Sunday, August 30, 2009

Running update: Sisters are doing it for themselves

I hope I am not boring you with my effusive posts about running. It's just that I am giddy about my new-found hobby--for what it has done for me and for what it might help me do for others.

Sunday morning, at the start of my eighth week of the Couch-to-5K program, I ran for 28 minutes--something I could scarcely believe would be possible when I started this exercise in June. This process of training my body and mind, of learning that I can keep going even when what I really want to do is quit, and of becoming the type of woman that I once admired but never thought I could become, has been awakening and inspiring.

I am finding that this is what running can do for women: it allows us, so often the nurturers of others, to show up for ourselves (in the words of my blogsister Liz, who completed the Los Angeles Marathon this year). It helps us find our energy, strength, flexibility and stamina--so says reader Meghan, who has joined me in training for Chicago's Run for Congo Women on Oct. 3. Running can help preserve your sanity and salve your grief, according to Sandy Felt, a woman whose husband died on Sept. 11 and whose inspiring story is shared in the book Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running. It can help young girls develop physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being, according to Girls on the Run, a program that "encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running."

That's powerful stuff.

Running is one way that women can create personal change, but also positive change for others. Think of the women, in the Girls on the Run clip above, who are using their hobby to embolden young girls and innoculate them against self-doubt, sexism and other challenges. I started on this path after learning the plight of women in the Congo and discovering how Run for Congo Women and Women to Women International seek to help Congolese women help themselves.
Women in the Congo carry the heaviest of burdens. They have been gang raped. Tortured. Watched their husbands and children murdered in front of them. Forced to flee their homes. They are internally displaced persons with no means of supporting themselves or their living children. Many have watched two, four, even seven children die from preventable illnesses. But they are also survivors. They take in orphans. They build businesses. They are rebuilding their communities and country. Read more...

Women for Women International mobilizes women to change their lives through a holistic approach that addresses the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments. We begin by working with women who may have lost everything in conflict and often have nowhere else to turn. Participation in our one-year program launches women on a journey from victim to survivor to active citizen. We identify services to support graduates of the program as they continue to strive for greater social, economic and political participation in their communities. Read more...

When we Run for Congo Women, we are sending a simple message: Congolese lives matter. The lives of Congolese women are significant. The lives of Congolese children are precious. They have waited far too long. They are worth our effort. We are running to help. Join us! Read more...

I'm running on Oct. 3 to raise money and help support my sisters in the Congo, who are working to regain their lives and their agency.

By the way, like the women in the Congo, women around the world are working amid shocking conditions to make a difference in their own lifes and the lives of their families, communities and sisters. According to a recent New York Times article by Nicholas Kristoff, author of the upcoming book "Half the Sky":

“Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution. Read more...

What does this all have to do with running? You know, as I finish this post, I'm not exactly of sure. I am not about to compare my decision to jog around my suburban, middle class, Midwestern neighborhood to a woman in a developing country's struggle to simply survive.

But as I train for the Run for Congo Women and I learn something about myself and my body; as I receive e-mails from readers who have also decided to join the race for Congolese women; as I review the truly generous support from female readers of this blog, who have never met me face-to-face, yet have pledged dollars to my run; as I read the stories of women around the world who have overcome challenges very great and very small; I get this feeling of interconnectedness.

This weekend, I read the NYT story referenced above and learned about Saima Muhammed, an abused and impoverished woman who began her own business and changed her life and that of her daughters with the help of the Kashf Foundation, which provides microloans that are guaranteed by women for other women. I also listened to the Runner's Roundtable podcast and heard about a young girl rendered mute by years of mistreatment and abuse, who, after completing a 5K with the help of the women of Girls on the Run, found the courage to speak for the first time in more than a year.

I am reminded that, despite our individual privileges, women and girls across the globe share the fundamental challenge of being female in a world that does not value us.

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century. Read more...

I am reminded, though, not just of our fundamental challenges, but of our fundamental strength and compassion. I am reminded of our potential power, if we work together. Women are, after all, more than 50 percent of the world population. We could hold up more than half the sky.

I am reminded of sisterhood.

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