While it is hard to be excited these days, it is a moment of extreme need to be creative. With unprecedented levels of uncertainty as well as the loss, pain, and fear we are experiencing, we need to keep in mind that many women and girls are sheltering at home without safety. This fact makes the work that we do critical and is pushing us to step out of our usual modes of teaching to create access for those at home, all while understanding the complications within that.
When I first joined WMM, I was inspired to think deeply about what I wanted to leave as my legacy in the world of philanthropy. For many years, as the founder of El HaLev, a non-profit doing amazing work giving women and girls the skills to successfully navigate the world from a safer and stronger place, I found it immensely frustrating that it was nearly impossible to find foundations and funds willing to support our work.
When I came to my first WMM Summit in 2016, I found women who were passionately invested in women and girls and who had really done some deep work to explore their special role in making the world a better place. I met those who were dedicated to women in film, small businesses run by women of color, and getting girls into STEM. And while many people invested in helping women and girls recover from violence, I really did not find anyone who was working specifically on giving them the skills needed to handle violence as it was developing, as it happens; in other words, at the point when inevitably they would be the only one alone with the person who was intent on harming them. It was at that moment that I knew what my calling was. It was then that I dedicated myself to giving all that I could possibly give – time, talent, and treasure – to programs, both established and grassroots, and individual women teaching Empowerment Self Defense (ESD).
The following summer, I decided to bring ESD practitioners, many who had been teaching at least 2-3 decades together, for a week-long incubator at a YMCA camp in upstate NY. Emily Nielsen Jones was the first to step up and help make that dream happen. There are no words enough to thank her.
From that incubator, we created ESD Global, Inc., a non-profit based in Boston that is dedicated to making ESD training accessible globally through training ESD trainers to teach in their communities, to supporting research and programs that increase public awareness of the profound benefits of ESD training, and to engaging stakeholders to increase access to ESD training. We are proud to boast 150 graduates teaching in over 50 countries, connected by an online community of over 200 professionals.
Since then, I was able to visit the GALS school in Denver, thanks to Tuti Scott and Liz Wolfson, and got to both teach and set up a connection with a local ESD provider, IMPACT Colorado, for them. What fun that was!
This led to a connection between a newly created GALS affiliate school in Jerusalem called Inbar, where El HaLev is teaching martial arts and ESD to the girls. The staff cannot stop talking about how these classes are making a difference for them in the classroom.
Anu Jain has been part of a deepening connection with GirlUp, and two of their staff were able to attend an ESD Global training in Nashville this past January. She and Kylie Schuyler are now working together to solve the problems of GBV in both of their organizations which will include primary prevention and ESDG is thrilled to join as partners in that, too.
Rachael Wells helped organize classes for her kids’ school in NYC and also sponsored three women to attend the Master Instructor Training in Israel in February so that we can scale the number of Instructor Trainings from four in 2019 to what we had hoped would be 15 (minimum) in 2020! Everyone is waiting with bated breath and ready to go.
Holly Fogle connected us with Nido de Esperanza in Harlem and I am hoping, Corona-willing, that we will be able to get some of their staff trained this summer in upstate NY.
Deborah Lindholm helped us identify a Liberian candidate for the Israel Training, and we can’t wait to do our first teacher training there.
We also had the new village director, Laure, of the Agohozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, train with us in that same program because of my connections with Laurie Franz who is new to WMM but an amazing addition! We had hoped to run our first teacher training in Africa this July, and [deep sigh] it is not looking good at this point.
Wendy Reed and I are working to help bring ESD both to the Toronto community and deeper into the Plan International programs. The goal for many of us is to get organizations to understand how ESD should be part of the DNA of every program that is working to empower girls and women. Personal safety is a human right and learning the tools to be as safe as possible is about living a fully empowered, quality life.
This is truly what the WMM community means to me. Women working together to amplify the messages, change the systems to support safe living, and the more we do, the better for everyone. One of the strengths of WMM is our ability to come together to build solutions to world problems through partnership.
1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence. That is an unacceptable statistic. The only way to change it is to amplify prevention.
“GBV is one of the most widespread violations of human rights and has long-term devastating effects on the lives of girls and women, their communities, and wider society. It is time to say, ‘enough is enough,’” says Kylie.
“Imagine a world where every girl feels safe to reach her full potential – building and providing a curriculum to prevent GBV is key to creating safer communities globally where girls can thrive,” Anu states.
I have said over and over, that until we are addressing fear and silencing, we will not be seeing the drop in GBV that our girls deserve. Empowerment Self-defense teaches skills for reducing, first and foremost, the fear of using your voice.
Once upon a time, no one knew what CPR was. Only doctors could save lives. I want my legacy to be that ESD becomes as understood and as widely taught as CPR. The more people learn it, the safer we all become.
Liz shared with me that that one ESD session with me and my team opened her team’s minds and bodies to the possibility of raw power physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
There is so much to do! Today, our team is retraining from face-to-face classes, to online programs, which is no simple feat for such a very physical and emotional program. We are in the process of developing an app to help those women and children who are sheltering in fear so that they can get through this, and hopefully safely out of there. The work continues and I am honestly the luckiest person in the world because I work together with some of the most amazing, courageous, creative, and talented women that you can find.