I AM AFRICA!

By Vanessa Anyoti.

I am a girl, I am a youth, I am an African, I am educated, I have a voice and I am the solution.  My goal in life is to turn my voice into ideas and ideas into practices and spaces. We are accountable for each other and now need to focus on being part of the solution and bringing forth change, regardless of the difficulties that will be faced.

Vanessa Anyoti

Vanessa Anyoti

The AU pre-summit trainings, as well as the GIMAC sessions, have both been eye openers and enforcers. What I have learnt most and what will resonate with me once I go back to Tanzania and continue with the work of YWCA and empowering the girl child, is that whatever it is we dream of, whatever purpose we aim to fulfil, it can be done and the fight for this dream began a long time ago. There are patriarchs before us that have paved a way for us and now it’s our turn to do our bit and to help the other women; be it the woman beside us or the girl that looks up to us. It is important to remember that we are in a very unique position and already possess so much power. As we go by with our day-to- day work we ought to remember that we are a voice for those girls and women that may never get chance to speak for themselves, so SPEAK! 

My particular interest in life is in public health and in the 21st century we ought to ensure that it is no longer acceptable for an African woman who decides to have sex or to have a child, to die because of that decision. We don’t only need to be focusing on African solutions to African problems we also need to provide youth solutions to youth, African and global problems. Its time we utilize our collective voices, we are a global world and we are all interdependent on each other, so in order to be effective we need to collectively come up with common goals that can guide our separate entities of work. I can no longer just be focused on promoting public health as all sectors of society affect each other. I need to also consider the economic empowerment of women, land rights and policies, human rights, education, climate change, agriculture and food security, etc. because sustainable development can only be guaranteed in Africa when people are the means and end of growth. Sustainable development in Africa can and will be driven by women and the youth.

When I first heard that the theme of this year’s AU Summit was on Agriculture and Food Security, I initially felt a little disinterested. I thought that this wasn’t a pressing matter in Africa and we could be addressing other issues. Little did I know that the issue of agriculture and food security affects us all, especially young women who are less likely to access land. If we cannot consistently produce our own food, then Africa cannot develop. The issue of agriculture and food security relates to all sectors of life including education, climate change, economic development, rights and policies, etc. Africa is fundamentally agriculturally based and to deny us the development and industrialization the African agricultural sector means to deny the African citizens of structural and fundamental development that is needed to bring Africa out of its ‘dark cycle’. It was hard for me to accept that economic development is land ownership, and for young woman like myself, unless I inherit land from my family, I will most likely not be able to own my own land and this may cause some women to be predisposed to a life of poverty. We cannot continue to let an issue that can be corrected by land policies and rights continue to burden the life of many, especially women. It is then that I realized that that issue of agriculture and food development should have been talked about it and dealt with yesterday, not in the next few days.

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UN Women office in Ethiopia

By Ritha M.Clarisse Bumwe.

On Monday 27 January, 2014, a YWCA delegation of girls and young women from 13 countries gathering in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa for the AU Summit visited the UN Women office  in Ethiopia.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, welcomed us and spoke highly of World YWCA General Secretary, Nyaradzayi Gombonzvanda and Monica Bihlmaier, who have a broad knowledge of different issues that can affect young girls personally, their families and communities.

Although women had come a long way, she reminded that “Challenges are still there; even getting a job is a big issue, because they ask about your experience. But all these challenges can be addressed as we are committed to address them.”

Ms. Chiwara went on to say that this 22nd AU summit is a great opportunity for bringing young people’s ideas and shaping the future they want and to continue to push open doors for youth to be part of all dialogues at the African Union that could impact their progress.

She ensured continuing support in terms of engaging governments and also the African commission and that UN Women was there to support women through their programmes in mentorship and leadership.

At the end, she shared her personal experience. What drove her from where she was to where she is now, she told us was her “PASSION”

She came up with a great quote saying: when you finish your school and get a degree, do not go out looking for a job, go out looking for your passion.”

The group then visited the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, where they were given an in-depth explanation about the work and the mission of the AU.

It was stated that “even though Africa is a continent rich in natural resources, it is the poorest,” and that it was essential for Africa to build a common economic space in order to secure our security and for Africans to access the education and tools to develop the business environment and resources of the continent themselves.”

Both these visits were enlightening experiences which gave the girls and young women new exposures and gave them the opportunity to ask many questions about these two organizations.

