Thursday, January 21, 2010

And so it begins....

During the summer of 2009, I went to Kayafungo, Kenya as an intern with Think Impact (then called Student Movement for Real Change). Myself and 9 other students from universities around the United States, were the first interns to venture to the rural community of Kayafungo. What we learned while there was unimaginable, and will be with us forever....

In the community it was impossible not to be touched by everyone I met. Each person whom I met had a unique gift to give, new ideas, different skills, their own personal story, but the person whom I was touched by the most was Grace Chihanga. She comes from a progressive family where her husband respects and values her as an equal, a rare thing in Kayafungo. Grace is educated and knows the value of hard work. She and her husband started their marriage in a mud hut, which eventually became a huge cement home with solar panel electricity, and a full cement latrine. She has helped put her children through private school, and her husband through university. Education is emphasized in their house, which is not the case on other homesteads where education is overlooked. Besides Grace’s rise from poverty that is inspirational, it’s Grace’s soul that is truly moving. She is dedicated and passionate. She sees issues in the community as a necessity to change. She believes in the power of teamwork and unity of women. She is her own advocate. Grace showed me how dreams and goals transcend the lot to which you were born. She believes anything is possible. Her warmth and compassion for her fellow women and men is something I foresee being the driving force for the women’s group to be successful. She showed me the power of women, and how simply gathering women in Kayafungo can lift their spirits to new heights. Without Grace the women’s group would not have started their soap business, and would not have already made a profit. Grace’s influence in my life and in the women’s lives has been invaluable.

Currently, I am a proposed Fellow with the non-profit organization, Think Impact, which connects American college students and recent graduates with rural villages in Africa to become social entrepreneurs. Through Think Impact’s Global Development Internships and Fellowships, young Americans are given the opportunity to alleviate poverty through a sustained commitment to social innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship. Think Impact’s philosophy is people-powered global development.

My Fellowship project will focus broadly on the issue of empowerment of women in Kayafungo. Women have a quiet voice in Kayafungo. Yet, they know about the concept of power in numbers. They want to come together as a group to address many social issues in the community such as hygiene, female health and safety, sanitation, and keeping young girls in school. The women feel these issues need to be addressed so the lives they live can be more rewarding and healthy both mentally and physically. In partnership with Grace, we mobilized a committee of women who named themselves the Kayafungo Mungano (United) Women’s Group (KMWG), a constitution was made and is to be registered by September 1, 2009. The groups’ mission is to unite the women of the community to work together to improve the quality of life in Kayafungo. A soap business was started to create capital to be saved to build a Women’s Action Center. The idea of making soap came from the group’s asset mapping as well as surveying the local population about access to inexpensive effective soap. The soap was sold at the community market. The soap business will be a continuing source of revenue for the center, as well as a way for the women to come together to create group unity. The issues to be addressed will be combated by other projects the KMWG planned including: education in schools on sanitation, family planning promotion, team building projects, first aid stands, and awareness about women’s empowerment.

Long term goals of the KMWG: To build a Women’s Action Center for women to learn about health education and sanitation. Educational curriculum approved by the Center for Disease Control will be used to educate the women about reproductive health, and making safe healthy choices. The women will be trained then expected to train others. The women want to focus on empowering all women in the community. This also includes teaching young girls the value of education, the importance of staying in school, eventually raising female attendance in schools, and how to make good life choices.

Short term goals of the KMWG: To continue the soap making business to create revenue to build First Aid Stations. The first aid stations will also include a small service fee, and will be selling hygienic items such as maxi pads, soap, condoms, ext as well as providing first aid. These stands will provide care to all of Kayafungo. First this idea addresses the issue that schools do not have any type of first aid to offer their students so stands could be used to address student care, as well as a place for female students to buy pads. The second issue the first aid stands addresses are the long distances between the sub-locations and the nearest hospitals. Women are charged with taking their children to the hospital, so these would help address issues such as burns, cuts, or diarrhea. First aid would be given to those as a first line of treatment, and would also refer clients to the hospital if treatment could not be administered. The women’s group will also go into schools to educate young girls on menstruation and self-hygiene. The women have expressed interest in doing group empowerment projects such as helping each other dig water ponds to increase the water supply upon homesteads. Also, it has been expressed to further the work on hand washing and sanitation within the schools, with a particular focus on the nursery schools.

Upon "re-arrival" in Kayafungo, I will gather the KMWG and evaluate the women’s groups progress in my absence. If nothing has occurred then the KMWG’s committee will make revisions to the plan of action. The estimated timeline will be between six to nine months. During the first four months, trainings will occur. These will be ten to fifteen day sessions in each area of Kayafungo (4 villages in total). Compensation of food will be given for attending. During the fifth month, school visits will be done at the Primary and Secondary schools (schools to be determined by community) to pilot in girls health weeks, focusing on reproductive health and concrete ways of making good choices. Secondary school girls will be recruited to work with KMWG’s group to teach sessions. Also during this time meetings will be taking place about the construction of the Action Center, and where the center will be located. During the determination of the Action Center’s location the whole of Kayafungo will be informed of the meetings so as to have a chance to voice opinion of the center’s location. The majority of the parties involved will be women from the community, as well as local youth groups, women’s groups and dance groups that have expressed interest to participate in this endeavor. The idea is this is for the women, from the women of Kayafungo, which will create ownership, and in turn sustainability. During the sixth to ninth months evaluation of health sessions will take place.

This project is a direct investment in the community. Each dollar raised for the Action Center will be spent on the construction of the building itself, and the health workshop components. The sustainability of this project is three-fold. The soap business will continue. The soap is to be made during the bi-weekly meetings to then be sold throughout the community. The schools that Think Impact has previously built in the community will be targeted because of the hand washing stations, so sanitation at the schools will continue to increase. The soap business’ revenue will go towards maintenance of the Action center. The trained women will be training youth to work at the center as well, creating a cycle of informed women.

The total budget for this project is $14,000 USD. This project will help to empower the local women by using the soap business they have already created as a platform for health and sanitation reform in the community. The soap business creates sustainability for the project. Research done by the World Bank shows educated women are more likely to invest in their community, and can be important drivers of economic growth and development. The Kayafungo Mungano Women's Group is creating a chance for health education, and access to soap, which will allow for young girls to attend school on a regular basis, allowing them to pursue higher education. This Action Center gives the Kayfungo Mungano Women's Group the starting point to reach out and work with other issues in the community. This will be an establishment of philanthropy, and community projects identified by stakeholders in the community will be addressed. The women of the Kayafungo community are hard working, driven and want to change their situation. We created a successful soap business in two weeks, I can only imagine the great heights that will be reached during the nine months this project is to implemented. Every woman and young girl deserves a chance to optimize about their own health, the right to go to school, and the right to fulfill their dreams. The Women's Action Center Proposal is the opportunity to make these basic rights become a reality.