by Alex Idol, MaverickNext Fellow @ MaverickNext
Abena Fikru* has been married for one month. Just 15 years old, she lives in a rural Ethiopian village outside of Addis Ababa and dropped out of school to support her husband, Tamrat,* at home.
She has deep brown eyes that shine as she speaks of him. “[Tamrat] is more beautiful than me,” she gushes unabashedly, describing him as caring and hardworking. Tamrat is still in school and sells sand to earn income. At home, Abena cooks, cleans and sews.
Abena and I are both newlyweds. We share the same values: love, hard work and financial stability. I met my husband in business school. After graduating, we moved to New York City to continue building our careers and relationship. “I fell in love with my husband the moment we met,” I revealed to Abena as if we had been friends for years.
When I sat with Abena, I did not think about all of the important articles and exhibits cataloging the inequities facing girls in Ethiopia. I didn’t think about the statistics regarding sexual and reproductive health or child marriage.
This data was not top of mind in that moment because it didn’t provide the full picture. It didn’t illustrate Abena’s anxiety over a challenging conversation she will soon have with her in-laws. “I am avoiding,” she said. To them, immediately getting pregnant would prove her fertility.
Data doesn’t illustrate Abena’s plans and dreams. With her husband’s support, coupled with PSI’s Smart Start program, Abena will be taking up a contraceptive implant to prevent an unintended pregnancy for up to three years while she and Tamrat earn the money they need to provide for their future family.
Data lacks empathy.
We do not gain empathy through textbooks and newspaper articles. We gain empathy by connecting with people firsthand. Rarely do women like Abena and I—women from opposite sides of the world—have the ability to connect as deeply as we did. MaverickNext made it possible.
MaverickNext is a unique program which, through deep partnership with PSI, galvanizes young philanthropists to reimagine the way in which sexual and reproductive healthcare is designed and delivered for girls and young women. MaverickNext has the dual purpose of catalyzing innovative health impact while building a movement of women leaders who are bold, informed and strategic in the ways they invest their resources.
By partnering with MaverickNext and PSI—and connecting with girls like Abena—I am building my knowledge base, filling critical information gaps and redefining what it means to be a philanthropist. I am no longer just a donor allocating my funds to a cause. I am an experienced and insightful leader. That is power.
As I left Abena’s home, she lifted her left hand, signaled me to do the same and—instead of a traditional goodbye—touched her wedding band to mine.
*Names changed to protect clients’ identities.
Banner Image: Before Alexandra Idol leaves Abena Fikru’s* home outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, they pose for a picture, showing off their wedding bands. Photo courtesy of Emilee Kaufman.
Hear more from Alexandra at her Power Talk on Thursday, June 6 at 1:05pm on the Women Deliver Power Stage.
This article appears in PSI’s Impact magazine, released in tandem with Women Deliver 2019, as part of an ongoing conversation about putting #PowerInHerHands.