Monday, March 28, 2011

A Volunteer In Malaysia

In January, Maria Skouras left the snowy streets of Manhattan to volunteer long-term in sunny Malaysia with an organization called eHomemakers (eH). eHomemakers’ primary mission is to help women in Malaysia who are elderly, mentally or physically disabled, low-income or single moms help themselves. This is accomplished through computer training and teaching women how to weave incredible eco-friendly baskets out of discarded magazines. Here’s more on Maria’s inspiring story!

Maria Skouras




How did you get started helping eHomemakers (eH)?
After finishing graduate school in cultural sociology and global affairs, I wanted to apply my studies to a placement in the field. I came to eH as a Peace Fellow through a nonprofit based in D.C. called The Advocacy Project. I expressed my interest in women’s empowerment, art and South East Asia, and we determined that eHomemakers and the Salaam Wanita Eco-Basket project in Malaysia would be a great match.

Describe a typical day in your life.
At 8am, I walk to the eH office and join my colleagues for a local breakfast dish, like Nasi Lemak, before starting the day’s tasks. Recently, I have been teaching a new office staff member computer skills. She was diagnosed with lupus at age 13, and as a result of this chronic disease she has not had the opportunity to work and is new to using many computer programs.

I am also working on building partnerships with schools in the United States to teach kids about the eco-baskets, recycling and global cultures. Around 1:30pm, we break for lunch and enjoy a feast of Indian, Chinese or Malay dishes. Post lunch, I work on strategizing how we can sell more eco-baskets in the United States. When the day is finished, I unwind by walking in the local park and admiring Malaysia’s lush green trees and the monkeys who inhabit them.

Maria and Agila, one of the Salaam Wanita eco-basket weavers.

What is the biggest challenge you face and how do you work to overcome it?
As a small organization with limited funds and resources, eH faces many unique challenges. One of the most difficult is encouraging low-income women to learn a new skill rather than making cash quickly by selling flowers or begging. When they are concerned that learning how to weave baskets or use a computer is too difficult and will take too long, we must show them how it can have long-term benefits for their families. Patience, understanding and persistence are required when trying to give women an opportunity to help themselves improve their circumstances.

Did you have any female influences that inspired you to get into this line of work?
Over the summer, I went to Bosnia with a youth human rights delegation. We met a woman named Meda who helped run a small organization called Krajina Tear to provide emotional support, medical attention and other vital services to war widows. Without Meda’s leadership and the dedication of the volunteers who help run the center, the needs of hundreds of women would go unrecognized. Women around the world like Meda, who are diligent and sincere about providing quality services to the public, are the ones who inspire me most.

What is the most touching thing about your job?
Giving women the training and support to learn, grow, and sustain themselves and their families. Everyone deserves an opportunity.

Author: Maria Skouras

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