I am often asked why I formed International Women's Initiative. Therefore, I would like to share the story with all of you. IWI was incorporated in 2012, however I had been working on what would become the Safe Birthing Programme since 2009. IWI’s inception has two parts. The first begins innocently enough in 2009 when I was rushing out the front door on my way to the gym. As I was about to use the treadmill I realised I had forgotten my headphones. As it was then, as it is now, running on the treadmill is not my favourite activity, so having music playing was the only fighting chance I had to finish my workout. So to help me pass the time I grabbed a fashion magazine off of the rack and began reading about makeup and celebrity gossip. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a tiny one-inch article about the sex slaves and child soldiers of Uganda, and the civil war that my attention was captured. As quickly as I found the article, I was done reading it. This minuscule article held within it information that was horrific. What I found even more disturbing was that I had never heard about the Lord’s Resistance Army, a civil war in Uganda, girls being kidnapped and held as sex slaves for guerrilla fighters, and boys as young as four being forced to kill their own family and then fight as soldiers alongside their oppressor. Having considered myself a well informed educated person, I was awestruck that I knew nothing of this situation. Determined to know everything about the civil war and its victims, I poured through mountains of research on everything remotely related to Uganda and the LRA. The more I researched, the more my awestruck turned to anger.
As I got more involved with information gathering I began asking friends from various counties if they had ever heard of the LRA and the civil war. Many had very limited knowledge of what was happening, but most did not know what I was talking about. I simply could not understand why this was not being talked about more in the media, and why countries were turning a blind eye to the circumstances in Uganda.
The inspiration for IWI
By the time the seize fire was established I had gathered an enormous amount of research, but had begun focusing on the high rate of maternal death in Uganda and how it was directly effected by the war. One evening as I sat at my dining room table working on my laptop, as had now become my habit, I put all of the books I was studying, as well as the reports, newspaper printouts and other news items on the dining room table as I was looking for a certain article. The entire table was covered with research material to the point that you could not see the table. It was at that time my five-year-old son walked into the room while eating an apple and asked me why I had so many books and papers. I explained to him that in Uganda many mummies aren’t able to go to the doctor when they are having a baby, and that because of that the mummies and the babies can get sick. I have always been very honest with him about everything, including his high risk delivery which saw him arrive two months prematurely, and that we were both fortunate to have doctors and nurses to take care of us to keep us healthy.
After telling him the information about Ugandan mothers and babies, and explaining that if they didn’t get the help that we got they would most likely die, he stood quiet for a moment, deep in thought. He then looked at me and said, “You should do something about that”, and then turned and walked away to go play. As if a light turned on, I thought “Yes I can do that”. It was then that I decided to send medical supplies to Uganda to help pregnant, post and prenatal women have safe deliveries.
Having never asked for donations before this, I was completely in the dark on protocol for receiving donations. Those that I contacted for help were all very interested, but things never quite moved forward until a couple of months into knocking on every door, that I was told they could not donate to an individual, but only to a charity or non-profit. With this information I thought, “Yes I can do that”, and formed IWI. Although we have grown quite a bit from working at the dining room table to where we are now, the premise of why we are IWI has remained the same: Help women by making sure they can exercise their human rights. I was told years ago that you don’t pick a cause, the cause picks you. I am very fortunate that I was chosen.