MY PARTICIPATION AT THE 22ND AFRICAN UNION SUMMIT IN ADDIS ABABA ETHIOPIA

By Mugisha Olga Antonella, a 15 year-old girl from the YWCA of Rwanda.Image

My name is Mugisha Olga Antonella and I am 15 years old from YWCA Rwanda. I am grateful to the World YWCA and the YWCA of Rwanda for giving me the opportunity to participate in the young women’s advocacy training, the 23rd Gender is my Agenda campaign (GIMAC) and the 22nd African Union summit in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. This being my first time to the Africa Union summit, it is a great opportunity for me to interact and share ideas with young women from different countries as the summit has attracted people from all walks of life both young and old.

“Her future: The future young women want “the theme,  put forward by the World YWCA, has given me a great opportunity to understand clearly the future that I want. A future that puts an end to violence against girls, that puts into consideration SRHR and where young girls have access to education and can be empowered. The different dialogues held at the AU summit have motivated me to work even harder to empower millions of young women around the globe. True, young women have come a long way and are beginning to enjoy more of what  their male counterparts do, but a lot still needs to be done. I have been working with the YWCA as a volunteer for 3 years and this has given me ample time to interact with different girls with a number of problems which need to be addressed.

The opportunity to be part of the World YWCA pre-AU advocacy trainings, has enabled me  to develop my skills in leadership, girl’s economic empowerment and advocacy for girls . I am now able to interact with the world through social media and make my voice heard and can also advocate for the voiceless in my community. As an adolescent girl, I know there are many peers who need information on their sexuality, rights and how can they actively participate in community mobilisation on issues concerning them. This meeting came at the right time because I will use the skills learnt to advocate for the rights of my fellow girls in Rwanda who did not get the chance to attend the summit.

I like interacting with different people especially girls from different backgrounds because through this I get to know more about how people live, the kind of problems they encounter. Seeing how my fellow girls suffer is one of the worst moments for me and this motivates me to come out and lend a hand by building their confidence through empowering them. I have learnt a lot during this summit and I will use the knowledge that I have obtained to productive use, especially in our project “young women champions“ when I return to Rwanda. I am now empowered and ready to take Africa to higher heights and being a part of making it the most productive and youth friendly Continent.

A new perspective on Haiti – and about ourselves

By Toby Simon, YWCA of Haiti.

PROVIDENCE – Recently my husband Peter and I returned from a short trip to Haiti. Unlike the vacation we took there a year earlier, this trip had two purposes: to attend the first annual fundraiser of the new YWCA – Haiti honoring exceptional Haitian women and to do some HIV training for health workers.

haiti

Toby Simon, right, with her Haitian colleagues, who helped start the YWCA in Haiti.

Peter and I started going to Haiti in 1995, exactly one year after Bertrand Aristide came back into power. At that time, the mood was upbeat in the very rural Artibonite region near the Hospital Albert Schweitzer where we had been working. The Artibonite River Valley is the breadbasket of Haiti and the stronghold of the Lavalas Party, which had put Aristide into power. The local people we encountered were feeling optimistic about Haiti’s future.

Visitors to Haiti, who usually provide either volunteer or short-term paid work, often comment that there is something about the place that gets to you and keeps you returning year after year. That was and still is our experience with Haiti. Although we spent about 15 years doing volunteer stints at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in rural Haiti, the past four years have been spent in Port au Prince and nearby towns. Peter and I have actually experienced Haiti differently. As a pediatrician working at the Schweitzer Hospital it was unbearable for him to see children arrive at the hospital with preventable and/or treatable illnesses, only to watch them die in the hospital because they didn’t have the reserves to fight their infections.

Peter is also a public health physician. He became frustrated with the inability to meet basic needs like potable water, sanitary conditions, decent housing and roads, and how difficult it was to obtain funds to invest in basic infrastructure compared with the ease and “sexiness” of getting funds to treat cholera, HIV/AIDS and to build orphanages. Peter also became tired with the rescue fantasy of some people who knew very little about sustainability and short term investments. Ignorance about the history of our country’s role in Haitian history and present economic and political distress added to his frustration.

As a public health trainer and advocate, my experiences were always more rewarding. I had the luxury of focusing on the training needs of small non-profits or large hospitals that were always grateful for the new skills and knowledge that their staffs acquired.

