Fabulous Female Friday – Cassandra Griffin
I am so excited to be able to feature Cassandra today. She’s a one-of-a-kind, intelligent, fabulous female who has set her mind on making a positive change in the world.
I am so inspired by what Cassandra does day in and day out. She’s a lot younger than I am, yet she seems to have much more wisdom.
I hope you enjoy reading through the amazing work Cassandra is doing in countries like India and Guatemala and the work she is doing with women in less fortunate situations. Cassandra, along with Save A Family Plan, is contributing to a better world.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 25 years old and I currently work and study in London, Ontario. I attended high school here at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School and after I graduated, I went on to study music and theatre at both the University of Western Ontario and Sheridan College in Oakville.
Although performing is a great passion of mine, I became more interested in global issues of social justice and my desire to learn more led me to King’s University College here in London, where I study Social Justice and Peace Studies and Economics.
The feeling of solidarity I have developed for the poor has guided my studies and led me to travel to Guatemala and India to learn and share in the lives of marginalized families and communities. I love traveling and learning about different cultures.
When I’m at home, I like to explore creative activities like sewing, crocheting, baking, and making jewelry. I also love to read and I am a bit of a tea granny. I am currently working as a Program Support Officer at Save A Family Plan.
Tell us about Save A Family Plan.
Save A Family Plan is a not-for-profit international development organization that partners with families and communities in India to seek justice and work with the poor. Our head office is actually located right here in London!
The organization has been in operation for 47 years and was started by a Catholic priest from India named Father Gus, who was working as a Professor of Chemistry in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He started the organization by partnering 5 families in Canada with 5 impoverished families in India to provide financial support and encourage learning and greater cultural understanding.
Since then, Save A Family Plan has grown tremendously and currently runs several programs in India. The Family Development Program partners families in India with benefactors in Canada and the US and focuses on empowering families to use their skills to create a source of income.
The families receive $20 a month for 6 years and in this time they are assisted in developing a small business, as well as undergoing training and planning to help them address the other issues they face. Over 50,000 families have already graduated and reached self-reliance through this program.
We are running a five-year Community Development Program in partnership with the Government of Canada that will provide 580 impoverished communities across India the chance to learn and work together to address the problems they face in an inclusive way.
We support a variety of smaller projects around the country that focus on areas such as healthcare, education, environment consciousness building, good governance, child labour, HIV/AIDS, disaster management, gender issues, and support for people with disabilities, orphans, and the elderly.
We are committed to ensuring that 100% of all donations raised reach the poor in India.
How did you become involved with SAFP?
I first got involved with SAFP as a volunteer through a class I took at King’s. It was a Service Learning Course that allowed students to volunteer within our community to explore the work that so many wonderful organizations are doing and to put some of our knowledge into practice.
I chose SAFP because of my interest in international development, particularly in Asia. I was delighted when they decided to hire me as a student intern while I continued my studies. Now I am a full-time staff member in the office.
Tell us about your past and upcoming trip to India.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a student intern to travel to India for 3 months and work with Save A Family Plan’s India staff.
India is an amazing country, with a very rich culture, delicious food, incredible art and clothing and many beautiful people. It is also a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is continually growing.
During my time there, I visited several of SAFP’s partner organizations through the Family Development Program in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Along with the local field staff, we visited many families supported by the program. The families explained their situations to us and we worked with them to make a plan to address the complex issues that they faced.
It is always shocking as a foreigner to witness the intense struggles that are the everyday reality for so many people. In these situations, it is amazing to see the value that some support and encouragement, along with a bit of financial assistance, can have in a family’s life.
I was particularly impressed by the courage, strength, and intelligence of so many of the women I met. Women who were determined to work hard to support their families and give their children a better future, despite the numerous disadvantages facing them. They continue to be a great inspiration to me within my work here in Canada.
This fall, I will be returning to India for 3 months as a staff member of SAFP. I will be taking some training in community development for the first month and I will spend the rest of the time monitoring the Community Development Program that is currently underway. This work will give me the opportunity to travel to many parts of the country and witness the great work that the field staff and targeted communities are doing.
I feel truly blessed to be able to travel to India once again and to be involved in such inspiring work.
Can you share a little about your experience in Guatemala?
In 2009, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Guatemala living in a community that was greatly affected by the civil war and had rebuilt everything from scratch.
Along with 14 other students, I participated in all the community activities, including teaching English in the school, planting trees, caring for the rain forest, cooking, collecting and cleaning eggs from the poultry farm, and planning a festival for the children.
We learned a great deal from the community members about the political situation in the country and the civil war, which has had a lasting effect on many communities. It was interesting to see the way the people had worked together to design and build a community based on their shared values and needs.
How do you support the women you interact with in your work?
The situation of women in developing countries such as India and Guatemala is extremely difficult. Women are far more likely to be victims of poverty, violence, and discrimination than men are and they face many social conventions that limit what they are able to do and how they are valued in families and communities.
Save A Family Plan’s programming places a special focus on women. By providing training in gender issues and creating self-help groups, our partner organizations help to encourage important discussions within communities, giving a voice to women on critical issues that negatively impact girls and women.
SAFP also places importance on the education of girls and providing women with skills training and small business opportunities so that they can earn an income to support their families. Many move on to become leaders and key decision makers within their communities.
Although the process is slow, women’s increased participation in the social, political, and economic life of their communities can lead to changes in social norms and greater equality among men and women.
When meeting with women in my work it is amazing to see the impact that a human connection and feeling of solidarity can have. By listening to the stories of those I meet and sharing in their experiences, a relationship can be built that is based on respect and love. This can be incredibly powerful especially in a country like India where people have historically had little contact with others outside of their social class.
It is important to share our experiences and understand how our lives as women are connected even though we come from very different places. I hope that these connections have a positive impact on the lives of the women I meet, although I often feel that I am the one who has the most to learn by sharing with them.
How can people contribute or get involved with SAFP?
There are many ways that you can support the work of SAFP. If you would like to know more about what we do or to donate to any of our programs, you are welcome to visit our website (www.safp.org) or call our office (519-627-1115) for more information.
You can also follow us on Facebook. If you are close to London, you can visit our office to volunteer some of your time and we would also be happy to come speak to any group you belong to about our work.
Perhaps most importantly, I hope that individuals will take time to learn more about social justice and keep updated on different issues affecting people around the world, in order to be strong global citizens. Find an issue that is meaningful for you and try making a small gesture to work for change!
What are your future goals?
I look forward to continuing my work with Save A Family Plan and eventually completing a Master’s Degree in Economic Development. I hope that I will be able to find new ways to promote social justice and work for a better world.
What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?
Billie Jean by the Lost Fingers; they’re a great band from Quebec who play gypsy jazz guitar and this song is from an album of 80’s covers.
What’s the last book you read?
Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown. It provides an interesting perspective on this important figure and early Canadian history. And the pictures make it fun!
Thank you Cassandra for sharing your amazing work with us! Keep up the inspiring work!