March 7 2018

Women’s Empowerment Strengthens Families and Transforms Communities Around the World

Lynn Croneberger, SOS-USA CEO (2012-2018), shares an inspirational story from Zambia in honor of International Women’s Day.

By: Lynn Croneberger
CEO of SOS Children’s Villages–USA (2012-2018)

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the stories of women who lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of economic hardship. Women who embody a true picture of resilience and #PressForProgress through their everyday ingenuity, compassion and hard work.

Each and every day at SOS Children’s Villages, I am inspired by countless women around the world. On this day to honor women, I would like to share the story of one such woman, Sherapy, a young mother from Zambia. She grew up in a family of 10 children on the outskirts of Lusaka. Her family struggled to make ends meet, scratching out a meager living on small-scale farming. Her parents could not afford her school fees so she had to drop out of school after 6th grade.  Shortly after, she got married and had to start working. 

“Life was tough for us without a stable income”, Sherapy recalls. ”I worked in a salon braiding hair but my real interest was in sewing. I looked forward to the day that I would learn to sew and open my own store. But my dream was fading quickly in the daily struggle for survival.”

Sherapy’s story is not unique in countries like Zambia, where according to the World Food Programme, 60 percent of people live below the poverty line and 42 percent are considered to be extremely poor. For women, the situation is compounded by their lack of educational opportunities and lower level of economic, social and political power. They fight daily to support themselves and their families.

However, Sherapy’s story has a different ending. She was admitted to the SOS Vocational Training Center program for sewing and design in Lusaka. This training center is one of many SOS vocational training programs around the world, providing education and job training to nearly 170,000 people each year.  Upon graduation, Sherapy was accepted to an entrepreneurship program, training her on critical skills to set up and manage her own business. She then won the contract to sew 1,000 school uniforms for the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, giving her the financial freedom to open her own tailoring shop.
Fast forward a few years and Sherapy now employs her sisters, who earn a decent income and learn valuable entrepreneurial skills running the shop. In addition to generating a stable income, Sherapy supports her teenage daughters to further their education and to follow the careers of their choice.

“One of my daughters says she wants to be a teacher, and the other one wants to become a doctor. I want to help them achieve their dreams. As for me, I would like to stop sewing one day and instead pass on this skill to other young people. I hope to be a tailoring instructor,” says Sherapy.

For me, Sherapy is a testament to how empowering a woman with tools and resources provides opportunities to her family and strengthens her community. Studies have shown that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, creating transformative change within entire communities.

As we acknowledge progress and honor women like Sherapy on International Women’s Day, let us not forget the need to press forward for women around the world. We must do more and work harder to give women the support they need to not just survive, but to thrive and transform their communities.