On August 8, 2011, my husband and I traveled to Kazanlak, Bulgaria to photograph the adoption of a seven-year-old boy with Down Syndrome. I can honestly say that we didn’t have any expectations as we traveled halfway around the world; rather, we were following a calling that lay heavy on our hearts.
When we returned home and published the adoption photos on Facebook, I received a message from a stranger saying, “…because of your photos I found my son. We are now adopting a chronically ill five-year-old from Eastern Europe and if it had not been for your photos, we never would have found our son.”
Right then and there we started our nonprofit, The Archibald Project.
For the past five years, we have been traveling the world, documenting different aspects of orphan care in order to educate and inspire people into caring for vulnerable children. We document adoptions, ethical orphan care organizations, educate on child resettlement and the importance of birth family care. We are passionate about Foster Care and children living in safe and healthy home environments. Because of our nonprofit, The Archibald Project (named after the Bulgarian boy with Down Syndrome), we can honestly say that fewer children are called orphan.
Along the way, we have met incredible humans… many of whom are some of the most powerful, passionate and strong women leaders around the world. I’d like to introduce you to three of them:
Ruth lives in a country in Western Africa where the average heat ranges from the 90 – 107 degrees Fahrenheit and is often ranked the 4th poorest country in the world. Ruth has dedicated her life to the people she serves. She advocates for children and daily sets aside her own desires for the betterment of her community; in doing so, she has helped countless children and families.
Ruth’s day to day never looks the same, but she spends her time building relationships in her village and finding families for children who cannot be resettled with biological family. She is incredibly passionate about advocating for children with special needs to find forever families. Many children would not be here today if it weren’t for Ruth’s dedication.
She has also found numerous children education sponsors so that they can climb out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty. Somehow, she does all of this as a single, 68-year-old woman living without electricity or running water. The world has no idea who she is. She has never written a book, she isn’t Instagram-famous, she’s not on the cover of magazines (although she should be), but she is working alongside locals to ethically change a generation being lost to the orphan crisis.
Cheryl is Canadian and together with her husband, Lambert (who is Congolese), she co-founded Mwana Villages. Cheryl and her family moved to the Republic of the Congo in 2012 and began working with locals to holistically support marginalized and vulnerable families.
Cheryl trains and employs women to care for children until they can either be safely resettled with biological family or, as a last resort, be adopted. She doesn’t allow women to drop kids at her door, rather she will invite the mom and child in, employ the mother, care for the child and set the two up for a successful future free of abandonment and unemployment.
Thanks to Cheryl’s education and ethical support, families are staying together.
Carol is gentle but compassionate and daily fights for some of the most vulnerable children in the world. She moved to Western Uganda 20 years ago as a single 50-year-old and began learning the ins and outs of working with orphaned and vulnerable children affected by AIDS. She has been living alone in a small town working to educate and advocate for children who would otherwise die or remain uneducated due to their disease.
Her leadership and wise spirit have transformed hundreds of lives in Uganda and abroad. To give you an idea of Carol’s impact, one of her previous children, Christopher Ategeka, went on to attend The University of California, Berkeley, was named one of Forbes “30 Under 30” and has gone on to receive many international awards including 100 Most Influential Young Africans, the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award and TED Fellow.
These are just a few of the amazing women around the world who are strong leaders and emanate what being a beautiful woman can look like. They demonstrate how true leadership can sometimes mean sacrificing everything for the greater good and they show that to be a strong woman, one doesn’t need the world’s approval of her outer beauty, but rather the understanding and acceptance of who you are – that you are enough.
These women are fierce and loyal, gentle and compassionate, challenging the status quo and literally changing the world for orphaned and vulnerable children.
For more stories of amazing women around the world, check out The Archibald Project podcast and find us on Instagram @thearchibaldproject.
Do you know of an “unsung” woman changing the world?
Images via The Archibald Project