A Day in the Life of Karen Ashmore
by Sophia Dorval
When Karen Ashmore, Executive Director of the Lambi Fund, shares the story about how she came to adopt her daughter from Haiti she usually gets the reply, 'That is very Haitian.' "I had a dream," she says, "that a young girl came to me and said, 'You have to adopt me.'" After beginning her search for a child through the internet, she and her husband finally found Jasmine, the four year old girl she had seen in her dream, in an orphanage in Haiti. "She and I bonded right away and are very close. She is almost twelve now and has an amazing soul," Karen says.
After bringing her to the United States, she and her husband learned that Jasmine had a birth sister still living in her home country, and kept their promise to reunite the two. "They fight with each other like ordinary siblings, but they share an intense love and bond that will never be broken. One sister is a creative writer and talented dancer. The other is adept at math and science and is an athletic gymnast. I am grateful to be a part of these girls' lives."
Karen has had the spirit of a trailblazer all her life. As an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, she became one of the first women to join the school's competitive skydiving team.
Karen Ashmore photo
"When you have six seconds to save your life," Karen says, "you learn that if you can successfully do this, you can do anything. It was a tremendous self-confidence builder." That self-confidence has carried her through all of her endeavors. After earning her Bachelor's of Arts in Journalism, she rose from a starting position as a technical writer at a Fortune 500 company to become its marketing director. After becoming disillusioned from her experience in the corporate world, she spent her spare time pursuing a career where she could work "for a mission or purpose rather than the bottom line." While Karen had served on the board of directors for civil rights and women's rights organizations, she had no formal non-profit career experience. Despite this, she managed to talk her way into her first position in the field, a development director for an inner city-school and community center.
One achievement she is proud of having accomplished as an activist is organizing an all-female coalition in order to change laws regarding police officers' mistreatment of women in Texas.
"Is it scary to challenge the police? You bet it is," says Karen. "Is it the right thing to do when police are raping women and abusing their authority? Yes, it is. But you must as an individual learn to take those steps that are scary and proceed with the power and self confidence that is inside you."
Karen and her husband initially became involved with the Lambi Fund, an international foundation working for economic justice, democracy, and sustainable development in Haiti, after adopting their first daughter. They wished to help make a difference in the lives of Haitians who live on less than a dollar a day. "I researched groups working in Haiti, and the Lambi Fund was head and shoulders above the rest in how it matched our mission and values of 'Change, Not Charity'," Karen explains. While running her own successful non-profit consulting practice, she was called upon by the organization to help with fundraising efforts, and later became its interim director. While she was hesitant at first to take over for the group's former executive director, she admits to having fallen in love with the work that she does.
"There is no typical day for me and that is what I love about my job. I never know what each day holds. One of the most rewarding things about my job is when I travel to Haiti and hear firsthand the stories from the women whose lives have changed because of Lambi Fund. I talk to women who are leaders in their communities and attribute it all to the Lambi Fund's gender equity conferences. I meet girls who now attend school because they no longer travel long distances to fetch water, thanks to the rainwater cisterns that Lambi Fund has helped build. I meet men who are proud to be able to provide for their children's education because of the pigs and goats they are raising that bring in a family income."
Some of the organization's recent projects include the creation of the Center for Plantain Propagation, which will serve as a training space for community groups to learn how to cultivate plantain crops, and partnerships with other organizations, such as the Green Belt Movement.
In addition to being an activist, Karen will also be returning to school to pursue a Master's Degree in Global Studies. Her advice for anyone considering a career in social philanthropy is "to pursue it as soon as you feel the stirrings. I was in my late thirties when I finally acted on my interest, and I ponder how much more I could have accomplished had I started earlier. You do not have to be rich to be active in social change philanthropy. You can be a board member or staff member or volunteer and make a huge difference in the lives of people who are working for and will benefit from social change."
For more information on the Lambi Fund, visit LambiFund.org and download their on-line brochure, or better yet, make an on-line donation!