ability of men to step up in the face of gender discrimination. David Batstone said it best: “We now live the tragic consequences of a planet where women are given a minor role in the plot; we can design a beautiful future where women and men write stories together.” Each of the five honored men are working towards a society that is just that: free, equal, and inspiring for everyone, regardless of one’s gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, ability, religion or sexual orientation.  The freedom of men and women to live their lives according to their own choices is a right we are still fighting for across the globe. The HeForShe event celebrated working towards those rights: shattering gender barriers, empowering women to thrive, and showing men that being a “man” comes second to being a human being.
 casey bates
HeForShe is UN Women’s global movement that invites men to join women in the campaign for gender equality. The campaign has galvanized more than a billion people across the world to become advocates for women and girls.