I am a rising junior at Tufts University, studying Arabic and Entrepreneurship and interning for Prosperity Candle for the summer. Hearing about Prosperity Candle’s work was truly an uncanny coincidence, a strange and wonderful intersection of my budding intellectual and personal interests:
In January, I traveled with a student development group to rural Guatemala, where we worked on several development projects in a community of resettled former Guerilla fighters. While there, we met frequently with community members to hash out plans and assess our progress over the past three years. However, one particular meeting resonates with me still. We met with the women’s association, a newly created group that had not yet asserted itself in the community and had only met a handful of times. Generally speaking, meetings were run by the men of the community, and women were present but usually very quiet. Our meeting with the women’s association was utterly unlike any we had had before: women whose voices I’d never heard were suddenly animated, talking excitedly about their goals to improve education for their children and their earning potential. They talked about learning to sew and make banana bread for supplemental income and brainstormed ways to improve their children’s nutritional intake. They also lamented the failure of local and international agencies that had come and gone from their small, rural community.
I sat there, wondering why these points hadn’t surfaced in our previous meetings. Why were these women, with such tangible goals and plans to achieve them, muted in the larger community meetings?
I had never witnessed gender disparity first hand before, and the experience was eye-opening. I had never noticed how much more readily women emphasized education and nutrition than their male counterparts. Subsequent investigations revealed some baffling world statistics: globally, women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food, and yet earn just ten percent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property.
Shortly after this trip, I decided to take a class about social enterprises, in the hopes that I could learn about other models for implementing social good. The subject was fully captivating; the business models we studied were successful to the extent that they impacted their targeted social problem, and people who might otherwise be beneficiaries of charity were instead given the opportunity to empower themselves.
Meanwhile, I had just declared a major in Arabic, and was subsequently becoming more interested in the Middle East by the day. So around mid-March, I found myself intrigued by social business, fascinated by the Middle East, and eager to learn more about women’s empowerment…all while researching summer internships with only moderate success.
And then, one evening, my friend came by to tell me about a presentation she’d heard from a woman who had co-founded a company that trained women to make candles in regions of conflict and natural disaster, piloted in Baghdad, Iraq.
Isn’t it funny how the stars align sometimes? I looked up Prosperity Candle’s website, attempted to find them on google maps, and scoured the possibilities of finagling my way into their work…
I finally sent a rambling message to the anonymous ‘contact us’ link on their website, enumerating all the reasons why I found Prosperity Candle’s mission so compelling. I clicked send, feeling a little disheartened; who ever hears back from the ‘contact us’ link?
I got a response twenty minutes later from Siiri, who had just returned home after giving a presentation at my university. In spite of some logistical challenges of having an intern so far from their Northampton office, Siiri responded with utter enthusiasm (and if anyone out there has tried to apply for summer internships, this is most definitely NOT how it goes).
And here I am, interning for Prosperity Candle, feeling humbled and inspired by their work every single day. It’s not just the poetic intersection of all of my budding intellectual curiosities that keeps me so engaged here—I’ve been given the chance to engage with something that affirms and develops my values as a human being, as a woman, and as a global citizen. Prosperity Candle has enriched my awareness of the world in ways that no class on international relations ever could, because their triumph is intertwined with the successes of real women. More than that, working with Prosperity Candle regularly affirms my own capacity to create meaningful change in the world, and to engage others in the process. It amazes me that something so powerful is possible with something as simple as a candle.