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Whoever said kids are the future, I would have to agree with them!
Life in Ghana, working everyday in a youth-centered environment, has changed my perspective on the whole demographic. Being the youngest of three kids I had never really gotten the chance to act as an influence to anyone younger. My previous position as YCI’s Program Assistant allowed me to wet my feet a bit with working with prospective volunteers; however, working in Ghana has brought a whole new set of challenges.
Working directly as a workshop facilitator in schools, youth groups and churches has been a different ball game all together. Inquisitive would be an understatement. When speaking about issues, many youth in Ghana are new to discussions that allow for many questions, concerns, and sharing etc. No question is too bold…believe me. But the energy in the workshops is great. I’ve grown confident speaking to my peers as they have welcomed me with open arms and attentive minds. I have also gotten quite used to the initial giggles that occur when I first begin speaking. Who knew I have a funny accent?
Next month we will be implementing a program on Sexual Reproductive Health for girls. Although I have enjoyed substance abuse and entrepreneurship, the upcoming workshops will lean more to my strengths. I focused on Gender and Development in my undergrad, and have always wanted to work directly with girls and women as a group. From my knowledge thus far, SRH is quite a taboo topic. I hope to break down those walls and create an open environment with the intention of giving these young women accurate knowledge and also a voice. Subjects such as birth control, safe sex, STIs and abortion will be the focus of our workshops as many of these things are not covered in curriculum in schools. Marlee (another YCI volunteer) and I got a chance to speak to a few of the students at Universal High School after a previous workshop and the girls informed us of how most young women get their knowledge about these topics – word of mouth from friends. In addition, much of the information that is being passed along is grossly inaccurate. Many young women seem to be uneasy speaking to adults, doctors or teachers about SRH; therefore, assumptions are made, which can be dangerous. I am very curious about the reaction we will get on this topic.
- Leigh Matassa, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
YCI’s long-time partner in Zanzibar, the Zanzibar NGO Cluster for HIV/AIDS (ZANGOC), has been working to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in Zanzibar’s communities since 1996. Overseeing and coordinating the work of 45 community-based and faith-based organizations across the archipelago as well as providing testing and counseling services to the community, no single civil society organization has done as much as ZANGOC to fight against the epidemic on the islands. However, one glaring gap has existed at ZANGOC for years: no clear strategy on gender issues in their programming, including no plans to address gender-specific barriers related to testing and treatment among female community members and a lack of women in major leadership positions at ZANGOC.
Ziredi Abdul Karim Msanik has sought to remedy this issue. Last year, the 25-year-old member of ZANGOC’s Executive Committee teamed up with YCI to launch ZANGOC’s Gender Equality Team (GET). The primary goal of the team when it was established was to ‘mainstream’ gender into all of ZANGOC’s members’ activities, making gender considerations a central component in the planning and implementing of all of the activities ZANGOC and its members carry out in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
When asked about the partnership with YCI, Ziredi is quick to comment that “YCI has really helped ZANGOC”, citing examples of gender projects which the two organizations have championed together, but also more general capacity-building efforts among ZANGOC’s member organizations. As for her own development, she adds, “YCI has built me up to who I am today…being a leader”.
And a leader she is, indeed. This year alone, with YCI’s support, Ziredi has carried out a gender audit of ZANGOC’s member organizations. In order to identify the specific needs of each NGO, she organized an intensive five-day gender mainstreaming training for GET’s members and partners, and has overseen the development of ZANGOC’s new Gender Policy, presently being reviewed by the Executive Committee.
Following her studies in law at Zanzibar University, Ziredi says that she hope to “use [her] skills to advocate for gender issues [and] human rights issues…Even though the situation is not that easy, I believe that it will reach a time when Zanzibar will change when it comes to gender issues. We will see gender issues as the main priority.”
-Ben Verboom, Health Policy Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012
Seven months sure goes by quickly. My internship has come to an end and I’ve come a long way from when I first arrived: unsure of where I was going to start with my mandate, the new intern trying to find my way in this new environment.
My first day of work a male co-worker came into my office and said to me “Just so you know, I don’t believe in all this gender stuff”. Well then, it’s going to be a long seven months, I thought to myself. I knew that doing gender equality work in a male dominated society wouldn’t be easy, and I certainly encountered some challenges. During my first big gender workshop the discussion got very heated around the notion that men and women are not meant to be equal because the bible says so. During my time in Ghana, I have found myself in many a frustrating conversation about gender.
But I appreciated those moments because they challenged me to find new ways of relating gender equality to the context I was working in; and if my work caused people to think about gender equality in ways that they didn’t before, I consider myself successful. The upside to those challenges is that they made the pleasant surprises even better. When people really seemed to “get” it, was when I felt most rewarded for my work.
