It has been said about social change, “If we can’t dream it, we can’t build it."
Some of our great world leaders have spoken about the power of dreams. The indigenous Guatemalan activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu, once said: “What I treasure most in life is being able to dream. During my most difficult moments and complex situations I have been able to dream of a more beautiful future.” Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King is recognized globally for his vision, courageous actions and famous speech that started with “I have a dream…”
Our power to create a better world is dependent upon our ability to dream into and envision what we really want for ourselves and our communities. At the 2016 East African Girls' Leadership Summit (EAGLS), 35 girls and 15 women staff of partner organizations training as mentors gathered over the course of five days from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda to dream their collective future together.
We all have the ability to dream and create, but sometimes along the way we stop believing in what is possible and began to accept the status quo. Perhaps we’ve been told, like so many young girls, that our dreams don’t matter or that we don’t have the intelligence or strength or power to make a difference. Sometimes, trauma or structural violence diminishes our capacity to imagine that another world is possible. At EAGLS, to heal and unlearn these messages, the girls were invited to plant the seeds of their dreams into the soil of love.
We teach the girls that as leaders, it's important to affirm themselves and each other. They learned self-care practices to reconnect with their spirit and manage their emotions with finger holds, touchstones and breath. We told them of their value and rights as girls and women. They told themselves: “I matter!” “I am important!” “I can!” They told each other: “I see the leader in you!” They each were given a name for whom they would become a Secret Sister to send love notes and anonymous gifts over the course of our time together. It was a Love Fest for five days and their dreams began to sprout from this foundation of safety and respect.
By visually mapping their lives with Leadership Trees and sharing their stories with each other, they claimed their unique and shared experiences, challenges and hopes as East African girls. They transcribed their dreams into blossoms and claimed them out loud. They exclaimed their desires to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and artists; to end gender-based violence; to be safe, recognized and respected in their communities.
Participants were introduced to The Girl Declaration, the outcome of a collaboration between development experts and 508 adolescent girls living in poverty to understand their dreams, needs and concerns. The Declaration is a call to action placing global investment in girls at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. We worked in small groups to develop theater skits illustrating the five primary Declaration goals: Education, Safety, Economic Security, Health and Citizenship. Together they explored potential obstacles, ways to address them and their own personal commitments to achieve each goal within their own communities with creative action. Together, they supported each other in concrete plans to turn these dreams into reality.
Women are at the center of family and community life. If they are allowed to dream big and are provided the education, resources and support to achieve those dreams, these girls can lift up entire societies. The East African Girls' Leadership Summit is a space where girls can feel safe, know they are loved and develop the skills and capacities they need to make their dreams come true. The girls and their mentors have returned to their respective countries to share what they have learned, connected to a powerful network of Urumuri Dadas – Sisters who Light Up the World.
We at CAI are excited to be a part of this movement and support them on their journey of leadership and creative social action! May the dreams of every girl be given the conditions they need to fully bloom and thrive.