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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Interview with Usha Palaniswamy

In honor of Women’s History Month, we highlight the extraordinary women who dedicate their time and expertise to making a difference worldwide. One such inspiring individual is Usha Palaniswamy, a dedicated volunteer with Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer program since 2006. Usha’s journey is a testament to the power of volunteerism and its impact on empowering women and communities across the globe.

How long have you been volunteering with us?

Since 2006.

What motivated you to start volunteering for our cause?

The desire and ability to positively impact people’s lives and the excitement of experiencing new cultures.

Can you share a memorable experience you have had during your time as a volunteer?

In one of my assignments in Bangladesh, I volunteered for a women’s empowerment project in which I trained a group of women in home vegetable gardens. I was impressed with how the women managed their duties at home and found time to attend the day-long sessions for my assignment. I had much fun with the group and experienced full participation in the training activities. Moreover, one of the participants shared my name! There was a lot of laughter and learning- this was a great moment and made me realize the personal connections I share with the women in Bangladesh. I am attaching this photo I took with my namesake for Women’s History Month, 2024.

How do you think volunteering has impacted your personal and professional life?

Volunteering has made me realize the challenges people living in developing countries face. I return from each assignment with renewed vigor and passion to volunteer. Experiencing the multicultural diversity in different countries while completing the volunteer assignments has been fulfilling. I leverage these lived experiences in storytelling as an important pedagogy to engage students in my class and communicate effectively across cultures.

In what ways do you believe your volunteering work has contributed to empowering women in our community and abroad?

My volunteer assignments have served as an enabling force in strengthening women in their communities through social, educational, economic, and psychological empowerment. Thus, the women are inspired by their training/learning experiences and gain confidence in pursuing their passion.

Who is a woman in history you admire and why?

Marie Curie is a distinguished and celebrated scientist who discovered radium and polonium and is a two-time Nobel Prize winner. Her story is about hard work under challenging conditions and determination to succeed.

What message would you like to share with other women thinking about volunteering?

Connect with the host before departure and prepare thoroughly to meet their needs. Be flexible and supportive to the country hosts, participants, and field staff.

If you could solve one issue affecting women today, what would it be and why?

If there is one issue that I could solve affecting women today, it is gender discrimination in all facets of life globally, across borders. This often starts at a young age, perhaps from birth, and begins with the disproportionate allocation of resources while growing up. This can be devaluing and demoralizing to women.

Please share a quote that inspires you.

I am most inspired by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s vision in his Gitanjali:

“Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…”

Usha’s story powerfully reminds us of the impact one individual can have on the lives of many, inspiring a chain reaction of empowerment and change. Her dedication to volunteerism and women’s empowerment reflects the spirit of Women’s History Month, which celebrates the contributions of women to history, culture, and society. In tribute to Usha Palaniswamy’s impactful journey and celebration of Women’s History Month, we invite our readers to reflect on the transformative power of volunteerism and consider how they, too, can contribute to empowering women in their communities and beyond.