Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. ~W. Clement Stone
In 1998, I traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to help establish a study-abroad program. While there, I visited a Baptist seminary with a colleague who had founded the school many years before. As we walked the grounds, he pointed to the trees along the path and told me about planting them. As we passed the library, he pointed to the bookshelves and related the painstaking task of choosing the first volumes. And as we approached the administration building, he pointed to a corner and recalled the day the foundation was poured. Almost on cue, the Headmaster came out the front doors to greet us. The old friends embraced, and my colleague shared that the Headmaster had been his very first pupil to attend – and graduate from – the seminary. The moment was poignant to the point of being poetic.
Later that evening, I wondered aloud to my husband if I would ever accomplish something so meaningful. Sure, I was compassionate, and generous to the extent I felt I was able, and civically engaged – after all, ‘Do Good’ was a part of my core. But on a grander scale, I wondered what I’d point to one day and claim as my influence on the world.
The Power of Education. The Power of Women.
In the intervening years, I’ve spent most of my professional and volunteer life immersed in education and sisterhood, working as a university administrator and volunteering within the fraternal community. Those are my two great passions – the transformative power of education and the developmental influence of empowered relationships among women. So last year, when a like-minded group of women read Half the Sky and were stirred by a common conviction, it was a natural collision of my great passions to rally around a good friend’s challenge to do something. Something big.
So we networked. We organized. We incorporated. We fundraised. Suddenly (it wasn’t “suddenly” – it was painstakingly deliberate, but in hindsight, the work is masked by the euphoric realization that it happened, and “suddenly” feels like how it came to be…), the Circle of Sisterhood existed. It existed as a Foundation, but even better, it existed as movement – we were a circle of women, bound by the values-based sisterhood of our sorority experience, and it was our purpose to extend that sisterhood to women everywhere, building a support system worldwide that gave women options out of poverty and oppression and broadened their access to resources and learning.
Our First Grant
As the interim chair of the Grants Committee, recommending that first grant last November was priceless. Our grant supported young women in Northern Ethiopia, an area that Jeffrey D. Sachs, noted United Nations scholar, identified as one of “extreme poverty.” There, women who are blind are required to leave the shelter of a school, placing them in a very vulnerable position as likely targets for crime and abuse. Our grant helped support a home for these women, creating a Braille library for them to continue their education and teach younger girls how to live with blindness. How deeply this act resonated with me is almost beyond words – it was as if everything that mattered to me aligned. We were reaching out to women afflicted with visual impairments, not to mention oppression and discrimination. We were supporting education. Promoting a sense of community. Affirming personal worth. Offering hope.
Now, a year later, grant requests are rolling in, and the work continues to be significant. Throughout, I find myself walking that metaphorical path with my seminary friend back in Africa. Then, I was so overwhelmed by the greatness of what he had accomplished that I felt anything I might do would be insignificant in comparison. With a perspective that time and maturity have informed, I have learned that passionate commitment begins a journey.
Walk with Me
On that journey, you plant. You buy. You build. You come into a Circle and push it outward. You transform what-ifs into let’s-dos and suddenly (which isn’t sudden at all), you find yourself walking down the path, pointing to the vocational education of a young woman in Cambodia; pointing to Braille books for women in Ethiopia; pointing to 38 girls who have access to learning in Tanzania; pointing to a high performing student in Zambia who didn’t have to drop out of secondary school, after all.
These powerful stories lend momentum to an ever-widening Circle of Sisterhood and the passionate commitment that fuels its purpose. Walk with me, will you? Let’s see what, together, we’ll point to next. I suspect it will be poignant to the point of being poetic.
Beth Searcy is a volunteer for the Circle of Sisterhood. She is the International President of Delta Gamma Fraternity and Assistant Dean of Academic Services and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Mary Washington. She resides in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and her husband agrees that their trip to Africa reframed their view of and perceived purpose in this world. They are planning a trip there with their son and daughter, and whether its in Africa or their own backyard, they champion education and the power of women in community changing the world.