Empowering Women

6 Unbound women challenging poverty on International Women’s Day

February 28, 2022 | Be Inspired

Around the globe on March 8, individuals, businesses and organizations alike will ponder the past, present and future successes of women — the ground that has been gained and has yet to be gained in the battle for equality — in recognition of International Women’s Day.

Though much work has been done, there is still much left to do, particularly in economically developing countries. When women are educated, the decisions they make can help break the cycle of generational poverty. According to the World Bank, “more educated women are typically healthier, participate in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children.” Unbound’s mission of walking with the poor and marginalized, along with a belief in the dignity and inherent potential of all people, has lent itself naturally to the empowerment of girls, young women and mothers.

For this International Women’s Day, we’re recognizing the achievements of the women of the Unbound community with six feature stories on those who, through their experiences with Unbound, are charting their own paths to a more sustainable future.


It has been said that to educate a girl is to educate a nation. In the Unbound program, 51% of sponsored children stay in school more than a year longer than their peers, giving them greater opportunities to realize their potential from a young age, much like Kavi.

Kavi, India — Teaching the art of self-defense 

Sexual violence against women and girls in India has long been a crime rooted in control and patriarchy, with little acknowledged justice for victims. To empower women to protect themselves, many self-defense style classes have been introduced into school curricula, and this is how sponsored child Kavi was first introduced to Silambam. Silambam is a weapon-based Indian martial art, typically conducted with a bamboo staff.

Kavi began learning Silambam at the age of 10 at school and, for the past five years, has participated in almost 30 Silambam matches at the state, district and national levels, winning many awards, cash prizes and certificates. In 2021, she was awarded a certificate for her performance from the Universal Achievers Book of Records, a world record-certifying organization.

The daughter of a fish vendor and car driver, Kavi uses funds she receives from her sponsorship to pay her school fees, and for extracurricular and other Silambam activities. Her love of the martial arts has led her to teach a free Silambam class to 30 other children in her neighborhood. “I really want to thank Unbound,” Kavi said. “Unbound is always there to support me and … was a great encouragement for my achievement.”


Children and youth living on the margins are often faced with sacrificing education in the name of working to put food on the table or a roof over their heads. Through Unbound sponsorship and the scholarship program, students have the opportunity to stay in school longer and be better prepared on a path out of poverty. In 2020, Unbound provided $3.6 million in scholarships to over 9,000 students, who — like Isidora and Rica — are already using their educations to effect change, personally and community-wide.

Isidora, Chile — Using knowledge to serve elders

A part of Unbound’s sponsorship program for almost 20 years and a scholarship recipient, Isidora remembers being one of only three other young women in her university’s computer engineering classes. The daughter of a single mother who does housework and makes pastries for a living, Isidora knows the value of hard work.

She enjoys using her knowledge of computers to train sponsored elders and mothers in the Unbound program and, through her Unbound scholarship, created a computing class for the organization. Through this, she has built leadership skills and learned the art of teamwork. Isidora calls the work Unbound has done in her life “beautiful,” and its commitment to people noticeable.


Sponsored youth and scholar Isidora (seated) uses her talent with computer software to teach Unbound elders the basics of computer technology at the Unbound Valparaiso program offices in Chile. Pictured with Isidora is Unbound staff member Rosario.

Rica, Philippines — Using knowledge to build a dream

Across the globe, male students express science and engineering career expectations at twice the rate of young women. In the U.S., for example, only 14% of engineers are women. But sponsored youth and civil engineering student Rica is not afraid to challenge unfavorable statistics with lofty goals and showing the world the “intelligence and the ability of youth” like her. She dreams of one day being recognized as a top licensed civil engineer and traveling to Singapore to learn about urban planning and sustainable development, and she is well on her way.

Her research project, Project Nurturing Child’s Talents, earned her first-place recognition at the World S!NERGY Competition (Student, Ideas, Energy), which engages youth internationally to pitch projects that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Her project aimed to create a charity that offered technical vocational training to children with disabilities in her community. First prize consisted of $5,000, which she has used to bring her charity to life and to improve the living situation of her single-parent family.

“I have this happy feeling when I do something for others … despite [my] own struggles,” said Rica, who credits Unbound sponsorship with helping her to reach her potential and pursue her dreams. “I will continue to grow despite my personal limitations and the limitations set to me by society.”


