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This article was originally published on December 08, 2009.

The other day, I was at the check-out counter at my local grocery store. It was a bustling place. You could see food from all over the world, reflective of the immigrant community that surrounds the store. As I reached into my purse to pay for my groceries, I looked up and saw a locked glass case. It was the kind of glass case that normally contains cigarettes or alcohol.

This locked case was filled with baby formula.

I learned from the check-out clerk that, in this grocery store, baby formula is the single most stolen item in the store. Upon hearing this, my eyes welled up with tears. “Can’t you just let them steal it?” I said. She replied, “I wish we could.”

As a mother, I know that there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do to protect and feed your child. Parents all over the world are united in their primordial instincts to protect their children. It is this same impulse to safeguard one’s family that motivates our clients to flee horrific forms of violence and come to us seeking help.

Women are too often willing to endure that which they will not tolerate for their children. Our clients overcome incredible obstacles to escape rape, genital mutilation, honor crimes, trafficking, domestic violence and widow rituals, and to protect their children from the legacy of violence.

‘I will never allow my daughter to go through the same suffering that I did’

Born in a small village in Africa, “Faizah” vividly recalls undergoing the practice known as female genital mutilation as a five-year-old child. Held down by four women, she screamed out in unbearable pain as her genitals were cut. For two months afterward, her mother poured a painfully scalding hot mixture over her wounds. When Faizah was 15, after an evaluation, her family and village elders determined that her clitoris was growing back. Once more, Faizah found herself restrained and enduring the excruciating pain of having her genitals cut with an unsterilized knife and no anesthetic. Faizah bled for an entire day afterward.

Faizah considers herself one of the lucky women in her village because she was able to get an education as well as marry a man that she loved. She had hope for happiness with him even as the trauma of her mutilations continued to affect her.

When Faizah’s daughter Marian was born, her family insisted that Marian undergo female genital mutilation. Faizah knew they would force the practice upon Marian even if she tried to stop it. Horrified by the thought of her daughter enduring what Faizah experienced twice over, she escaped to the United States where she found Tahirih Justice Center. She vowed to never allow her daughter to go through the same suffering that she did. Tahirih partnered with pro bono attorneys to win refugee status for Faizah and her family and end the cycle of violence.

“I look at my daughter everyday and thank God that I was able to protect her from the violence I had faced,” Faizah said.

We need your help

From stealing baby formula to embarking on a hazardous and unknown journey to another country, people will go to great lengths to protect loved ones. But they cannot do it alone. Only with the compassion, support, and dedication of people like you can we work to protect women like Faizah and her daughter.

Today, we need your help to answer the pleas of other women and girls fleeing violence and seeking justice for themselves and their children. Make a secure contribution online now.

With your support, Tahirih has assisted nearly 10,000 women and children fleeing violence since 1997. This year alone, Tahirih has helped over 1,200 women and children through direct services and social and medical service referrals, including litigating 675 separate legal matters as part of 275 new and continued cases.

Through our award-winning programs, despite the cutting-edge and complex legal matters we undertake, Tahirih has maintained a 99% litigation success rate. This is a measure of the compelling nature of violence our clients are fleeing, as well as the high quality of our services and dedication to their protection. Competent legal representation is often the only way that immigrant women and girls can attain freedom from violence. For our clients, however, attaining legal status is just the beginning of the journey to rebuild their lives. To support their efforts to become self-sufficient, Tahirih assists clients in accessing shelter, clothing, food, medical care, and language or job training classes.

A shining achievement this year is the opening of Tahirih’s first field office in Houston, TX. Our office opened in the fall with Anne Chandler, an established member of the Houston immigrant rights community, as its director. Extending Tahirih’s organizational model to Houston, we are working closely with local law firms, like-minded organizations, and other partners to provide critically-needed services to the Greater Houston area.

Additionally, we played a prominent national role in advocating for better federal laws, policies, and regulations for the women we serve. Tahirih met with President Obama’s Transition Team, corresponded with Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Napolitano, presented at a meeting with the White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Council on Women and Girls, met with senior staff at the Department of Homeland Security, and engaged many Congressional offices to advocate for greater protections for immigrant women and girls fleeing violence.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Tahirih’s efforts were highlighted in an article in The Washington Post featuring Tahirih’s recently-released report that draws attention to challenges faced by women seeking asylum in the United States. Tahirih unveiled the report at a Tahirih-sponsored congressional briefing where actor Sam Waterston (from NBC’s Law & Order) gave a compelling plea for the law to better protect women and girls fleeing violence.

Tahirih’s report highlighted the struggles of Tahirih’s clients caught in an inconsistent, daunting, and often inaccessible legal system, including “Rosita.” Rosita is a 23-year-old Honduran woman who was the victim of severe domestic violence by her child’s father, who was a Honduran police officer. Despite her many complaints to law enforcement, brutal public displays of his violence, and numerous hospital records and photographs of bruises on her swollen face and stab wounds to her body, she never received protection. After he threatened to kill her, she fled to the United States. Despite her compelling case and the fact that many women like her have received asylum in the United States, she was denied asylum. Her case highlights the inconsistency of the courts and unsettled nature of the law for women fleeing domestic violence.

We need your help to change the law and provide critical services so that women like Rosita may receive protection. With unique opportunities right now to influence the development of the law, we urgently need your support to continue our advocacy to more systemically protect women and girls from violence.

We fully understand that, in this economy, everyone is tightening their belt. We respect the fact that you are more careful than ever about where you invest your charitable donations and want to assure you that your support has a life-changing impact on the women and girls we serve.

The power of many

In order to most efficiently use our resources, Tahirih partners with over 700 pro bono attorneys to maximize the number of women and girls served. These donated services allow us to turn every $1 into $5 of impact, so you may rest assured that your contributions to Tahirih are efficiently used. Excluding in-kind donations, 75% of your gift goes to programs, with only 25% going to overhead costs. Including in-kind donations, 95% of our expenses go directly to programs, with only 5% spent on overhead costs. Additionally, we have deliberately increased our efficiency over time and reduced the amount it costs us to litigate each legal matter by 66% over the last four years.

We feel strongly that it is our obligation to use every penny of our resources to maximize our impact, because lives are at stake. Our clients come to us when their lives are in danger and when they have decided to stand up, leave, and demand justice. It is well-documented that when the economy suffers, rates of violence go up.

Our clients need us now, more than ever. And we need your support more than ever. While our planning and efficiency has carried us through a full year during the current economic downturn, we have not been spared from its effects, and have experienced a dramatic decrease in several sources of funding. At this critical time, we need your help to continue serving our clients, meeting the need for our services, and making systemic changes to end violence against women.

Please make a donation today of whatever you can offer, and through our holistic direct services, public policy advocacy, and efficient leveraging of volunteers, you have a financially powerful opportunity to immediately protect lives, to make real changes to end violence against women, and to bring humanity closer to equality for women and men.

With deep appreciation,

Layli's Signature

Layli Miller-Muro
Founder and Executive Director