The other most rewarding part of my mandate has been working with a gender committee made up of YMCA members from around Ghana. The group of women will continue working as advocates for women in the Ghana YMCA and towards implementation of the gender equality policy. During our last meeting, where I was supposed to be making sure they were equipped with the skills they need to continue the work, I was the one learning from their experience and knowledge.
Although interns have been driving gender work with the Ghana YMCA for the past two years, there is no shortage of well-informed, passionate and capable women ready to make sure the organization meets it’s gender equality goals; and I feel privileged to have worked with and learned from these women. At the end of my mandate, I can say that not only have I made progress in terms of my mandate, but I found a home in Ghana and a family at the Ghana YMCA.
- Camaro West, Gender Advisor, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Ghana 2012
Two months have gone by so far here in Guyana but it feels like just yesterday I was stepping off the plane at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown. Excited, nervous, grateful, scared; all of the above were the emotions going through my mind and body. It was during my first international experience in Brazil I was told to “expect the unexpected” and those were the words I kept telling myself over and over again. Well, two months have gone by and I continue to expect the unexpected. Since landing here in Georgetown I have learned a few life lessons, made some amazing friends and adapted to the Guyanese culture.
The organization that I am an intern with is Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG) a partner organization to Youth Challenge International (YCI). Youth Challenge Guyana was founded in 1988 by a group of Canadian volunteers and sponsors with the intent to start a field project in Guyana. 24 years later, YCG is continuing its work by encouraging youth participation in challenging and worthwhile community service projects ranging from health, literacy, environmental research, community infrastructure and HIV/AIDS/STI education through the following Programmes & Projects:
- The Health Programme and HIV/AID Project
- The Education Programme and The National Volunteer Teachers Project
- Life Skills & Livelihood Programme and the Youth Employability/ Leadership Project
As the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator my project falls under the Life Skills & Livelihood Programme. This project originally began in January with the goal of developing sustainable businesses by providing knowledge, skills and support for 50 female entrepreneurs. Through various workshops, networking events, monthly meetings and conferences, recruitment to the project has risen to over 65 female entrepreneurs. The women entrepreneurs, a part from these meetings, workshops and networking events, have benefitted from the support of one another and the development of small business and entrepreneurship sectors in Guyana. Many of the women work together as partners, support and promote each other’s business and learn from each other.
Created from this network was a support group called WENET (Women’s Entrepreneurship Network), where all the women who are part of the project can come together, get ideas and advice while discussing their challenges. This network is the core of the entire project; women use one another as mentors and strengthen the group through increased participation levels while attracting new members. These meetings are where all the creative juices flow; many of the women in the group gain encouragement from their peers and obtain business advice. The mentorship aspect of these meetings between the women plays an important role in the success of the female entrepreneurs, their businesses and WENET.
In May 2011 when the project was implemented there were a total of 52 members, since then there have been 18 new female entrepreneurs join the program! All of these women have remarkable businesses all ranging from different stages of development.
The Businesses that are a part of WENET Include:
- Cake Decorating Business
- Salon (Hair, Manicures, Pedicures)
- Day Care/Babysitting
- Retail Store/ Boutique (Clothes, Shoes, Wedding Dresses, Accessories)
- Edible Arrangements
- Mobile Confectionary Stand (toys, snacks, poultry, food)
- Fashion Design
- Recording Studio
- Grocery & Variety Stores
- Food Vending
- Animal Care
I have spent the past 6 weeks in and out of the office at Youth Challenge Guyana meeting with these women as part of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Project. So far I have met with around 35 amazing women. I have visited their businesses, while others have come into the Youth Challenge Office or met me at local cafes and restaurants. During our meetings I have a one-on-one discussion, where I ask about their business, a history of their business and get to know them on a personal level. Sometimes I will meet with 5 or 6 women a day for around an hour or an hour and half; the most rewarding part of my day is leaving these one-on-ones with a sense of fulfillment and gratification. They may think that they are learning from me, however, they have no clue the amount of knowledge, independence and mentorship I am acquiring from them, through the development of their businesses and support they are providing to their families.
Some of the women I have met with are single mothers, working full-time jobs and running successful businesses on the side to provide support for their families (makes me regret all the complaining I did about working a side job during my studies at college). All of these women have begun to influence me in different ways; the strange thing is that I am here to help provide them and their network with support, however, after talking to some of these women they prove to be the most successful women I know.
Just yesterday I met with a woman who is 65 year old retired nurse from St. Vincent, now working in her spare time as a seamstress teaching sewing lessons. When asking about her long-term goal for her business she responded with “ I have set 3 goals in my life, the first to be a nurse, the second was to open my own successful sewing business, the third is to open sewing schools for underprivileged children in 3 regions of Guyana, this will help them open there own businesses.” She has already accomplished the first 2 goals in her life and is currently working on the third. It is hearing stories and goals such as these during my one-on-ones with the women that make me grateful to be a part of this amazing project and be able to meet such influential women. The goals and stories I hear from the women also apply to the concept of taking things a day at the time, achievement of ones goals does not come overnight it takes time and I believe one day at a time.
