With March being Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on the 8th, I can’t think of a better woman to feature this week than Molly Heineman. Radiating with compassion, she’s the kind of woman who can restore your faith in humanity after only a few minutes of talking to her. It’s not surprising that she says a deep, human connection inspired her work in the first place while studying abroad in Uganda.
“When I was coming home people expected me to talk about all the stuff that was so different about Africa and tell them all these stories about how weird it was or how strange it was,” she said. “But I came home telling all these stories about similarities we had.”
Despite all they had in common, there was one striking contrast between Molly and the Ugandan street children she worked with. Molly had an opportunity to get a college education, and they did not. By a simple luck of the draw, they had been born into a life of poverty, with little chance of escape.
“When I met these students who had been accepted to college and didn’t have the opportunity to go because there wasn’t funding I felt that it was just unfair,” Molly said.
When she began to share the stories of these students, she found that people back home wanted to help. There wasn’t an organization to connect them to the students in Uganda, so at the age of 20 Molly started one, the Child Restoration Outreach Support Organization (CROSO).
When Molly talks about some of CROSO’s first donors she lights up as her face is overcome with a big, beautiful, heart-warming smile.
“I get chills because I can’t believe that people are so generous, that’s really the bottom line. I can’t believe that people are willing to give so freely and to be so supportive of people on the other side of the world,” she said.
It’s hard to believe that anyone could meet Molly and not be compelled to help. She has an irresistible aura that strips away any pretenses, and exposes a raw and powerful good in people. She sees people’s capacity, and has faith in people’s ability to achieve that capacity, especially the student she works with.
“It’s not that we’re making a different life for them, they’re making a different life for themselves.” she said. “They’re the ones going to all the classes, studying, doing their internships, and going out and getting jobs afterwards. We’re just giving them a little push to be able to meet that potential that they already have”
Molly believes the key to meeting that potential is education.
“Education opens so many doors for people. It opens up opportunity. It gives student skills that they can use the rest of their lives,” she said. “One of the things I’ve seen in a lot of organizations that work internationally is they give out handouts and these handouts don’t enable long-term change. It’s not sustainable. But our focus is to give students the skills to really be able to make a different life for themselves.”
Molly’s work provides, what I believe, Women’s History month is all about, opportunity. To have a chance to improve your life is a right all humans should have and is one that women have fought for throughout history. Women like Molly are taking advantage of the opportunities that have been provided to them, like education, and feel compelled to provide them to those who they are still denied.
Providing these opportunities is challenging, and there are days that Molly says she can be overwhelmed by that same sense of unfairness that originally inspired her to found CROSO.
“There definitely are days that I get caught up in that and I get mad or frustrated,” Molly said. “But honestly that doesn’t do anything to help it and so I found it’s better to stay positive when I can and when I can’t I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with really wonderful people who have been infected by this same desire to make positive change in the world. They help me along on those days when I struggle with it. “
It’s hard to imagine Molly getting mad or frustrated. She glows with a sense contentment that can only come from someone who true loves and is invested in the work they do.
“I think it’s important to be happy in life, but I also think it’s important to be doing work that’s helpful to others,” she said. “I think no matter what your position in life, you’re always in a position to be of help to other people. Even the students that we sponsor in Uganda, they’re all interested once they’ve graduated in giving back to their communities. And if students in those positions can do it, I don’t know why anyone else can’t.”
To learn more about CROSO and the incredible Ugandan students they help visit their website here.
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
photo by Erin Bole