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Sep 18, 2013

Program Update - New Offices in South Sudan

WfWI participants show off their program materials
WfWI participants show off their program materials

WfWI Interim Africa Regional Director Karen Sherman continues her travels in South Sudan and talks to participants about their struggles and what they hope to gain from participating in our program. Participants in WfWI's year-long training program learn about a variety of subjects, including health awareness, rights awareness, vocational skills and basic business managment skills. The motorbikes will allow program participants to expand their business by helping them reach new markets, thereby helping them some of the dreams and hopes for the future they shared with Karen.

It’s mango season in Yei.  After weeks of heavy downpours, the ripe, delicious fruit is literally falling off the trees, providing a ready, nutritious source of food and income.  Pods of women gather the fallen fruit to sell in the marketplace or roadside, trying to earn  extra cash while the abundance lasts.  This month only, mangos saturate the market and diet, helping to sate some of the undernourished in this still food insecure region.

Their hunger is not only for food, but a deep and abiding hunger for learning. Women in particular have missed out on a formal education, thwarted for many reasons: persistent war, conflict and displacement over many years; the dominance of Islamic ideology under one Sudan that discouraged efforts to empower and educate women; traditional norms and values regarding girls’ education, seen more as a benefit to the prospective husband’s family rather than her own and thus unworthy of the investment.

Independence has brought new educational opportunities for women and girls, but not nearly enough to satisfy the pent up need and demand. According to the South Sudan Consolidated Appeal for 2013 developed by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the country ranks at the bottom of global education indicators, with only 44% of children enrolled in primary school. The percentages are even worse for girls, especially for school completion. Yei Town Payam recorded a total of 2,362 children who sat for primary seven exams in 2012, only 33% of whom were girls.  Lack of income, early marriages and a poor enabling environment for education were cited for the high incidences of school drop-outs.

In the Yei River County where Women for Women International recently launched its program, the desire for training and education is high.  In Payawa Boma, 1,000 women turned up at our first recruitment session, though we could only enroll 100 due to the lack of available sponsors. In Longamere Boma, over 500 women vied for the 100 slots. Chiefs in each Boma helped to select the neediest or excluded women but in reality, all of the women were desperate and eager for training.  A total of 300 women were enrolled in the initial group of participants.

Life skills training commenced this week for six groups of 25 women. Attendance exceeded 100%, as women yet to be enrolled in the program turned up at some of the training sites hoping to join. One woman was so eager she sat at the window for the entire two hour introductory session just to listen in.  Support from local leadership was also strong; the chiefs stopped by to give opening remarks, the community donated training venues so women would have a safe environment in which to learn. The women were excited to receive their ID cards and begin to connect with their sisters in the U.S.

“I was supposed to be in class,” says Betty Sandy Moses, one of the new program participants. The war stopped her education at primary 5.  With two children of her own now, Betty wants to learn about business so she can send her children to school and give them the education that she missed. Joyce Jamba, another participant, has eight children but can only afford to send four of them to school. A widow whose husband died early, Joyce is most interested in training on health and stress management and will use the monthly training stipend to pay school fees for her children, 35 SSP per child per term or over 100 SSP a year for uniforms, supplies and materials.  The fees represent a daunting amount of money given women’s average daily income of just 2.4 SSP. The ability to earn and sustain an income, one of the key program outcomes, will be critical to keeping the children in school.

As committed as the women are to educating their children, it is clear they have yet to give up on their own dreams of an education. They expressed hope that Women for Women International’s program would serve as the primary and secondary schooling they never received, effectively empowering both generations.

The Sustaining an Income module is designed to help women overcome stereotypes and inequities that prevent them from gaining economic self-sufficiency. Topics address the benefits of savings, building assets, managing household finances, and the types of income generation opportunities available.

Topics Addressed Include:

  • The Value of Women’s Work: program participants shared their experiences about the social and economic value of women’s work. Participants learned about different kinds of work and discussed strategies to share productive and reproductive work responsibilities with family members.
  • The Gender Division of Labor: participants learned strategies to balance their productive, reproductive, and community management responsibilities.
  • Achieving Work-Life Balance: participants shared ideas on how to manage their time and activities while still ensuring time for rest and leisure.
  • Household Financial Management: program participants were introduced to concepts of organizing and controlling household resources, including basic concepts on managing spending, increasing income, and saving.
  • Household Savings: Women learned that saving regularly is the most important thing they can do to improve their financial situation. Women learned different ways to save and how saving regularly will help them reach their goals.
  • Income Generation Opportunities: program participants were introduced to basic concepts involved in earning a living. The session encouraged women to make the most of upcoming vocational business and skills training, and discussed ways to sustain income through self-employment, employment, and group business.


