by Moya Tobey
Women are beautiful, strong, courageous and intelligent; that is all I saw as I walked through SowHope International’s photo gallery. The beautiful photographs taken by the co-founder and president of the Rockford-based nonprofit, Mary Dailey Brown, feature women from around the world who have lived through things none of us can imagine, and yet a smile somehow still finds its way to their lips. Sowhope board member Beth Leeson pointed to various photos, reminiscing about the stories behind the women they portray. I couldn’t help but admire them for their grit. One particular photo remains clear in my mind: an Indian woman with the biggest smile on her face, holding a book. The corners of her eyes are crinkled in joy, her pearly teeth meet the air as her lips are spread wide with the knowledge that she can read.
Brown may be petite, but her passion and determination are matchless. Her mission and the mission of SowHope is “to inspire women around the world by promoting wellness, education, and economic opportunities.” As Americans, we aren’t used to a life where we don’t have access to any of these. Women have historically been an underestimated and disenfranchised group, and it’s even more evident in developing countries. Brown noticed the chasm between men and women during her travels as the director of missions at a large church. She saw women being tasked with all the laborious work and receive no recognition, respect or position in their communities. Determined to change this, Brown began looking for an organization that provides aid to women across the globe and came up empty-handed. Then she was struck with the crazy idea to start her own.
“What we’ve learned is that if you help women, you have found an amazing key to change the world.”
“I kept thinking somebody would tell me, ‘You can’t do that, it’s too hard,'” Brown said. “[But], after [telling] about ten people, they all kept saying it was a great idea.”
With encouragement and support from friends and family, she started what she felt was a needed source of help for women all over the world. In 2006, SowHope International was founded. They aimed to create a plan so simple others could easily follow in their footsteps; SowHope comes alongside women and provides funding for projects they believe their community needs. SowHope listens to the needs of the community, rather than assume what would be best for a group of people of which they aren’t apart. Study after study shows that when financial aid goes to women in need, their families are more likely to benefit.
“What we’ve learned is that if you help women, you have found an amazing key to change the world,” Brown expressed.
Today, SowHope has impacted over 92,000 women and counting. They have funded projects in 20 countries and plan on continuing to raise that number. Just a few of the countries reached are Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic of the Congo. They hope to be in every country in the world someday. To date, 198 projects have been completed. There are three major project areas: wellness, education and economic. These projects are life-changing for the women they impact.
SowHope isn’t just supporting women, they are saving lives. Brown shares an example of one of the projects they funded. A local leader came to SowHope and requested help to build a birthing center for the women. At that time, they were using old beds and didn’t have the supplies they needed for mothers in labor. SowHope helped them get the funding necessary to build the center. When it was finished, lives were saved; eighty women lived through childbirth who would have likely died.
Leeson reflects, “We have so much hope, we don’t even think about it; we take it for granted. But in places where there is no hope, it’s a huge thing to go from being hopeless, which most of us have never experienced or at most in fleeting moments, to ‘I have hope’.”
To learn more and get involved, visit sowhope.org.