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Editor’s Note: A commitment to empower women is embedded in Heifer International’s core values for sustainable development. In honor of International Women’s Day on Thursday, March 8, this week we’re sharing the stories of Heifer participants who take the gifts of animals and training and run with them to extraordinary results for themselves and their communities. Through hard work and innovations, each woman secures her rightful place in the family, the marketplace and the world.

I met Mehrunnisa on a blisteringly hot day in April 2010. It was my second day interviewing Heifer project participants in rural Rajasthan, a state in northwestern India, and I was only just beginning to grasp what being a woman in this area of the world meant.

The Heifer India staff had prepared me well, so I knew what to expect when I talked to the women: That they were probably married at the impossibly young age of 13; that they have little to no status in their families, let alone in society; that they are refused education and are instead confined to their homes.

Mehrunnisa was no exception to the rule. At 29, she was responsible for caring for her three children, her husband, her husband's parents and brother, their one water buffalo, the family’s wheat crop, and all other household duties.

At that age—my age, I kept thinking—she hadn’t considered a life outside the home. No woman is even allowed to consider that.

But Mehrunnisa was determined to change her future. Though wary about what her husband and family would say, she approached them about joining a Heifer project for women she had heard about from others. When they agreed to let her go, she never looked back.

Mehrunnisa dedicated as much time and energy into the group as she put into her family. She immediately took a loan from the group to pay off her family’s debts, attended all trainings and is now spearheading an effort to teach women sewing and embroidery skills, which would allow them to not only make more money, but to work outside their homes.

I knew I’d hear amazing stories from my time in India, but I never expected that a woman my age could teach me more about strength and determination that I hadn't already learned. I was wrong.

Read more about the women in Mehrunnisa's self-help group in the Fall 2010 issue of World Ark.


Annie Bergman

Annie Bergman is a Global Communications Manager and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo, among many others in her six years at Heifer.