As I sit here and reflect on the past two months I have spent in Georgetown, I think about the challenges I have faced with travelling abroad and adapting to a new lifestyle and a new culture. I also reflect on the challenges my expats friends have experienced during their time here in Georgetown as well. The one conclusion I have been able to draw from these experiences is that throughout life you will always be tested and it comes down to what you make of these tests. You can sit back and allow challenges to affect you negatively and deter you from continuing on or you can take the proactive step forward and overcome that challenge. I look at the women in the network and see the obstacles that they are faced with every day whether it is with their businesses, their families and life in general and let me tell you it doesn’t stop them or set them back. This lesson is one I have learned early on during my internship and is attributed to the amazing women of WENET and friends that I made so far. I am excited to see the challenges and lessons to be learned over the next 5 months here in Georgetown.
-Kendra Borutski, Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Guyana 2012
Recently, I attended an intensive, five-day gender equality workshop, hosted by ZANGOC and attended by members of their Gender Equality Team. I had done a little bit of work on gender-related issues during my four years at the University of Toronto, and the struggle for gender equality is an issue of particular interest and passion for me.
I must admit, I underestimated the degree of difference between the discourse around gender that I’m used to in Canada and the one in which I was immersed during the first day of the workshop in Zanzibar less than two weeks after arriving in the country. Perspectives that I have taken for granted as (near) universal were openly challenged and debated (mostly, but not exclusively, by men) during the workshop: the importance of equal opportunity employment between genders, the indisputability of women’s basic sexual and reproductive rights, and the appropriateness of female participation in federal politics.
Day-to-day reflections, observations, and interactions with people in town have also frequently activated my ‘Gender RADAR’ (let’s call it ‘GenDar’): seeing women and men line up separately at the bank, trying to make sense of the variety of justifications offered to explain why women are barred from Zanzibar’s mosques, feeling unsure about when and how—and even if—I can or should interact with local women at work and in town. Occasionally I find myself resisting the temptation to vehemently object to various perceived manifestations of gender inequality—social, institutional, or otherwise—most of which would no doubt elicit reactions ranging from disapproval to outrage among my (mostly liberal-minded) social circle in Toronto, but in Zanzibar are generally accepted as the norm.
My point here is not to criticize or challenge the prevailing perspectives on, and attitudes toward, gender in Zanzibar. After spending fewer than six weeks here, that’s far from my place. Rather, I feel inclined to turn inward and reflect on some of the questions around gender that this experience has prompted. Is this fight for gender equality really a global phenomenon rooted in universal human rights? Or is it just another example of the imposition of liberal Western values by the global upper class on the world’s majority? At what point is the importance of cultural sensitivity eclipsed by the ethical imperative of defending the agency and well-being of women? It seems obvious to me that when it comes to such conspicuous demonstrations of injustice as politically-motivated rape or forced sterilization of women (neither of which I’ve heard of in Zanzibar, I should add), any worries about the preservation of tradition or culture become secondary to the protection of women’s dignity, health and well-being. But when the conversation shifts to traditional household and community gender roles (where women primarily fulfill child-care and domestic functions while men take on professional, commercial and political responsibilities), which are commonly defended on religious or cultural grounds (often by a majority of both men and women), the discussion becomes blurred and markedly more difficult.
Finding my place in this discussion, especially in Zanzibar, is my greatest challenge. As a straight, white, Canadian-born man, my perspective is shaped, and both the authority and validity of my opinions limited, by my background and identity. I’m not going to pretend to understand the intricacies and nuances of gender dynamics here (it’s hard enough in Canada) or the ways in which they are influenced and reinforced by the population’s widespread adherence to Islamic doctrine. What I can do is to continue to be as open-minded as possible, to continue to learn, and to recognize and embrace my position (mostly) as an observer and as a student of the culture. I’m excited about the coming months; I relish the challenges that I’ll face and I’m eager for the lessons I’ll hopefully be able to garner through facing them.
-Ben Verboom, Health Policy Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012
As YCI Gender Innovators, Jenilee and I developed a Gender Equality Policy and Implementation Strategy for YES-Ghana over the past six weeks. As Jenilee described in her earlier blog post, we had an incredible experience meeting with youth advocates who are participants in YES-Ghana’s program on Youth and Good Oil Governance. In our discussions with them, we learned about various gender-related issues that arose during past program activities as well as the challenges they face addressing gender issues in their work as youth advocates.
The feedback from our consultations with the youth advocates and YES-Ghana staff provided us with insight important to the development of the Gender Equality Policy. We used the input from the youth to shape the priorities of the policy and the strategies for the policy’s implementation.