Starting a YWCA in Haiti. About four years ago, through some Haitian Bryant University students, I met several remarkable Haitian women who were determined to start a YWCA in Haiti. Records show that there had been numerous attempts to bring a YWCA to Haiti for about 40 years but this time, a small group of dedicated women was successful. Through these women I was exposed to a new generation of Haitians who are intent on making Haiti a better place.

They are the ages of our adult children and, for the most part, they grew up privileged. They were educated in the United States and Canada but are the 15 percent of Haitians who actually returned to their country following graduation from their universities. They are lawyers, businesswomen, political appointees, communications experts and event planners. And, in their spare time, they started the YWCA Haiti. They are living proof that Haitian women are the poto-mitan (pillars) of the community.

The YWCA-Haiti is an affiliated member of the World YWCA, a global network of women and girls working for justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment in 122 countries worldwide. Its current objectives are to promote awareness on health issues, education, and to develop leadership skills for young women in Haiti. It also offers a safe space for girls and young women. The YWCA-Haiti’s slogan is “Se ave’m chanjman an komanse” – change starts with me! Based on these now frequent encounters with the well-educated Haitian community in their 30s and 40s, it’s clear that they are committed to social justice issues, women’s rights, gender equity and civic education. They have faith and confidence in the future of Haiti. Compared to the feelings of doom and gloom that usually accompany reports about Haiti, their energy, organizing approach and can do attitude is exciting and hopeful.

On this trip we attended the YWCA-Haiti fundraiser in which three exceptional Haitian women were honored: Michele Pierre-Louis, former Prime Minister of Haiti and director of FOKAL, an independent foundation providing a range of educational, human development and economic activities to local communities; Marilia Charlestin, an outstanding entrepreneur who works in the central plateau where she has created jobs for more than 3,000 women; a young emerging leader, Anne-Martine Augustin of HELP, a Haitian organization dedicated to leadership and retaining Haiti’s top talented students.

This trip also provided us an opportunity to work and visit at two Catholic hospitals in the Port au Prince area: St. Camille’s and St. Damien’s. Both of these facilities have beautiful grounds, clean corridors, well-ventilated rooms and seemingly happy staff.

Both expressed keen interest in providing access to reproductive health services including the availability of condoms, collaborating with the surrounding communities and providing training to their staffs based on adult learning theory.

People frequently ask us about Haiti, wondering whether there’s any hope to ending the grinding poverty. Peter often says that each time he returns from Haiti, he feels like he understands less about the place.

Stop seeing Haiti as hopeless.

However, there are some things he now recognizes. Outsiders have to stop treating Haitians as victims, because that only contributes to a culture of victimization. The work of a majority of the non- governmental organizations (NGOs) does not address the root causes of poverty in sustainable ways.

When people are accustomed to free services from these international organizations, the local capacity to provide services is adversely impacted. When the NGOs are providing services, the government often is ignored or is allowed to continue to ignore their responsibility to serve their people. We also have to stop seeing Haiti as a hopeless place. We need to drop the tag line, “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” Instead, we need to see Haiti’s assets, her potential. Haitians themselves are resilient, creative, and entrepreneurial.

One way outsiders can help Haiti is by visiting as tourists. The next time you want to take a beach vacation, consider Haiti. The beaches in the south and in the north are magnificent. There are many lovely small hotels with fabulous restaurants nearby. True, most Americans would need to hire a driver but this is easy to do and gives you peace of mind. And yes, many things in Haiti take getting used to: the presence of guns, poverty in the streets, unbelievable traffic jams, remnants of the earthquake.

However, the vibrant street scene, lack of road rage, exquisite Haitian art, stunning countryside, delicious cuisine, and beautiful people can easily win you over.

In this way you can help Haiti: visit the place, stay in their quaint hotels, eat tasty Haitian food in their restaurants, and hire local people as tour guides. Tourism will boost the economy just as it did in the Dominican Republic 30 years ago.

Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Time to give Haiti a try.

The Gift of Education

By Mariam William John Bangafu, young woman from the YWCA of South Sudan.

My name is Mariam William John Bangafu and was born in Khartoum, Sudan in 1990. I finished my primary school there and completed my secondary education in Uganda. Now I am sitting the exam for the South Sudan School Certificate but I am finding it difficult to get to the school campus. This is mainly because I fell pregnant, which has really upset my family and they are very angry with me. That’s all I can say. I am now a member of the YWCA and it is helping me to achieve my dreams.