Mangos!
Mangos!
May 16, 2013

Voice and Choice for Women in South Sudan

WfWI Interim African Regional Director Karen Sherman shares thoughts about her recent visit to South Sudan, including the difficulties of moving around the country, for both WfWI staff and WfWI - South Sudan participants.

Little was moving as we made our way along the dusty stretch of dirt road connecting Juba to Yei in the scorching mid-day sun. What should have been less than a two-hour drive took more than double the time due to the difficult terrain, which was more akin to a slalom course, requiring the driver to swerve from side to side to avoid large ditches and pot holes. Herds of goats and cows grazed by the side of the road while a handful of cars, motorcycles, and trucks – some ferrying soldiers, others daily commuters – rumbled onward.

Small groupings of grass and mud huts dotted the rural landscape. White markers denote areas previously cleared of landmines. Most of the villagers had sought some kind of shelter from the oppressive heat. Men gathered under traditional tukuls playing cards or drinking tea. Yet the women were out working, always working, carrying heavy loads of firewood, produce, or water on their heads in preparation for the evening meal; most had small infants swaddled around their backs. A typical day in South Sudan.

The vegetation grew denser and more varied as we approached Yei, with some areas appearing positively lush. Located within the Greenbelt Zone in Central Equatoria State, Yei River County is the new program site for Women for Women International in South Sudan. With a population close to 500,000 and few organizations providing gender-specific programs or services, Yei is home to many socially-excluded women who have significant potential to impact their families and communities.

Central Equatoria’s fertile land and consistent rainfall offer a promising opportunity for women to earn a sustainable income through agri-business and related sectors. In fact, the majority of households depend on crop farming or animal husbandry for consumption and livelihoods. Additionally, the state’s prime location at a major crossroads between Uganda and the cities of Yambio and Juba is ideal for women to access markets and trading routes to sell their products.

Central Equatoria is still recovering from decades of civil war, intertribal violence, and the influx of refugees fleeing conflict, mostly from neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. War has all but decimated the local infrastructure:  44% of the population lives below the poverty line, with an average income the equivalent of $8 per month. Education and health indicators are among the lowest in the world, reflecting the impact of protracted conflict and limited provision of social services. The situation is potentially dire given the impending fiscal crisis in South Sudan.

Women, in particular, bear the brunt of these challenges. Female-headed households make up a significant percentage of the urban and rural poor. Women account for 84% of the population who are unable to read and write.# They encounter limited economic opportunities, assume a majority of domestic responsibilities, and face discriminatory cultural practices such land ownership rights and widespread sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and domestic violence. South Sudan’s Deputy Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare considers violence against women as one of the key contributing obstacles to the country’s development.

“No one thinks about the women,” says Jennifer, a prominent leader in a coalition of eleven women’s groups from the Mugwo Payam, or District, in Yei County. At a recent meeting, she and other women spoke openly about the hardships and humiliations that come with daily life. Men frequently attack women on the road to the market, taking their produce or animals by force or stealing the money from their pockets to buy alcohol, according to several in the group, most of whom had experienced violence firsthand.

The prevalence of HIV and alcoholism among men and women in the area is primarily attributed to poor education; however, poverty, frustration, and an utter lack of hope and opportunity are large contributing factors. Educating women was considered the top priority by coalition members.

Although the women expressed strong interest in becoming active producers and community leaders, most lack the knowledge and skills to stand up for their rights and participate in the formal economy. Women for Women International addresses these challenges through its transformative yearlong education program, which integrates rights awareness and life skills with market-based skills and business training. With these skills, women rebuild their lives post-conflict and lead change in their families and communities. It is about creating voice and choice.

In South Sudan, as well as many other parts of the world, what women lack most is voice and choice. By investing in their social and economic empowerment, women gain the self-confidence, means, and status to advocate for their rights and contribute to public dialogue around critical issues of prosperity, peace, and stability – exactly what is needed to propel this new nation forward.

 1.  Key Indicators for Central Equatoria, 2010.The Republic of South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics.

2.  Key Indicators for Central Equatoria, 2010. The Republic of South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics.

Feb 11, 2013

WFWI CIO Travels to DR Congo and Rwanda

Motorbikes will help WfWI staff travel to remote locations in our countries of operation. Check out this great rip report from one of our DC-based staffers about traveling in Rwanda and the DR Congo. Nicole Weaver is WfWI's Chief Information Officer.

I was nervous crossing the border from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I know many of my colleagues at Women for Women International travel there, but I’ve heard reports of sporadic and random violence in the DRC. As our 4×4 wound its way through the mountainous border region with its tea plantations and volcanoes, I felt a sense of foreboding. 

