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Fresh from the Field: Taking time to learn, unlearn and refuel

By Veronica Thamaini, Africa Regional Coordinator

Last month, mentors in our East African Girls’ Leadership Summit and Mentor Program reminded us that the most sustainable political, systemic and community change happens through the people.

Across our work, we believe that communities hold the solution to every local issue they seek to address. By engaging communities collectively, we create sustainable solutions that live beyond our generation. These solutions are not possible without community leaders first letting go of approaches that aren’t as effective, and learning new ways to authentically engage community members. This is where we step up.

In a safe, friendly and supportive space provided by the Mentor Program, 30 women from East Africa shared their own experiences and knowledge and learned from each other. During this week, women who are mentors, teachers and community change agents exchanged stories of their leadership journeys, reflected on and celebrated their growth, and identified areas of additional learning necessary to catapult their leadership and mentorship. It was inspiring to see these women push themselves to unlearn the predominant model of teaching in East Africa, which assumes that knowledge must come from the top-down, and instead practice a new model that empowers the participant to use their wisdom, experience and knowledge and, as creative facilitators, collectively influence their communities to effect change.

Through the Mentor Program, women developed skills like creative facilitation, mentorship and advocacy in order to address issues such as teenage pregnancy, early marriage, education and women empowerment. Here are just some examples of their achievements:

  • Hilda from City of Hope has been able to use the “One Billion Rising” song and dance movement to spark dialogue about girls' rights in Tanzania. Dance and song are creative ways of expressing opinions about local issues with community stakeholders of different abilities. See the girls’ performance here

  • Mary, working with Africaid in Tanzania, has grown as a mentor and a facilitator after participating in EAGLS. Through sessions encouraging creativity, she has seen girls experience tremendous growth both in confidence and in leadership skills. As a result of her mentorship and leadership, one of Mary’s mentees will be representing Tanzania in a regional technology competition.

  • After participating in our mentor program, Pauline from Rafiki wa Maendeleo Trust in Western Kenya is integrating the tools she learned in her work to engage boys and men as allies in achieving gender equality. In her sessions, she leads boys and young men in a dialogue about the issues affecting them, including reproductive health and rights, redefining masculinity and gendered roles assigned to them, and how parents and other stakeholders can support them in their growth and development.

We are proud to work with these women as they become agents of change and look forward to walking with them on their leadership journeys.


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