Aid in action: Westglow Resort owners join Gloria Steinem on tour of Calcutta
by Jeff Eason
A generous Blowing Rock couple got to see their donations at work in January and traveled halfway around the globe to do so.
Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, owners of Westglow Resort and Spa, traveled with legendary women's rights advocate Gloria Steinem and a group of five others through Calcutta, India, from Jan. 24 through Feb. 7.
The group also included Linville Ridge resident Judy Adler, Marla Schaefer, Jessica Neuwirth, filmmaker Donna Dietch and journalist Irene Neves.
The group was in India at the invitation of Donor Direct Action, a program dedicated to connecting frontline activists with frontline donors.
Neurwith is the director of Donor Direct Action and Steinem is the head of its steering committee. Neuwirth is also founder and honorary president of Equality Now, an organization founded in 1992 whose purpose is to, in its own words, work "for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world."
Bonnie Schaefer has been on the advisory board of Equality Now for the past 10 years.
While in Calcutta, the group met with women, adolescent girls and children whose lives have been affected by human trafficking and prostitution.
"Having been on similar trips with Gloria to Nepal and Zambia, it never ceases to amaze me what a giving person she is," Bonnie Schaefer said. "Her patience, empathy and wisdom she imparts to all around her is just a fraction of the generosity of spirit and hope she gives to women, girls and children at risk and in need. There hasn't been a time I've been with her that I, myself, haven't learned something important."
The tour through Calcutta was the brainchild of Steinem, who, two years ago, led a team of 11 activists and leaders from the United States and Canada through the city's poorest neighborhoods. "This is my first time here and we have come to the see the full cycle of sexual trafficking," Jamie Schaefer said.
"We visited Sonagachhi and some of the Apne Aap girls in Kidderpore. We sat with women in the park to hear their stories of being trafficked and imported or exported from Nepal and bordering countries. We went with the children into their villages and into their homes. It was a remarkable experience, to come here as donors and see the difference we can make with a donation," she said.
While in Calcutta, the group met with children, young women and teachers at the Apne Aap School and Education Center.
Apne Aap Women Worldwide is a charitable trust based in India that works to "empower girls and women to resist and end sex trafficking by organizing marginalized women and girls into small self-empowerment groups, where they work collectively to access their legal, social, economic and political rights."
"I wanted to come to India when Gloria would be here because I wanted to see India through her eyes," Bonnie Schaefer said.
In describing what Donor Direct Action does, Steinem said, "So many of the foundations that exist in the United States are working from the top down, but what is necessary is to humanize the process, to not obey the old way of organizing, but follow the simplest way, which is bottom up."
"I will never be the same," Bonnie Schaefer said of the experience in India. "My job now is to work harder on women's rights in India, whatever I can do financially or politically to help. It's like fighting a tidal wave."
In the High Country, the Schaefers are active members of both the Appalachian Women's Fund and the High Country Women's Fund.
Through their financial support, the Jewish Community of the High Country was able to build and open the Temple of the High Country in Boone and Appalachian State was able to renovate Farthing Auditorium, which was renamed the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts last year.
"Being able to have a one-on-one experience with the at-risk children at Apne Aap and to have a clear understanding of what they are doing and what needs to be done was the most gratifying part of the trip for me," Bonnie Schaefer said.
Donor Direct Action
Donor Direct Action links frontline women's rights activists around the world to money, visibility and popular support.
Donor Direct Action supports activists working on a range of issues relating to the promotion of equality for women and the global effort to end violence and discrimination against women. Those issues include sex trafficking, violence against women, access to health services and education, women and armed conflict and women's rights under the law, among others.
These issues represent some of the many campaigns for the advancement of women in various respects, all of which are interrelated and form part of the overarching campaign for sex equality, officials with the group said.
Donor Direct Action is currently working with frontline women's rights activists in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Latvia, Nepal, Palestine, Somalia and Syria.