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Taking the Kids: Let's hear it for women pushing their boundaries

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Let's hear it for Esther Kawewe! The young mother used to spend her days helping her mom sell vegetables in the dusty outdoor market at the small (just 3,000 people) Nakatindi Village in Zambia, a short drive from the city of Livingston and the famous Victoria Falls.

Now, Esther Kawewe earns $120 a month -- a very good salary here -- assembling and selling bikes that have been donated from America, Europe and Australia. All thanks to a project started by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, which has 41 projects in 21 countries around the world.

"Much better than selling vegetables," she said when we visited the small shop in the village where families live in one room, cook outdoors and have no electricity.

"I am earning money to feed my family," says Bridget Mayumbero, the mother of five. She adds with a shy smile, "It is good for children to see that their mothers can earn money."

March 8 is International Women’s Day, which celebrates women's achievements around the world with everything from conferences to fun runs to festivals. I'm hoping to attend a snow event at Copper Mountain in Colorado, for example, designed to help women and girls push themselves physically.

I couldn't help but think about Kawewe, Mayumbero and the other women I met so far from home who are pushing themselves in unexpected ways to make better lives for themselves and their children in the most dire of circumstances.

 

This year, the theme of International Women's Day, which began during the early years of the 20th century, is #balanceforbetter, advocating for a more gender-balanced world.

The African women explain that men here, though chronically unemployed or underemployed, don't believe women can or should work. These projects are as much about empowering women as they are about providing new revenue streams for the villagers.

The women explain that once they are trained to assemble the bikes and run a business, they spend a month putting the donated bikes together. The giant containers the bikes come in then become a part of their shop. The bikes are then sold -- for as much as $120, with people coming from Livingstone to purchase them.

Around the world, people want to help, once they are asked, said Kristy Berry, who serves on Abercrombie & Kent's philanthropy committee in Australia. Just a few messages on Facebook brought in over 500 bikes, she said. "Kids brought their bikes and attached stories about their bikes," she said. "We were inundated."

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