Perhaps worse when women must travel home in the dark.
For AOL's Monster Help Day, I volunteered at MADRE, a non-profit based in New York City that works to promote women's reproductive rights and prevent violence against women. Among its many social justice concerns, MADRE partners with local organizations to ship supplies for women in countries including Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Kenya, and Haiti. While other groups in NYC sold cupcakes in Grand Central Station to benefit the American Cancer Society or worked with the Ronald McDonald House, I chose to volunteer at MADRE because I believe protecting women's health and safety is a fundamental concern for social justice.
This morning I joined a team of volunteers packing boxes to be sent to Los Misquitos, an indigenous community on the east coast of Nicaragua.
MADRE identifies the specific needs of each community by collaborating with local organizations and doctors. The shipment requests they receive may surprise you; while clothes donations are standard issue (and surely appreciated), the most frequently requested items include condoms, sanitary pads, and contact lenses. Ah, the little things!
It was the last of these concerns that we worked to address today, sorting and packing donations of eyeglasses, contact lenses and cleaning solutions to be sent to doctors in Nicaragua. Volunteering for a few hours in the morning was a welcome break from a day parked in front of a computer screen. The physical and mental labor was minimal (check that the lenses haven't expired, make a note, and -- presto! -- into the shipping box), but the impact on the recipient community could be substantial.
In addition to eyewear, MADRE sends flashlights and whistles to Haiti and Guatemala to help protect women from sexual assault. These supplies are crucial, particularly in Guatemala, where gender-based violence has reached record levels. A recent Amnesty International report detailed the severity of the abuses: in 2010 alone more than 685 women were killed. According to MADRE, women are often assaulted walking to and from work, often after working until late at night in sweatshops.
Where violence against women is rampant, providing glasses, flashlights and whistles may seem like a small step in the right direction. However, such basic provisions are unavailable to women in many communities. Packing boxes full of supplies to provide such tangible support for these women was a wonderful feeling.
For women around the world, the simple guarantee of walking safely to school is essential not only for their education and self-esteem, but for their futures.
To learn more about MADRE or donate eyeglasses or contact lenses, visit www.madre.org.