The border itself is a scruffy-looking parking lot with a few immigration buildings and a lot of people standing around waiting to be processed. There are two gates—the first lets you out of Rwanda and the second lets you into the DRC. The site is a no man’s land, and you could wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes to get through. 

I climbed down from the first car in a torrential downpour and completed departure formalities and walked to DRC immigration, where I was examined, stamped and waved through. Today was a 20-minute day. 

Our destination, Goma, is a town close to the border and one of four sites operated by Women for Women in the DRC. Within a few minutes I was in town, bouncing along a poorly paved road in a traffic pattern that seemed to have few rules except “every man for himself.” The contrast with Rwanda is marked: Where Rwanda is clean and organized, Congo is chaotic and dirty. Compared to the last few miles of sparsely populated rural countryside in Rwanda, Goma struck me as noisy, crowded and stressed. Roads in Rwanda had occasional potholes; roads in Goma are mostly potholes punctuated by a few stretches where the pavement has not yet given up. 

My hotel was on the shores of the serene Lake Kivu. Grace Fisiy, our agribusiness specialist, and I decided to take a walk—I still had my lingering concern about security, but Grace assured me it was safe (she is from Cameroon and has traveled all over Africa, so I trust her instinct). 

The dirt in this area is black. Mt. Nyiragongo erupted in 2002, destroying 15% of the buildings and leaving 120,000 people homeless. It also left behind black fertile soil and dust everywhere. The volcanic rock is so plentiful, it is a favored building material, meaning the buildings are also black. As we walked, chatting about Cameroon and family, I gradually realized I had completely relaxed. I did learn a new word on that walk—mzungu, Swahili for white man, which was muttered occasionally as we passed groups of bored security guards! 

The next day, Women for Women’s driver arrived and took us to the office. After some meetings at the office we headed to the vocational skills center, where participants learn soap-making, knitting, cookery and bread-making. There were no classes that day, but about 150 newly enrolled women listened to an orientation, learning what to expect from the program and what Women for Women expects from them. As I stood in the doorway, listening and snapping a couple of pictures, the trainer asked the women if they had any questions. One woman at the far side of the room stood and said, “We want to know who the visitor is,” looking at me. I introduced myself and explained that I was visiting from headquarters and that my job was to find them sponsors (applause) and make sure their letters get to their sponsors (cheers). They said they wished God would take care of me for many years. 

Nov 6, 2012

Meet Viviane

We could not do our work without the hard work of our in-country trainers, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the motorbikes. The trainers, who work with women in our program to teach them everything from vocational skills to health knowledge to important information about their rights, work tirelessly to help women in our program gain knowledge they can use to improve their lives. In addition to our main country offices, we often have satellite offices, and some trainers travel long distances to work with participants in these offices. Motorbikes will help trainers travel between offices more quickly, thereby allowing them to reach more women.

Like many of our program participants, our trainers often have their own amazing stories of triumph. Some were even program participants themselves, who come back to Women for Women International to teach other women the valuable skills they learned in the program. Read below for one woman's journey from victim to suvivor to active citizen. 

Viviane is a skills trainer for WfWI-DRC. She has been making soap since 2003, and a soap trainer for WfWI since 2005. In that time she has trained over 1,000 women many of whom have gone on to become teachers themselves or open successful businesses producing soap. Once forced to discontinue her education after working hard to get to university, Viviane has become a great success and single-handedly supports her six children, all of whom are in school, while continuing as a trainer and running her own soap-making business.

Viviane Mahongole Barhumvanya works with Women for Women International-DRC training women to make soap. Since 2005, Viviane has trained over 1,000 of WfWI-DRC’s participants to become skilled soap makers. Some of the women Viviane has trained have gone on to become trainers themselves. Many others have been hired by production companies or opened small businesses of their own producing and selling soap. 

Viviane is a good teacher. She’s dedicated to the position as evidenced by her four-year long commitment to training WfWI-DRC participants. In addition to her training, Viviane is herself a skilled soap maker and runs a soap-making business out of her home, supplying soap to 50-some business groups.

Viviane pursued her education at a young age. She graduated from elementary school in Kivu and secondary school in Bukavu. She went on to university at the Rural Development College, but her financial situation unfortunately prevented her from finishing. Instead, Viviane pursued soap making to earn a stable income. Becoming a teacher has been a rewarding experience. A single mother of six children, she encourages her children and wants to provide them with the best education. Her oldest daughter is in her first year of university, and her second recently graduated from high school. Her younger children, three sons and one daughter, are all still in high school. Education for all her children, especially her daughters, is one of Viviane’s most important goals in life.

