Interview with Wynter Oshiberu by Inspirational Women Series
Wynter Oshiberu is currently an ESL teacher at both Mentora College and the Washington English Center. Wynter is dedicated to promoting and ensuring quality education for women and girls, especially in lower socio-economic settings and post conflict regions. To this end, she serves on the Washington DC Regional Board for Indego Africa, an organization which partners with local women artisans in Rwanda and Ghana to provide educational training. Wynter is also a Blogger at Girls’ Globe, where she has written extensively about issues related to women’s empowerment and inclusion; in addition, she covered the 2016 UN General Assembly and the Gender 360 Summit.
What is your background?
As a child growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, my room was covered in maps of different countries and my shelves were full of history books. I had a keen curiosity about different cultures and languages. Eventually, I moved to Washington DC to attend George Washington University and study International Affairs with a concentration in Cultures and Societies.
You currently serve on the Washington D.C. Regional Board for Indego Africa, an organization which partners with local women artisans in Rwanda and Ghana to provide leadership and educational training. Can you tell us a bit more about Indego Africa and your experiences?
Indego Africa is an innovative nonprofit social enterprise that employs a business-driven approach to African women’s empowerment. Founded in 2007, Indego’s mission is to help female artisans achieve sustainable financial independence through access to markets and education. Indego partners with more than 1,000 artisans in Rwanda and Ghana to design handmade products, which it sells through its e-commerce site, boutiques worldwide, and collaborations with major brands including J.Crew, Anthropologie, and Eileen Fisher. Indego then pools 100% of the proceeds from sales with grants and donations to fund business education programs for its artisan partners. These training courses equip women with the skills they need to run and scale their own businesses, become empowered entrepreneurs, and drive economic growth in their communities. The regional board works to increase awareness about Indego Africa through a variety of educational and interactive events throughout the year as well as through an annual celebration called Ibrirori.
You were also formerly a Women’s Program Assistant at the American Psychological Association. Can you share some of your experiences of the American Psychological Association, and some of your key takeaways from your time there?
Overall, it was a wonderful learning and growing experience. The Women’s Programs Office and the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology community are truly phenomenal women. While preparing for the leadership conference, I was exposed to many invaluable skills through negotiation, budgeting, goal setting and public speaking classes. Although I have always been interested in drawing attention to communities in the margin, working in the Women’s Programs Office was my first exposure to reports, research and legislation that impacts the lives of women and girls.
Moreover, you are a Contributor to Girls’ Globe, where you write about the intersection between women’s empowerment and global issues lie health, violence, and education. What inspired you to join Girls’ Globe and what do you love most about your blogging experience?
I started writing short stories when I was around eight years old and continued writing until I finished high school. Then, I became an adult and forgot my childhood dream. Girls’ Globe has given me the chance to reach a global audience and share the importance of empowering women and girls from every socioeconomic setting.
I think its platform as an educational and inspirational magazine is important. Girls’ Globe reaches such a broad audience and shines a spotlight on issues that are often ignored. As a result, it allows for the possibility of concrete changes in thoughts and behavior.
What motivates you to advocate for and ensure quality education for women and girls worldwide?
Growing up in a household with two sisters and my mom, a retired French teacher, truly molded me into a lover of languages and champion of girls education opportunities. We all have very different personalities, interest and aspirations. However, we share a certain value for education, family and the importance of persevering when the odds are against you. As the daughter of an educator I was taught you can do anything, do not let others define you and above everything never stop learning both in and out of the classroom. Watching my mother work with so much conviction for her students and seeing the undying passion she had day in and day out has motivated me for many years. She sparked a fire in me. So my desire to advocate for quality education for every child is in my blood. I am motivated when I remember conversations I had with my mom at the dinner table growing up; I am motivated when I think about visiting the high school where my mother taught and the instant sense of leadership I felt when my mother would ask me to assist her in the classroom. I am motivated when I remember my summers watching CNN world news and writing summaries for my mother. I am motivated when I think about listening to Putumayo World Music as a child and my yearning to travel to remote corners of the world. I believe the value of a quality education is truly priceless, for it boosts your confidence, opens your eyes, broadens your world, and shapes leaders.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
When my mother graduated from Penn State University she was the only African American and the only woman to major in French, and when the professor told her she should reconsider and pick a less challenging major my mother was not deterred. She was the French teacher, Activities Director, Instruction Teacher Leader for the World Language Department as well as a “stern father”. She came home in the evenings from work most days stressed, tired and frustrated nonetheless we ate dinner together every night, talked about our days and we reviewed our homework with her every single night. During dinner, on the way to church and every chance she had she told us stories about her students who often referred to her as Aunt Elayne. I didn’t feel a connection to her students as a child, in fact I was somewhat envious of them, and I had a sense of curiosity about why my mother, a very strict conservative woman, would care so much about girls that were from such different socioeconomic settings. However, she taught my sisters and I at a very young age to humble ourselves, accept others and remember that everyone is going through their own personal struggle. My mother has always had a calm and composed demeanor in the face of countless challenges. She is a graceful woman who has and continues to impact my life.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
It matters to me because I’m a woman and without certain people and opportunities, my life would be different. I have a vague idea of what it means to not have any power or control within one’s life. Even when I felt a tremendous inner strength, reality still got the best of me. There was a point in my life when I couldn’t complete college for years because I simply didn’t have the money. As a result, I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t find place to live and it was as if someone stripped me of my entire sense of purpose. I literally felt as though my life was in limbo for seven years and it had a profound impact on my level of confidence and overall self esteem. However, I matured so much during that period, I learned to love myself, embrace chaos and truly go after my dreams. During that period, I encountered so many women that I never expected to connect with and I realized the value of a woman that cares. And then one day something just switched in me and I started to believe in me.
I think women’s empowerment encompasses so many aspects of our lives. It is the ability to embrace and lift another woman up as your sister, friend and comrade. For me women’s empowerment crosses ethnicities, national borders and religious beliefs and meets at an economic, educational, career and friendship crossroad. Women’s empowerment is what women have been doing for years – encouraging each other and pushing each other to reach their full potential. So it is matters to me because many people have encouraged me along the way, and now it is my turn!
What advice do you have for people interested in getting involved with institution-focused change for women and girls?
I think people should pursue their passions wholeheartedly. For individuals interested in issues concerning women and girls, I think it’s important to thoroughly research the organizations or institutions that are focused on these areas. Organizations work in various ways to influence and impact legislation, mindsets and thought leaders therefore I think people should couple their talents with the best suited organizations. But most importantly, I think it’s important to remember to believe in yourself so you can have a positive impact in someone’s life.
What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources related to women’s empowerment, development and education?
Books: A Great Place for a Seizure by Terry Tracy, The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashmi, Little Sister – Cleo’s Story by Adrienne Thompson
Council on Foreign Relations- Women and Foreign Policy Program
Tina Brown Live Media
Wilson Center – Global Women’s Leadership Initiative
Black Girl Fly
Women for Women International