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By Brianna Knoppow

It’s a late Sunday afternoon when I walk into the suburban home in Takoma Park, MD. For a few hours I am venturing out of the microcosm that is D.C. and attending the monthly Dining for Women potluck. Glancing at the other attendees, I see more evidence that I’m not downtown anymore – for once I’m the youngest person at an event. But I’m not there to make new best friends. I’ve joined Dining for Women to be part of my first ‘giving circle,’ to meet like-minded individuals, and to partake in an internationally themed monthly potluck.

There are 429 chapters of Dining for Women, replete with 8,200 members.  Dining for Women focuses on supporting international efforts that specifically work to benefit females. What impresses me about the organization is that once a month each of the many chapters hosts a potluck to raise funds for that month’s chosen non-profit organization. Thus the money collected from one chapter is multiplied across the U.S.A. and the other countries where Dining for Women is located.

Rwanda_Classroom_edited In February our chapter watched a short video on Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) before contributing our individual donations. SHE is a non-profit organization with the goal of allowing Rwandan girls to be able to attend school during their menstruation time. I learned that over 20% of girls in Rwanda miss school during this ‘period.’ It’s difficult to contemplate that not every female can stroll down an aisle full of feminine hygiene products, with the most difficult decision being between Playtex and Tampax – or maybe the organic cotton product. SHE creates and distributes Go! pads, made with locally available banana fiber and employs locals in the production process. Additionally, SHE will be providing menstrual hygiene management training for 50 teachers.

Luckily, there is no minimum donation amount. With student loan debt looming in my mind, I handed over my check. It’s only $10, but that’s the beauty of giving circles – the combined donations add up together. For SHE, that’s a total of $44,947.

After watching the introductory video on SHE, our group engaged in a discussion. Many women were excited about the use of local materials. One woman suggests that a reusable DivaCup may be more sustainable.  This led to a friendly, though lively, discussion on cultural norms and practicality.

At another Dining for Women event we Skyped with a 22 year-old Syrian woman living as a refugee in Jordan. We learned that her family had acquired an apartment, albeit without water or electricity. I was horrified to hear that those with refugee status are not permitted to work in Jordan. Jordan suffers from high unemployment and fears that refugees will steal limited job opportunities. The woman we Skyped with has many siblings and one brother who dares to work illegally in order to feed the family. His penalty, if caught, is deportation.  That evening we raised funds for the Collateral Repair Project, which works with refugees from conflict zones. An important focus of the organization is to empower female leaders. Our 22 year-old friend is one of these leaders. Aside from the basic human needs of a refugee, she is hopeful that one day she will be able to return to her education and attain a degree in computer science. As she described her educational ambitions I felt myself becoming less consumed about my student loans and more grateful to have been granted such an educational opportunity.

Potluck_meal_(Indonesian_cuisine),_2015-04-12 March came along and we met to raise money for what I deem one of the most impressive organizations thus far – the Grandmother Project in Senegal. After dining on a potluck reminiscent of Senegal (though mostly vegetarian!), we watched a short introductory video and then Skyped with the founder of the Grandmother Project. We learned that in many rural areas of Senegal girls face female genital mutilation and teen pregnancy, among other issues. Atypical of many aid organizations, the Grandmother Project works to engage and empower the grandmothers – the decision makers in the village – in an effort to change collectively-maintained social norms. There were almost 20 people at this meeting and together we raised nearly $1,000 of the $44,500 contributed to the Grandmother Project.

I’m excited to have stumbled upon an organization, Dining for Women, that works to raise funds to better the lives of women throughout the world. As I take the long Metro ride home from Takoma Park, MD, I contemplate starting a local, D.C, chapter. I know my city apartment is too small for a potluck, so for now I will continue to make the trek and be grateful for the opportunity.

To learn more visit: http://diningforwomen.org/

Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, kayaking, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.