 Our Visit to Bangasu, South Sudan

mariam

Mariam William John Bangafu

My first trip to Bangasu Payma was to a village called Burezigbo. It was wonderful moment; we met with other YWCA women who had come from Tanzania and Switzerland. The purpose of the meeting was to share best practice, challenges and familiarise one another with eachother’s  work. In fact I learnt many different things such as how to develop confidence and be strong as a woman in front of the community and how to communicate and promote our messages. One of the main objectives of the YWCA is to build and develop women’s capacity as decision makers in the community. We also have a very clear focus on youth as a critical population group. If I have to go and help women at Burezigbo I would like to give them the best gift, the gift of education.

Nothing is so marvellous than to travel to different places and get to know the challenges and common threads faced by women and youth. We had the opportunity to visit Nzara County and the first person to welcome us was the Commissioner! He spoke to us and encouraged the women to be active members in the community at decision making levels and mobilise the young women to be independent.

The YWCA women in Nzara have various amazing activities such as having their own plot of land for agriculture and delivering awareness programmes on HIV and AIDS.

However, Nzara women of YWCA have their own challenges- no office for women to carry out their activities and no training space. Despite this, they still continue as best they can. What I found quite interesting was that young men in the village have begun to realise the importance of the empowerment of women and they are giving them support and seeing the positive impact of staying school to reduce poverty.

The Long Road to Empowerment

By ImageEmebet Regassa

Emebet is a young woman from the YWCA of Ehtiopia. She has been working at the YWCA in Addis Ababa and she shares with us her incredible journey to self-empowerment.

My name is Emebet and I work with the YWCA of Ethiopia. For me it has been a long journey to get to where I am today and dramatic changes had to take place in order for me to achieve all that I have.

I was born in a rural area where girls were not allowed to go to school. By the age of 7-8 girls are married rather than educated. Since I come from a well-to-do family an arranged marriage was a normal practice in our area and getting married is the only fate I had. In order to avoid that horrible situation I had to come to Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, to live with my distant relatives.

Unfortunately life was not a bed of roses when I arrived to Addis and no one welcomed me with open hands. There was nobody that could help to send me to school or to give me a shelter. Thus I had to work as a domestic worker in order to attend evening classes. It was very difficult for me to attend school and to also complete all the house work which was expected of me. Despite all the hardship I managed to be successful in my studies and my teachers were very supportive.

I joined the YWCA Ethiopia when I was a high school student as a library user. I then joined the Addis Ababa University School of Social Sciences and I became the YWCA’s project beneficiary and volunteer. I participated in many of the trainings including on leadership, SRHR, mentoring, TUSAME – which means “let us speak out” in Swahili, as well as other activities. This brought a radical change to my life.

My self-esteem improved and I began to participate in different student activities, especially in activities that involved the participation of women at the University. When I graduated the YWCA employed me part-time as a youth mobiliser in their University project. This was the turning point in my life. After all the hassle that I had gone through, I became an NGO employee and an influential young woman at the University. When I graduated I was given the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant and I was also awarded the female scholarship which was provided by Addis Ababa University. I preferred to continue my post graduate studies rather than to work, though I did continue to work with the YWCA of Ethiopia.

After a year the YWCA employed me fulltime as their Project Officer. Since I have been working at the YWCA I have received so much exposure, especially at various international conferences and events, such as the African Union Summit and the ICASA Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. I never dreamed I could have made it this far when I was a young girl in my village!

Imagine what a great deal this is for a person like me! I can’t express in words how much the YWCA has changed my life. Being given the chance to travel to South Africa in December gave me the possibility to meet other young women and to share my experience with young people that come from different countries in Africa.

A study that was presented at the Youth Pre-Conference of ICASA shows that 33 million people in the world lives with HIV/AIDS. Though the number of AIDS related deaths has decreased drastically in recent years, the number of young people affected by HIV/AIDS is still very high and in some instances even rising. As an empowered young woman, I no longer need to find my own self-empowerment. Now I am responsible to empower others and to help us to, together, overcome these problems that we face as young people.

 In my work at the YWCA I hope to improve our engagement and service and to further develop our work on comprehensive sexuality education.