International Women’s Day

By Lynda Millner   |   March 26, 2020
Keynote speakers at Direct Relief Dr. Elizabeth Toro and Founder of Africa Schools of Kenya Teri Gabrielsen

Direct Relief (DR) was a bustling place for International Women’s Day. Over one hundred folks gathered to learn and to help pack 2,000 hygiene kits for women. To begin the morning there was a baker’s delight of sweets and fruits of many kinds along with a variety of coffees all organized by Kelly Walker and Kristin McWilliams. The Direct Relief color is orange which I usually like only on pumpkins, but I’ll add Direct Relief to that list. Kelly and Kristin combined it with hot pink in the floral arrangements. So pretty! I’m sure those bright orange boxes are a welcome sight when they arrive around the world following a disaster or to treat a health need. This group of supporters is called Direct Relief Women (DRW).

Co-chairs of the DR Women’s Day event Kelly Walker and Kristin McWilliams

We heard from two ladies who are working together to empower, educate, and preserve the human rights of young girls in Africa. Teri Gabrielsen, founder of Africa Schools of Kenya (ASK), and Dr. Elizabeth Toro, Santa Barbara based OB/GYN and director of health for Africa Schools of Kenya discussed delivery of healthcare in Kenya and community-driven efforts to end the practice of female circumcision or genital mutilation. After one of the “cutters” learned better she announced, “You girls are as important as boys. I will cut no more.”

ASK is a nonprofit organization devoted to educating the residents of a rural region of Amboseli, Kenya. The group built Esiteti Primary School which is a fully accredited government school that now serves 580 students in grades K-8. Gabrielsen and Toro designed the curriculum for reproductive health for students and helped in the creation of the Alternative Rite of Passage program. This has helped end the harmful and long held practice of female genital mutilation in several Maasai communities.

Volunteers packing 2,000 hygiene kits at DR

DRW co-chair Carolyn Chandler told us, “Each year more than 290,000 women die from preventable complications that occur during pregnancy and childbirth. Access to things like prenatal vitamins and a trained midwife with essential supplies can significantly reduce these numbers and keeps moms and babies safe.” Each midwife kit provided by DR supports about 50 safe births. These were designed by expert midwives themselves.

The DR warehouse with flags from all the countries they have helped

A DR employee Samir Rai explained how DR partners with many businesses. Pharmaceuticals alone have given $1.3 billion to DR. For example FedEx donates the cost of all shipping needs which is one of the largest expenses. Besides these companies have the knowledge to do it. There were 21,000 shipments sent out to 99 countries and 53 in the United States last year.

DR began when two WWII refugees came to the United States after the war. They began sending CARE packages to relatives left behind who had nothing. It morphed into this amazing organization of today.

The overall co-chairs of all the Direct Relief Women events Carolyn Chandler and Beth Green

“It is an honor to pack and provide hygiene kits to women around the world. We hope they can find strength in knowing that women from a different part of the world care for and support them,” said Kristin McWilliams. “I think it’s fabulous that in our local community we have a robust group of women who want to come together to make an impact by supporting DR and women everywhere,” added co-chair Kelly Walker, a member of Direct Relief Women.

For more information about DR visit Regarding African Schools of Kenya, please visit


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