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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Celebrating Women’s Empowerment: An Interview with Pamela J. Karg

March marks Women’s History Month, a time to honor the remarkable contributions of women worldwide. Winrock International is proud to spotlight Pamela J. Karg, a dedicated volunteer whose journey embodies the spirit of empowerment and change. Through her words, we explore the profound impact of volunteering on individuals and communities alike.

How long have you been volunteering with us?
It was 2017 with an assignment to Senegal, though I have been committed to the Farmer to Farmer program since 2012.

What motivated you to start volunteering for our cause?
Since my first Farmer to Farmer volunteer assignment in 2012 in Senegal – when I was ecstatic to travel to a new country and culture and to fulfill my mother’s dream of going to the African continent – I realized that I could learn so much about being a better teacher (which I was doing in other parts of my life.) However, I also have always been volunteering because I know, along my way, I have been fortunate to learn from many others who shaped me – Girl Scout leaders, church and youth leaders, parent chaperones, and teachers who always went above and beyond. I also realize that my volunteer and teaching styles enable others not to be afraid, to be creative, and to try new foods, processes, and systems in their efforts to create something new and clever for themselves, their families, and their villages.


Can you share a memorable experience you had as a volunteer?
Due to the theft of my laptop, living through a cyclone, and not getting luggage for several days, I had to shop in the local second-hand market to get by. On the final day of an assignment, I could float in a pool after all the reports were written. Each of these was a memorable experience for my various assignments. However, it is the women who contact me months and years afterward that I relish the most. They share photos of how they have taken our time together and turned it into a marketable product, created a stronger farmer association, and taken on leadership roles. I carry these deeply in my heart because I am so proud of what they have accomplished for themselves!

How do you think volunteering has impacted your personal and professional life?
I always say that volunteering and traveling have taught me courage. Because you are learning during these wonderful adventures, you store up those experiences for the next time. Hence, you are prepared and more courageous, or you learn insights you can share with others that can help them refocus their situations so they realize they are not the first to tackle the issues before them and that they possess the solutions within themselves, if they are willing to be creative – to be courageous in going outside what they currently know to try something different to see if it works.

In what ways do you believe your volunteering work has contributed to empowering women in our community and aboard?
During any assignment, I constantly post about what we are learning and adapting, my daily personal foibles, or something about the people and culture. Invariably, women find comfort and inspiration in seeing the photos and reading or hearing the stories. Whether young or older, at the local church or herb society meeting, in a village or from the big city, hearing success stories of what other women did and having a decent idea of the cultural context within which they accomplished change brings hope to some who do not always think it possible.

Who is a woman in history you admire and why?
I like women who are – or have the myth around them – of not caring about what others think. She is sensitive and listens to others so she can learn, but she knows her mission and sets out to accomplish it, regardless of naysayers. Hopefully, most of us have grandmothers and mothers who have shown us pieces of this, and of course, there are plenty of world actors we can call forth. However, I like to celebrate the women here and now, the women we know from next door or from brief encounters, who stand as a testament to us now and mentor us to be all we can be so we can build better communities.

What message would you like to share with other women thinking about volunteering?
We can create a million reasons why “now” is not the best time to undertake a farmer-to-farmer project. STOP! Those million things will be there when you return. However, I guarantee you will not look at them in the same light after your experiences – good or bad – volunteering overseas. This includes remotely or in-person. Experiencing how other women in different cultures tackle the same million things you do helps you look with eyes that truly see and ears that hear better.
Moreover, yes, “bad” things can happen on a trip, but you have a dozen people looking after your safety and who can help you solve every challenge you might face. I have faced challenges and situations that have forced me to tear out my hair. However, I am here to tell you: GO NOW!

If you could solve one issue affecting women today, what would it be and why?
Fear. If I had a magic wand and could wipe something out of the path of all women, I would I would abolish fear. Whether it is the fear we create for ourselves or the fear we allow others to instill in us overtly and subtly, I would want women to know courage—the courage to try something new, different, and out of the box. I would want them to know that there is no box except the one they imagine. Eliminating fear does not come with the wave of a wand, however. However, realizing that each time we push ourselves into new ventures, we build the courage to overcome any real or imagined fear.

Please share a quote that inspires you.
In a 10-hour drive across Senegal once, the driver only had two CDs that played repeatedly, so I learned – and adapted – the words from one song: We came here to party. We did not did not come here to fight. So let us all grab a bottle [of water] and have a good time! I learned a long time ago, in my 20+ years volunteering overseas, that if you are not going to have fun, why come? This does not mean I am a PollyAnna, but it also does not mean I am a Debbie Downer (to go with the Women’s History theme!) It all works out exactly as it is meant to be, and our job is to have the patience to see it to the end – while not losing sight of why we are here.

In celebrating Pamela J. Karg’s contributions, we capture the essence of Women’s History Month. Her narrative is a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of volunteerism in empowering women and fostering sustainable change globally. Let her journey inspire us to act, challenge ourselves, and contribute to a more equitable and thriving future for women everywhere.