Women Who Inspire 2023: Initiatives to Change the World

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: July 6th, 2023

On the night of June 13, the stage of the Emory L. Cocke Auditorium at the EARTH Guácimo Campus was filled with female strength. Six women stepped forward to speak about their lives, their projects, and their vision for changing the world to make it a better place. These women used their voices to convey to the audience that every action counts, and that each one of us can transform our surroundings for the better in one way or another.

“Women Who Inspire” is an event series that was established in 2022 with the aim of mobilizing people through the inspiring stories of different women. These spaces are made possible by the Women’s Fund, established by Dr. Beatrice E. Lewis’s family to honor her legacy and life. The Fund’s objective is to inspire others, primarily women and girls.

On this occasion, we were honored by the presence of Senska Jean (‘16, Haiti) and Elizabeth Muthoni (‘16, Kenya) EARTH Alum & Mastercard Foundation Scholar,  co-founders of the Womenful Voice; Karla Reátegui (‘05, Ecuador), the first prefect of the Zamora Chinchipe province in Ecuador; María Paula López and María José Castro, representatives of the organization Soy Niña; and Laura Ureña, a Costa Rican singer-songwriter.

Here we share a bit about their inspiring stories.

A Journey into the Spiral of Life

“I have the need for silence

To encounter myself

To stop silencing

My own voice”

With these lyrics, Laura Ureña opened the session. She and her guitar illuminated the space with tender melodies and poetry in the form of songs that spoke of self-love, tenderness, and connecting with our own essence. Laura sang and talked about her life, her creative processes in making music, and the connection we all have with art as creators in pursuit of excellence and dedication. Taking us on a journey through her album “Espiral,” Laura discussed some moments that have been essential in her life, such as navigating grief with tenderness and redefining her spirituality. Laura shared these words with the audience:

“For me, the human experience means going through many emotions. In my case, reaching the center of the spiral of life means accepting sadness in a world that constantly imposes toxic positivity, where sadness is considered something bad. It was a personal challenge for me to accept sadness as just another emotion, to learn to live with it, and to understand that with every decision we make, we gain and lose something. Life is full of joy and mourning.”

Sovereignty for Women and Girls

Senska and Elizabeth come from different parts of the world, but their life experiences have united them with other women. Both have had to fight to make their voices heard, to break cultural stigmas in their countries, and to have access to educational and professional opportunities for personal growth. That is why, upon graduating from EARTH, they decided to create Womenful Voice, an organization that aims to empower women and girls in Haiti to defend their rights and address their own needs through quality education, training programs, and physical and mental well-being, all in order to achieve positive long-term outcomes.

To shape this organization, which has already impacted hundreds of women, both graduates had to be strategic and join forces with over 40 volunteers from 17 countries who have supported them in creating scholarship programs, mentorship initiatives, menstrual health programs, and reforestation efforts.

Senska shared, “Since we started our journey at EARTH, we questioned how we would impact the world after graduation. That’s why Elizabeth and I started this project, because we want to make a difference in the lives of girls and women in Haiti and around the world. We want them to define their own paths and futures.”

From Agriculture to Politics

Karla Reátegui comes from one of the southern provinces of Ecuador, a region with the intense greenery of the Amazon rainforest. When she returned to her country after completing her education at EARTH, Karla worked as an educator and participated in conservation projects with indigenous women. Alongside these women she developed a program to improve their access to markets and enable them to sell their agricultural products at fair prices. Since then, Karla has had a special interest in community development and the well-being of people in her region.

“While working with women, I realized that we tend to invisibilize our work. I saw them doing everything, but when I asked them, they would say they were doing nothing. Leadership roles were predominantly occupied by men. That’s when I told myself that this reality had to change, because women are capable of so much. For me, it was essential to engage in a work that was not about competing with men, but about empowering women, building self-esteem, and fostering self-love among women. This opened the path to something more.”

This is how Karla’s interest in politics was born, knowing that from a position of governmental leadership she could bring about systemic changes to help communities. She began her political career in 2014 when she was elected as vice-prefect. In 2023, she ran as a candidate and became the first female prefect of the province with over 55% of the votes and a lead of more than 20 percentage points over other candidates. Since then, she has worked tirelessly for conservation, sustainability, and access to opportunities in Zamora Chinchipe.

Girls Can Do It!

María Paula López is fifteen years old and speaks with a determination that shakes you to the core. She comes from a community that has been affected by violence and a lack of opportunities. She has been a part of Soy Niña for five years, an organization formed with the goal of empowering girls and adolescents to prevent all forms of gender-based violence, school dropouts, increased poverty rates, improper relationships, sexual abuse, and teenage pregnancies, among others.

“Soy Niña has taught me that feminism is not a whim, that it is not the result of a fragile generation, but a call to consciousness for society on behalf of all those women who cannot speak. Soy Niña is an inspiration and has taught me everything I know and feel about self-love, all that I can do and achieve. It has taught me that if I try, I can do everything that seems impossible because I have wings to fly.”

Also on stage was María José Castro, the program director of Soy Nińa, who shared how the organization supports young women and girls to reach their full potential in all possible areas, breaking cycles of poverty and gender-based violence. Thanks to Soy Niña, many girls like María Paula can grow up to be strong and independent women.

A big thank you to the Freeman family, founders of the Fund! Thanks to them, Women Who Inspire has been made possible once again, allowing us to be filled with inspiration through each speaker’s unique story.