By Falguni Vyas, World Ark contributor
Carolyn House Stewart is a woman on a mission to provide “service to all mankind.”
As president of the 106-year-old Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (AKA), the first Greek-lettered organization founded by African-American women at Howard University, Stewart shares her mission with her organization. When installed in 2010, Stewart had the unique opportunity to select a signature program to drive the organization’s service goals during her term.
Stewart said she was devoted to continuing AKA’s service legacy around the theme “Global Leadership through Timeless Service,” and immediately saw a connection between her organization’s mission and the mission of Heifer International. A longtime fan of Heifer’s work, Stewart chose The Global Poverty Initiative as her signature program. Both Heifer’s mission and diversity spoke to her, she said.
AKA has always centered its program activities on issues concerning families and communities, with an emphasis on women leaders. And, under Stewart’s leadership, AKA continues its commitment to end hunger, preserve the environment and empower women. The Global Poverty Initiative provides food production skills and training in self-reliance through gifts of seeds, livestock and training in environmentally sound agriculture — with education in sustainable food practices as the tool to make women equal partners in ending poverty and hunger. AKA partners with organizations like Heifer International to implement projects and awareness campaigns within the United States and abroad.
The idea is “to see a diverse group of people from all over the world working with one goal and one mission,” Stewart said. “To end global poverty and create economical stability for family and women is just heartwarming.”
Though Heifer works in more than 30 countries, AKA has chosen to concentrate its efforts to projects in Ecuador and Kenya. And in 2013, Stewart, along with 11 other Alpha Kappa Alpha members, traveled to witness Heifer’s work in Ecuador’s mangrove forests.
In partnership with the Foundation in Defense of Ecology and Environment, a South American nonprofit with an office in Muisne, Ecuador, the mangrove projects focus on coastal conservation and food and income security for the indigenous population, the Afro-Ecuadorian communities whose shellfish livelihoods have been threatened by commercial farming.
Ecuador’s coastal provinces contain 70 percent of the mangrove ecosystem. Historically, mangrove areas are responsible for the livelihood of small fishing and gathering traditions. However, due to large scale, commercial tropical shrimp farming, this ecosystem has been damaged, forcing most of the native population to move elsewhere and leave their ancestral territory behind.
For Stewart, the mangroves project was fascinating, particularly because AKA is made up of predominantly African-American women.
“This project intrigued me.… I was interested to support a project founded by shipwrecked slaves,” Stewart said.
The project’s beneficiaries are descendants from a wrecked slave ship heading to Peru in the early 16th century. They established settlements along the northwestern coast in Esmeraldas. The investment in the Ecuador project was an opportunity for AKA women to become advocates and leaders in global development, she said.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha women believe that we’re blessed with gifts and that we must share those gifts. Our basic philosophy is one of respect for self and humankind… we are in a global society, and we believe in doing our part.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha also supports Heifer projects in Kenya, focusing on areas with a strong potential for dairy farming but low per capita income and high child mortality rates due to malnutrition.
AKA has 260,000 members in graduate and undergraduate chapters in the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Germany, Korea and on the continent of Africa. Last year, AKA donated 1.2 million hours of service to a variety of causes and organizations, touching the lives of 12 million people and contributing more than $4 million in donations.
To date, AKA members have donated nearly $400,000 to Heifer International.