– Guest Post from Action for Health in the Americas (AHA) Board Member Sheila Dauer –
Attending the 5th Escuela Internacional was one of the best experiences of my life! And I owe it to the generosity of Melanie Nelson (fellow AHA Board member), the welcoming warmth of the EPES staff and health promoters and the 7 East African women with whom I attended the course. Melanie made it possible for 6 Kenyans and 1 Ugandan woman to attend the Escuela. I learned so much and am so impressed with the ability of EPES staff and health promoters to communicate how popular education works to women from thousands of miles away and different cultures.
Grace Mose is the Founder and Executive Secretary of HFAW (Hope for African Women) and a Professor at Kenyatta University. She is brilliant and full of joyful energy. She has a team of 6 Kenyan women who are dedicated and truly amazing people.
She and her co-founder, Hellen Njoroge, have been traveling from Nairobi to Abagusii and Maasai villages west and south of that capital city using their own resources and linking with Joyce Amoyi and Nellie Koyo, each of whom lives in a village and is an HFAW volunteer leader. They are supported by Mary Were, also a professor at Kenyatta University and Lisper Bundi, who just graduated from the School of Social Work at Kenyatta University.
Grace attended the 1st Escuela Internacional in 2010 and was convinced that EPES’ popular education philosophy and methods were a powerful tool for organizing to economically empower women and to raise awareness that their access to health is a human right, as EPES says, and not a privilege. Members of the HFAW team come from the communities in which they work and as a result have more credibility and access than other development teams.
Despite the lack of resources, HFAW have organized income-generating activities for women in both areas – making school bags for children, and beautiful jewelry and tote bags for women. While women work together on their economic projects, HFAW is able to stimulate discussions about lack of health care and specifically the issue of female genital mutilation, which is practiced both in Gusii and Maasai societies. HFAW has succeeded in facilitating the commitment of 27 women not to have their daughters undergo FGM (the World Health Organization has found the most successful abandonment of this practice comes when the community itself makes the decision).
A 7th East African woman at the training was Generous Turinawe from Muko Sub-district in Uganda. Generous is the Executive Director of ACT (Agape Community Transformation). She came to the Escuela through a connection with Melanie Nelson’s family and Melanie also made her trip possible. ACT currently has 3 programs: Muko Hope through which almost 100 orphans receive a sponsor and a stable home, the Muko Empowerment program, which brought income generating skills to women for support of their families, and HANDS Muko Agricultural program, which will introduce more productive farming methods through pilot projects in the area.
ACT is supported by 5 Church partners in Midland and other cities in Michigan. But there is so much that needs to be done to work against gender-based violence in the community and for women’s reproductive health care (these communities do not practice FGM). Generous is an important leader in her sub-district. She too wanted to learn the popular education methods for organizing the communities with which she works.
The training involved workshops on participatory community assessments, learn-by-playing techniques, strategic planning and creative evaluation methods. It was amazing and moving see how community health promoters from the El Bosque neighborhood in Santiago were able to teach the Kenyans and Ugandan how to plan a public action – this one aimed at the local street market – to raise awareness about violence against women.
This is one of the main problems the African women aim to end and they were excited to see that women from poor communities like their own know how to pull off such actions. In addition, when we got to the free market, the Africans were amazed to find a market environment that very much resembled those in their own communities. They gave out fliers, talked to men as well as women and used a megaphone to relay messages of solidarity from Kenya and Uganda to Chile. They had never thought of having an action in their own markets and were so energized by the experience of carrying it out. They became determined to organize such actions when they returned home.
Women from the two countries ended the training by producing a detailed action plan to train health promoters and to organize actions in the community. We all see that popular education can generate awareness in our communities about our problems and can ensure widespread participation in developing solutions. Another important learning for all of us is that popular education is a process of long-term commitment that is needed to ensure that poverty is steadily reduced and that gender equality becomes a permanent part of our societies.
The 5th Escuela was an exciting new project for EPES, which not only organized, hosted and led the 2-week training, but also provided support and technical assistance before, during and after the training. A great deal of time and resources were devoted to helping organize the team to get to Chile, translating all materials to English, and interpretation during the course. EPES, thanks to Melanie’s contribution, financially supported HFAW to cover expenses to bring the women to Chile. This period is considered Phase I of HFAW’s formation. Carrying out the Action Plan is Phase II.
EPES continues to mentor the new organization as they carry out the Action Plan they developed during the Escuela. This will include communications via email and skype, possible future visits and other material support. The women of HFAW face tremendous challenges.
You can help support EPES to continue this tremendous accomplishment and expand their work in the future by donating to AHA now. Thank you for your support!