Story of the Month Archive
Each month we highlight the story of one woman who is making a difference in the world. We invite you to celebrate these women, learn from and be inspired by their stories. We also invite you to share your stories of women leading the way, so that we might share it here.
September 2011: Women Empower Themselves ~ and One Another
“I can’t ‘not do’ what I do!” says Elinor Alexander, whose story we feature this month.
While some of us may not have a strong sense of purpose in life, most of us at least wonder about it from time to time. Educator Parker Palmer teaches us that before we go too far in thinking about what we want to do with our life we should first ask what our life wants us to do. That is, we should be mindful of the clues our life gives us about what our life might be. The clues may be clarity about what we truly value, clarity about our natural skills, awareness of what brings us deep joy, paying attention to what we care most about. All of these are rich sources of effective personal leadership.
For Elinor, the clues were strong, and she listened carefully. Her mother was a powerful example. Her faith is a continuing guide and source of strength. She is clear about her natural gifts of leadership and communication and continually develops these, and she feels deeply passionate about serving those in the world who most need it. Elinor shares her story in the hope that it will encourage and inspire other women to live their lives consciously and with intention.
Speaking of the role of women in the world, she is clear: “Women own the responsibility and authority to co-envision and co-create the world.” It is not women’s job to support a male world, but rather “to bring our own perspective, our own gifts of leading through relationship, of tenderness, of nurturing, of warrior protectiveness of those we’ve birthed and those who need it.”
Of Caribbean parentage, Elinor was born and grew up in England and taught in public schools in the UK before coming to the United States. Her experience in underserved schools and communities in the UK and in the US where students often came from high risk environments led her to found an Education and Life Coaching Consultancy, EducateSuccess. This provided young people and adults the opportunity to recognize their potential and develop their self-worth and confidence to succeed in all aspects of their lives. One of her basic beliefs is that we live in community, we are who we are in relation to others. Thus, in her consultant work, she engaged not only students, but also teachers, parents, families and the communities in which they lived.
When she moved to Seattle, and was looking forward to the birth of her first child, she was clear about her own need for community, “I knew that the only way to survive was to be part of a trusted community.” So, Elinor reached out to find and create such a community. A community church provided the basis for her, a group of like-minded individuals who shared a passion for service to others.
There she met life-long friends and was very clear that “When I was promoted to motherhood,” I was very conscious of those I was inviting into the lives of my children. In particular, she invited one couple to become godparents of her children. “ These people are not just traditional godparents, they help me co-parent. They are my extended family; we do life together.” The relationships are rich. The godparents participate in the development of Elinor’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Faith, now 10 and 8. Their involvement also enables Elinor to travel as needed knowing her daughters are happy in a loving environment.
In 2008, Elinor was accepted into the Master’s Program in Education at Antioch University Seattle. Her intention was to “dig deeper into evidence-based best practices for educating the underserved and the poor.” Through her own experience she knows the basic requirements of life skills based education – discovering personal uniqueness (Identify) and life purpose, identifying environmental impacts that sabotage personal and professional success and life skill tools that ensure a productive and fulfilling life. She also knows that these skills are not easily measured and thus often are under-funded, with resources channeled to what is more easily measured in quantifiable ways.
Elinor had connected with World Vision, a Christian International relief and development organization with the thought that she might do some volunteer work there. That connection came alive in a most surprising way in the winter of 2010. Shortly after the Haiti earthquake, she was shopping in an IKEA home furnishings store and recognized the gentleman whom she had met at World Vision, their Director of Education & Life Skills. Here is her story of that encounter:
He told me he was working on an early recovery proposal around education for Haiti. I said if I could assist in any way to let me know. A week later he called me to come to Haiti as a World Vision Consultant to help operationalize an initiative.
The intention of this mission was to strategize and help implement an alternative educational system that would work in countries in a state of emergency, and that would assist in their overall development efforts. “Seeing the carnage left by the earthquake and the abject poverty endured by the people of Haiti,” Elinor comments, “my work and research project shifted to facilitating and supporting the aspirations of the poorest through culturally contextualized, low or no cost, educational solutions.”
Today Elinor is employed by World Vision as a Capacity-building Advisor. Here is how she describes her work:
World Vision partnered with The Global University of Life-Long Learning (GULL). Following the earthquake, schools had been destroyed and the few education opportunities that had been available were completely disrupted. And yet, education continues there!
Community Volunteers, are not paid but do the courageous work of community development, education and social change. Many of World Vision’s volunteers barely live above subsistence level, yet they are motivated to improve the lives of those in their communities with limited resources. Many of these volunteers are older youth whose own education was interrupted. They are now teaching younger children.
These volunteers have their own educational goals, and take responsibility for their own learning as well as teaching others. They may never be able to afford traditional education – and it is arguable whether traditional learning is effective in any event. Here is where GULL comes in.
GULL, The Global University of Life-Long Learning, professionalizes those who learn and develop through an action-learning process. The volunteers determine their own curriculum based on what they want to achieve. Since there is none of the usual overheads of a traditional university, the community volunteers invest whatever they can afford.
“However,” Elinor points out, “we are finding that because many of the volunteers are being certified for the first time in their lives, they are driven and self-directed to learn and do more for themselves and their communities, as they are recognized and celebrated in the process.
Elinor’s work is to shepherd this process, to operationalize this powerful alternative education system, making it available to thousands of community volunteers that make change happen in their communities every day.
As a leader – an example, a visionary, a strategist, a creative and tenacious woman, Elinor is engaged in the two most challenging jobs in the world – parenting and teaching. Her integrity – living her values and honoring her faith, and her creation and engagement in community, enable her to lead with grace and graciousness in both her personal and professional life.
You may contact Elinor at: Elinor_Alexander@wvi.org.