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Susquehanna Life

WAWHO, They Exclaimed!

Mar 12, 2015 01:07PM ● By Erica Shames

Some members of the WAWHOs pose for a group photo following the December monthly meeting

When Maddi Dunlap read Half the Sky, a book detailing issues faced by women around the world, she was inspired to share her thoughts and feelings with close friend Penny Estes.

“[Maddi] read it, turned me onto it. I bought books for each of my daughters. They all got excited about it and it spread like wildfire,” said Penny.

“[The book] highlights all the issues of women’s oppressions in the world, but it also offers solutions that others have come up with,” noted Maddi.

Where do we start?

Maddi and her friends knew they couldn’t build a school in Ethiopia or a women’s hospital someplace else. “We wanted to do something within our means and our phases in life,” she shared. “We thought, ‘Those folks need support – we started out thinking (just the two of us) could do a Women for Women sponsorship,” Maddi said.  

Women for Women International is a low-cost, sponsored training program operating in eight war-torn countries in Africa and Europe that teaches women a trade along with other life-enhancing skills.

“I think it was Lizzie [one of Penny’s daughters] over a dinner of Thai food and a bit of wine who said, ‘Why don’t you ask some of the other people you know if they want to join?’ OK, we could do that,” Maddi added.

In August of 2010 the two women sent out an email informing potential members of the first meeting of We Are Women Helping Others, or WAWHOs. Six women attended the September meeting; a few others expressed interest in helping. The group’s name WAWHO (pronounced wah’-hoo) came about as a simple expression of their sole purpose. Today, they are approaching 30 members. Most, but not all, are from the greater Williamsport area.

“We have members now in Connecticut, two in State College, and just got one in Oregon (who just moved from Williamsport),” said Maddi. “When you read about all these things going on, you feel overwhelmed, you feel helpless; my little bit – it’s a drop in the bucket. But, here’s the thing: the ocean is made out of drops, the ocean wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for each one of those little drops – and so if we all do our small part, it becomes a much bigger thing,” Maddi realized.

“If you educate people, if you realize that every individual can make a difference; it’s eye-opening. For me, on a personal level, it fills a giving spot in my heart,” Penny added.  

What’s it all about?

The premise is simple. At each monthly meeting the women gather at a different member’s home, with each one asked to bring a suggested $10 donation. “It’s a real sisterhood, it becomes a social event for us and we get to do good things. The thing is we have really become educated to the issues that we’re researching,” said Penny.

“It’s a real exchange,” added Maddi. “Almost everybody has their own little thing, their trigger, that they’ll bring forth and talk about—for one it might be sex-trafficking, for another it’s girls’ education, for many of us it’s the maternal issues. So they may bring information on a charity working on that issue, and will share that knowledge with the rest. At some meetings, presentations are made by charities they’re considering supporting.

In the months and years following the first meeting, the WAWHOs have made a significant impact on the lives of women—both around the world and locally. “I was surprised at what a group of women can do with $10 a month,” Penny said. “Some people sometimes give more, if something really strikes them, or say we’re close to hitting a goal – like funding a fistula operation,” added Maddi.

Dollars and sense

In their first four years, the WAWHOs have funded over $12,000 in charitable activities, plus they have now donated over a ton of food (literally) to the regional food bank. “We have supported things like Family Promise [in Lycoming County] and Liberty House [a project of the regional YWCA]. In September, the entire end of the living room was filled with bedding – comforters, sheets and more. Penny and I took it up and they were just overjoyed, they were so delighted with it,” said Maddi.

The group has also provided financial support to Women for Women International, the Fistula Foundation, Shepherd of the Streets and a Somali project to train midwives. They help Two Seconds or Less, a college-kid-created charity that teaches sustainable gardening and farming in third world countries. And, they’re giving money to help a young teen in Zimbabwe continue her education (in a country where girls rarely get support beyond elementary school).

“It doesn’t take a lot of time. That’s what I would like people to know – anybody can do what we’re doing – it takes very little,” Maddi explained. “We all know groups of people who already meet regularly, whether for drinks, dinner, retirees getting together for coffee, whatever. It would be really, really simple to make that gathering have a purpose [for humanity]. We can still have a fun time – bring a little extra money, throw it in a pile in the middle of the table. We think of something that speaks to us, something that we’d like to donate to, and make a donation. It can be darn simple,” she said.

Ten dollars can buy mosquito netting for a family (to prevent malaria), or buy rice to feed a family for a month. Ten dollars as a suggested monthly amount makes it doable for anybody, the philosophy goes.

“The fact is: We don’t have to wring our hands and feel helpless anymore. We can do something. It may seem like a small thing and a drop in the bucket – but if everybody did something… my god… we could have millions of dollars supporting others,” Maddi concluded. “The power of the written word saves lives, literally. It also gives you hope. Every kid should have to read it [Half the Sky],” added Penny.

Written by Rick Mason

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