Helping third-world women

Amelia Tanki, a grandmother who lives on a farm in Ramokotjo, Lesotho, earns nearly $50 a year for the 3.5 pounds of mohair she spins each month on a bicycle wheel. She spins in the evenings after a full day of farm chores and is one of many women of her area who, since 1975, have spun the fleece from the Angora goat and sold it through village cooperatives.

The extra money helps support her grandchildren, pay for school fees and uniforms, and purchase seeds and fertilizer for her garden.

Amelia's story illustrates how tangible improvements can result from one small, appropriately designed development project. Amelia's bicycle wheel happens to have been provided by CARE, the international aid and development organization that works in partnership with governments and local organizations in 35 countries of the third world.

CARE (Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere), founded in 1946, is the agency that delivered $10 CARE parcels to millions of specified recipients in the hard years following World War II. In 1950, the delivery of farm tools to farmers in other countries became the forerunner of today's multiple self-help programs.

Since 1966 (except for recent food parcels sent to Poland), the nonsectarian organization has focused on helping people help themselves and on community development, primary health care, feeding, and conservation. Today's 135 CARE projects range from nutrition education in India to refugee feeding in Somalia, from reforestation in Guatemala to the construction of water systems in the Sudan.

According to Dr. Philip Johnston, executive director of CARE, women are direct participants or primary beneficiaries in nearly 60 of these projects, which in 1982 delivered $274 million worth of food, supplies, and services to impoverished people around the world.

''Women play an extremely important role in any successful development process,'' Dr. Johnston said during an interview in CARE's New York headquarters. ''Women are central participants in the economies of their families and communities and are the providers of health care and education to their children and grandchildren. We have always been aware of the importance of women and have devised programs for them that will satisfy their intense desire to build a better life for themselves and their families.''

In Lima, Peru, for instance, the CARE Urban Renewal Program enables women to exchange their labor for food. It also helps women to break out of their traditional roles and to help improve their slum surroundings. Maria Quispe de Larco, a 49-year-old widow with two children, is now participating in this program by helping to construct a community center where she may eventually take classes in reading, writing, and dressmaking.

Other women in the program are helping to build health centers, establish parks, build classrooms, dig ditches, and lay pipes.

In Bangladesh, a women's development program is teaching women about health and nutrition, how to plant vegetable gardens and fruit trees, and how to raise better poultry. At 12 training institutes throughout the country, women health workers are taking classes in anatomy, midwifery, family planning, sociology, and community health. They then take their know-how out to the villages.

Sahara Begum, who lives in a typical one-room hut in Bangladesh with her husband and two children, participates in such a program. She has told CARE officials that it has diminished her feeling of isolation and has given her practical knowledge, skills, and an opportunity to exchange ideas with other women.

In Haiti, a country with extreme political and economic hardships, CARE operates a variety of projects, including a preschool feeding program that provides supplementary feeding for malnourished children. Another provides health services and training in nutrition, health, gardening, and home economics for mothers in rural areas. Some Haitian women have gone on from such training programs to become project-center directors and instructors.

Since its founding, CARE has provided aid to needy people and disaster victims valued at more than $3 billion in almost 80 countries. It terms itself a ''private, nonprofit, nonsectarian, and nonpolitical organization.'' After being invited into a host country, it works in a partnership agreement with the government. It is also international, since it now includes CARE Europe, CARE Deutschland, CARE Norge, and CARE Canada. Today a staff of 200 works in the headquarters office in New York, and 60 others work in 16 regional offices in the United States. The organization employs over 130 technicians for overseas and assigns and supervises the work abroad of about 3,000 employees, whose wages are usually paid by host governments. Volunteers are also an important part of the work in every country.

''Increasingly,'' Dr. Johnston sums up, ''we have focused attention on women's pervasive role in their societies and have constantly tried to improve their status. It has been gratifying to us to witness their overall progress. We are particularly impressed with the increase in literacy, the decline in infant mortality, and the increase in life expectancy. We have been delighted to see the increase of personal esteem and sense of self-worth in these third world women as they have responded to training and new ideas.''

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