Learning to Empower

Learning to Empower

One of the coolest parts of what we do is getting to know women from other organizations doing awesome things around the world to empower others. Today we are so excited to introduce you to Heather Newell, the U.S. Program Officer for The Women’s Bakery. The Women’s Bakery trains and supports women in Rwanda and Tanzania to source local ingredients, bake and sell fortified breads, manage business operations and ultimately own their own bakery. We hope you find her post as insightful as we did!  

Young, impressionable, and gregarious, I sat huddled on a middle pew, within a country church in Philadelphia, Mississippi. I was writing furiously in my journal, committed to relishing each and every word the woman in front of us had to share

“You will never know the capacities of your own strength, your own love, and your posture towards forgiveness.”

My words – not hers – but they seemed to capture the sentiment of her story.

The woman speaking (just shy of 98-years old) had witnessed (and survived) the burning of her church by the KKK in the 1960’s. When three journalists then traveled from the North to her town to investigate the burning, they too were killed.

Her community had been wracked with violence, racism, and pain. It would seem there would be no end – had it not been for the alternative she proposed.

Her faith – but also her strength, and ability to love – allowed her to find peace and reconciliation with all that had taken place.

Her words – not mine.

I put my pen down, taking a moment to reflect on her words, and the ways in which I saw this resiliency in my mother, grandmothers, and the women who had come before me.

I, too, was one of these women.

My worldview transformed that day. It was the first time I could tangibly see the depth of impact that women have in their families, their homes, and within the larger community. If a community was to heal, to grow, and to change, it couldn’t be without the voice of women. From that moment, my life’s passion, it seemed, became observing, learning, and taking part in a move to empower women.

But, what did this mean?

I joined The Women’s Bakery (TWB) a year ago because I wanted to know, and I wanted to be a part of a movement committed to doing so. The Women’s Bakery exists to empower women through education and business. That is, empowerment is both a process and a goal; education delivers the necessary knowledge, business provides an opportunity for impact. We educate and equip women with lessons in business, baking, nutrition, and personal development – all necessary for running a business. In training groups of women in East Africa to source local, nutritious ingredients, we are able to ensure enriched, affordable breads in their communities.

In the last year, from Rwanda to Denver, I have been continuing a process by which I am learning the small fragments that curate a woman’s life.  I’ve been learning what it actually means to empower.

What I have learned is that change is hard. Often, it’s incremental. Sometimes, it’s slow. But, I’ve also learned that in this process towards empowering women, we need everyone. Community members, men, investors, supporters, everyone.

Through bakeries, Skype conversations, business lessons, and community presentations, TWB has taught me that empowerment is a fight not for superiority, but instead, a pursuit of autonomy, socio-economic opportunity, and dignity. Much like the 98-year old woman in Mississippi realized too, our reach, impact, and ability may never be known.

I’m humbled, challenged, overjoyed, frustrated, excited, spirited, gritty, and relentless when it comes to The Women’s Bakery. I know this work – of educating for the sake of empowerment – matters to women not only in Rwanda – buy beyond! To all of us. And for that reason, I am excited to see where we go, and where bread can be celebrated as the means by which we can change the world.