Over the years, Viviane’s dedication to her students and work as a trainer has earned her the utmost respect of her superiors, and she is rewarded with greater responsibility. “…[O]ur department leaders…involve me in the analysis and designing of training modules. My unit gives me additional tasks related to the management of the solidarity small cash box recently created in our department.” She’s proud of all that she has accomplished, and all that her students are accomplishing each day. This year, Viviane and twenty other women from WfWI-DRC were accepted into a business and management training program sponsored by Goldman Sachs and taught by instructors from the University of Dar es Salaam. Once forced to leave school when it became too expensive, Viviane is thrilled now that she will be able to continue her education as part of this program. She is proud of her achievements, and is just one more example of the positive, multiplied change that occurs when women are empowered to become business-women and teachers.


Aug 28, 2012

Meet Alice, a WfWI Trainer

We could not do our work without the hard work of our in-country trainers, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the motorbikes. The trainers, who work with women in our program to teach them everything from vocational skills to health knowledge to important information about their rights, work tirelessly to help women in our program gain knowledge they can use to improve their lives. In addition to our main country offices, we often have satellite offices, and some trainers travel long distances to work with participants in these offices. Motorbikes will help trainers travel between offices more quickly, thereby allowing them to reach more women.

Like many of our program participants, our trainers often have their own amazing stories of triumph. Some were even program participants themselves, who come back to Women for Women International to teach other women the valuable skills they learned in the program. Read below for one woman's journey from victim to suvivor to active citizen. 

When you meet Alice Kiza Nahayo, you’ll find her full of glowing optimism. As a successful, joyful, and confident literacy trainer for Women for Women International-DRC, it’s hard to imagine the tragedies she has endured throughout her life. Yet Alice has had a long journey – she actually started out in the Women for Women International family as a participant. The depth of her personal triumph is apparent when she tells her story of survival from an orphan and victim of gender-based violence and rebirth as a loving mother and teacher.

Born in Burundi in 1968, Alice was orphaned in early childhood and raised under the harsh realities of a racist headmistress in an orphanage torn by Hutu and Tutsi tribal tensions. Brutal tribal conflicts govern the region where Alice, a Tutsi minority, grew up, and eventually lead to the horrifying Rwandan genocide of 1994. Alice experienced harsh discrimination in the orphanage that she is unable to describe to this day. She married as a young woman, eager to leave the hardships of her childhood behind, and became optimistic that she would finally feel at home in a place where she belonged. Alice was happy with her four children and felt that her life would be forever changed.

But after the birth of her fourth child, Alice’s husband began to beat and insult her daily. Her husband’s family mistreated her as well. One day, Alice’s husband beat her so badly that her right arm was broken; he set fire to her high school diploma, her prized possession and a symbol of her past achievements. With nowhere to turn, Alice escaped to Uvira, a city the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She fled with her youngest son, who was quite ill at the time and for whose safety she was also very concerned.

Although she was now safe from the violence and discrimination of her husband and his family, Alice had few options for survival upon arrival in Uvira. As refugees, she and her son were given no assistance. As a woman and a Tutsi, options for employment were difficult to come by for Alice. They were without food, shelter, and her son’s poor health condition was worsening by the day. Eventually he died and Alice buried him in their new home. She was devastated. She felt that there was nothing left for her.  That’s when Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) found Alice.

Alice began as a participant in the WfWI-DRC program in March 2008, receiving direct financial aid, rights awareness and vocational skills training and psychosocial support from other participants, trainers, and her sponsor. At first, Alice was shy, sickly, and incapable of sharing her experiences with the group. Over time, the warm and familial atmosphere shared by the women participants in the Women for Women program drew Alice out of her shell and allowed her to become more confident and more willing to speak about and overcome her past tragedies. Her favorite subject was that of women’s rights, which sparked her interests and allowed her to regain her self-esteem.

Alice’s new-found confidence gave her the courage to share her knowledge and empower other participants in the WfWI-DRC program. She began to teach the other women about the realities of domestic violence, herself a survivor of life-threatening beatings by her husband. She excelled in her vocational skills training in culinary arts. The program staff considered her to be one of the most dynamic members of her group, a fact confirmed when she was invited to train fellow women in the program. She is now a literacy trainer for other women in the WfWI-DRC program.

“I am very happy to have been socially integrated in the community of my refuge,” Alice said of her experience with Women for Women in Uvira. “I am able to earn an income to sustain myself and my daughter.” The women she trains with are often heard to say that they hope to become like Alice one day.  She has come such a long way from tribal discrimination in the orphanage, violence and humiliation at her husband’s hand, and extreme poverty and social exclusion as a refugee; her inner strength to overcome these many hardships is an inspiration. That she is now helping and inspiring other women to rebuild their lives is the ultimate testament to her strength and success.

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Jana Waterworth

Associate Director, Digital Marketing
W, D United States

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