Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The Inspiring Parallel Lives of Two Ambitious 10,000 Women ScholarsPublished: April 28, 2010
Jamie Almanza first met Carl several years ago. "Carl came to our transitional housing program for homeless youth," says Almanza, director of administration for the Fred Finch Youth Center in Oakland, Calif. "He displayed odd social mannerisms, such as holding gazes too long or, [alternatively], avoiding eye contact." The young man also heard voices and sometimes used illegal drugs to quiet them.
Almanza says Carl is not unlike many of the neglected young people she works with at this youth center in the heart of Oakland, a fringe city on the San Francisco Bay that suffers from high unemployment, widespread poverty and violent crime. "Many youth have experienced severe neglect and abuse, including emotional, physical and sexual. Many of their parents themselves are the victims of trauma and abuse, are or have been drug users and live at or below the poverty line."
But thanks to the respite Almanza and her staff offer at Fred Finch, a safe haven for urban youth in the downtrodden community, Carl has become one of the center's success stories. A combination of counseling and medication has allowed the young man to work a steady job at a local restaurant, which Almanza says, "helped him feel like a productive member of society and placed him firmly on a path to wellness and financial independence."
Children Sleeping in the Streets
More than 7,000 miles away in Kabul, Afghanistan, Andeisha Farid, executive director of Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), makes sure the doors of the orphanage are guarded each night. In Kabul, a ravaged city afflicted by three decades of war, the stakes are high due to a lack of food, water and shelter and the fact that children are most at risk for becoming victims of sexual trafficking and abuse.
"Security is the biggest challenge for us," says Farid, who founded AFCECO and now works with 400 children in six orphanages throughout the region. Because the country has been at war for so many years, she says the conflicts have resulted in millions of death and destruction and the collapse of the country's infrastructure. The children she works with every day have witnessed many personal atrocities -- including the loss of their parents and other family members. According to UNICEF, 60% of Afghan children have lost at least one member of their family and 35 percent have lost one of their parents. Farid says that more than 600,000 children sleep on the streets.
AFCECO, says Farid, aims to implement creative solutions to these staggering problems, including education. During a recent interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Farid granted access to news cameras at the facility where guards provide necessary security and girls are only allowed outside for school each day. It's become one of the only safe havens for almost 70 girls and 15 boys in the capital city.
Both Almanza and Farid are recent graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program that teaches practical business skills -- Almanza through Mills College in Oakland and Farid through the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. Though oceans and thousands of miles separate them, the program's education and professional advising have helped both women fulfill a common mission -- rescuing the world's at-risk children. "One thing that Jamie and Andeisha must share is iron-discipline," says Siobhan Reilly, a professor of economics at Mills College Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of business, who first drew the parallels between Almanza and Farid's lives when she met Farid at a 10,000 Women event in July 2009. Mills College is the only 10,000 Women partner school teaching business skills to women in the U.S. "I was always astonished at Jamie's ability to meet her academic commitments, while juggling a job and a young family on her own."
Behind the Scenes
As she rushes to make her 9 a.m. meeting, Almanza gets her two children ready, remembering their backpacks and her briefcase. As a single mother who married and divorced young, she often runs on willpower, balancing the important work she does both at home and at the center, and finding time to make it to one child's soccer game, as well as a late-night meeting. "My most memorable achievement was walking across the stage to receive my MBA and glancing out of the corner of my eye as I shook the school president's hand to see my two children gazing at me with a proud smile on their faces," remembers Almanza. It is education, she says, that has allowed the single mother to care for her children and provide a strong support system at home.
In many ways, both Almanza and Farid have personal ties to the work they do. As a child, Farid's family fled Afghanistan during Russia's invasion in the 1980s. The former refugee experienced a painful childhood in a camp where there was no running water, electricity or education system -- not unlike the challenges many of the children today face in the orphanage. "I saw women and children dying of hunger," she says. "I heard the story of women who had been raped by armed gangs. I knew many people who lost members of their family."
Farid moved back to Kabul in 2007 and applied for acceptance into 10,000 Women. Both women have received scholarships and skills from the program, which they have applied to the nonprofit work they now do -- work that touches individuals on two very different and very similar sides of the world. "I feel that I was one of the lucky children who got the chance to be educated and go to university," says Farid. "And one of the reasons I got involved with the 10,000 Women program was to improve my knowledge of management, leadership and finance."
Thousands of miles away, Almanza admits there are many obstacles in the work she does, especially as more Bay Area families are challenged by economic hardships, and the state's budget problems create shortfalls in nonprofit funding that directly impact the center. "We have experienced funding cuts to some of our core service programs, such as our residential treatment programs for youth who are both mentally challenged and developmentally delayed," says Almanza, who has used her 10,000 Women skills to create strong business plans that reduce financial dependence and save vital programs.
Several years ago, Farid began working with U.S.-based CharityHelp International to create the Child Sponsorship Program. "Nearly 300 children have been sponsored through this program by people around the world," she says. Farid, like many Afghans, hopes for a peaceful future, but is all too aware of the impact that campaigns against terror and drug mafias have on the country. "I would like to open a school for the children," she says. Because the education standards are so limited in Afghanistan's public school system, poor children and kids on the street can't often afford good education.
There are similar struggles in Oakland, where drop-out rates are tied to teen pregnancy, drug abuse and family hardships. But Almanza sees the casualties to this war as important resources. "Disadvantaged youth are the future of our world, of our society, of our communities," says Almanza -- speaking not just for her own community, but a global one. "Disadvantaged youth, many of whom do not have a voice, who are marginalized in society, and who are unable to dream of a prosperous future, are who we need to care, provide for and nurture."