Material Girls

Last week, students who are working with the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development went back to Lenasia to videotape some interviews and meet with Sima, the non-governmental organization’s assistant director. That day, the challenge was not the dependability of technology but how to respond to questions posed half-jokingly by Nisaa’s clients—for which I didn’t have an answer. Some women asked if we would give them our iPhones when we leave, or if they could go to the United States with us. While seemingly said in jest, the questions still reflected the seriousness of the dilemmas these women face. Nisaa is doing its best, but it cannot provide them with luxury items they crave—let alone the basics. I, on the other hand, was not prepared to respond. “You don’t want to come back and have to do schoolwork,” I said lamely. My answer failed to address their deeper question: How could they attain better lives? Their requests stuck with me and made me think about how much stronger the women already are. And while we as college students take material things, like owning the latest iPhone, for granted, it is another symbol for these women of breaking the chains of their bondage. The incident was awkward, but it helped me think about the Washington and Lee “bubble” I live in. I wished I was better prepared and had said something more meaningful to them about how amazed I am by their strength and their desire to achieve better lives.
–Katie Monks