Sponsored youth Rica is working to create a local charity for children with special needs, providing them with technical vocational training in such areas as organic agriculture production, massage therapy, cooking and housekeeping, so they might use the experience one day to “earn their own money as they journey [through] life.”


In the Unbound community, women are particularly connected to one another, feel empowered to seek change and exercise leadership. Unbound organizes and encourages mothers of sponsored children to form small groups to leverage their knowledge and take advantage of individual skillsets. Today, there are more than 13,000 mothers groups across 19 countries. Ninety percent of mothers of sponsored children believe they have the power to change the lives of their families, as evidenced by the work of Marcelina and Jesil.

Marcelina, Guatemala — Empowering her children to achieve

As a child, Marcelina remembers sometimes only eating twice per day, attending school barefoot and carrying her pencils and notebooks in her hands because she had no backpack. The daughter of an alcoholic father, Marcelina eventually dropped out of school to help her mother support the family, abandoning her childhood dreams of becoming a teacher.

She married at the age of 19 and is the mother of seven children. It’s important to her that her children get the education that she never had the opportunity to complete; her youngest son is in school and sponsored through Unbound, while another son is a part of the scholarship program. To support their educational and other living expenses, Marcelina learned the art of candy making from her grandparents. She is currently one of only six other people in her community who can make the traditional candy called melcocha to sell at fairs in Guatemala.

Jesil, Philippines — Empowering community improvements

A single mother when her family began with Unbound in 2017, Jesil has instilled a desire for education and good values into her three children. In particular her sponsored son Keem dreams to be a policeman one day to help maintain peace and order in their community. Jesil runs a small store in front of their home and joined the YAPAK 6 mothers group where, despite her initial shyness, she quickly rose to a leadership position.

When the group noticed a dangerously steep and flood-prone stairway in their neighborhood, they decided to apply for one of Unbound’s Agents of Change grants. Jesil spearheaded the initiative, teaching herself to write the initial proposal and then managing the construction of the new stairway once the grant was awarded. Several Unbound groups worked for a month on the project, resulting in the development of a beautiful bridge and stairway with railings that is now safe for those in the community, both young and old, to cross.

Jesil said being a part of the Agents of Change project has taught her how to be a leader and she hopes others will support the program. “… We have a beautiful outcome … [that] will benefit the community at large, not only Unbound members.”


Besides the safe bridge and stairway that Jesil’s mothers group constructed with the help of an Agents of Change grant, they have also received funding to have solar lights installed just above the new stairway.

empowering elderly to leave a lasting  legacy

Unbound is the only major U.S.-based organization that sponsors elders, with more than 30,000 sponsored worldwide. Elder sponsorship breaks the cycle of isolation and provides steady support to older adults in poverty, allowing them to live a life of dignity and leave a lasting legacy, such as that of Rosa.

Rosa, Guatemala — Empowerment through health and happiness

Doña Rosa never learned to read or write, but one of her favorite things to do is to look at photos in newspapers. At 67 years old, she has lived a life filled with necessary, constant work, but “with God’s strength.” From the age of 10, she worked the land with her father, preparing corn, beans, pumpkin seeds and firewood to sell. Her mother taught her how to make and sell tortillas, a skill that she would employ throughout the rest of her life to earn her income, coming to be known in her neighborhood by her tortilla business. She married at the age of 14 and raised 12 children.

Despite the difficulties of her life, Rosa enjoys working because it gives her meaning. She describes Unbound as “a light of hope” for her, as she has used her funds to buy food supplies and corn to make her tortillas, to create a small farm at her home with chickens and to purchase ingredients for her “nutritive drink” that she believes keeps her healthy. “I always thank God, and I kneel to pray every night,” Rosa said. “When I die, I will say ‘Thank you, Lord, since you gave me a nice life.’ [Unbound] makes me feel important, and the effort that I do to move forward is important.”


Rosa grinds 40 pounds of corn to make tortillas for her business every day. Through her business and the support of Unbound, she has provided education to all her children while also taking care of her mother until her passing in 2018.

I have this happy feeling when I do something for others… despite [my] own struggles.

— Rica, Sponsored youth from the Philippines