During the last week of our placement at YES-Ghana, Jenilee and I developed a Gender Equality Policy Launch and Training Workshop for YES-Ghana staff that we facilitated on March 8th, coinciding with International Women’s Day and also our last day of work at YES-Ghana. The goal of the workshop was to equip staff with the tools they need to apply gender analysis and mainstreaming at YES-Ghana for the realization of their new Gender Equality Policy.
After reviewing some gender-related concepts and terms, Jenilee and I discussed how to apply gender analysis to the programmes at YES as well as how to mainstream gender in all of YES-Ghana’s work. At the end of the workshop, participants broke up into two groups and applied a gender perspective to components of YES-Ghana’s new “Voices of Youth” project. This current year-long project is centered around increasing youth participation in policy-making. One group discussed the project’s activity of creating a Youth Manifesto, a collection of youth policy proposals, and the other group discussed the project’s activity of training youth on community radio production, so that youth can reach out to their peers to collect input for the Youth Manifesto. Workshop participants quickly ran a gender analysis of each activity and discussed various gendered aspects, such as barriers and obstacles that could discourage young women’s participation in both activities.
Discussing ways to incorporate gender into YES-Ghana’s future activities at the workshop was such a positive end to our work at YES-Ghana, as Jenilee and myself could see how the policy we developed will fit not only institutionally at YES-Ghana but also with the practical work they carry out on a day-to-day basis.
- Meredith Evans, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2012
YCI is currently recruiting for an Innovator to work with YES Ghana starting in May. The deadline to apply is March 23rd. Click HERE for the complete posting.
I can’t believe how quickly time flies! 3 weeks have already passed since I first landed in Accra, Ghana to start my placement as a gender innovator with the Youth Empowerment Synergy (YES-Ghana).
The YCI Ghana staff were there to welcome me with open arms upon my arrival and my first two days in Ghana were spent in orientation with the other YCI volunteers, settling into my new home away from home at the Obruni house and sampling the local cuisine. Thanks to the very helpful lesson I received from another restaurant patron, I survived my first fufu eating experience!
Before I knew it, we were headed to East Legon for our first day of work at YES-Ghana, tasked with the development of a gender equality policy, an implementation strategy and the organization of a workshop on gender equality to be held on International Women’s day.
This last week has been busy with consultations with YES-Ghana staff, program participants in Jamestown and youth advocates and district coordinators in the western districts of Takoradi-Sekondi, Ahanta West and Nzema East. The passion demonstrated by the youth advocates for the work that they are doing in their communities was truly inspiring. Together we were able to identify gender equality challenges and opportunities and discuss ways to address gender equality issues through the work they do as youth advocates. The time spent with them exchanging thoughts and experiences and visiting their districts has been a real highlight of my placement to date.
Armed with a wealth of information from these consultations, we now embark into the policy development process. I can’t wait to see what the next four weeks bring and I am very much looking forward to celebrating the release of YES-Ghana’s new gender equality strategy during the International Women’s Day workshop on March 8th.
- Jenilee Ward, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2012
YCI is currently recruiting for a Gender Youth Innovator in Tanzania this May. Applications are due on March 12th, 2012.
This blog was originally posted at lisadalimonte.blogspot.com
First let me refer you to Hyun Park’s blog about the establishment of the ZANGOC Gender Equality Team (GET) http://ycicanada.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/gender-equality-team-of-zangoc/. It brings me great pleasure to write this continuation blog because that means that there has been progress that needs to be shared.
In July, two scholarly YCI Youth Ambassadors, three committed individuals from ZANGOC member organizations and 1 dedicated YCI intern (that’s me!) came together to draft a proposal to the ZANGOC Executive Committee (EXCOM) about the rationale behind establishing a GET, the objectives of the GET and the structure of the GET consisting of 11 members: 3 people from the ZANGOC EXCOM, 7 people from ZANGOC-Unguja member organizations and 1 person from ZANGOC-Pemba member organizations.
The proposal was successfully approved by the EXCOM in mid July and we were given the go ahead to proceed with formation. At the end of July Mr. Mzee Ali Haji, the ZANGOC Executive Secretary, appointed a GET Coordinator from within the ZANGOC EXCOM, thus establishing the first official member. The GET Coordinator is Ziredi Abdul, she is fabulous and very committed to moving the GET forward.
When I came back from vacation the end of August, I was very surprised and extremely happy to hear what had been accomplished within the two and a half weeks that I was away:
- Ziredi and Shaib (the YCI Volunteer Manager in Zanzibar) met to discuss the recruitment process
- Letters were sent to all of the Unguja member organizations on August 23rd calling for applications. Applications deadline was August 27th. Fifteen applications were received.
- Pemba was informed about the GET and was asked to appoint a representative from one of the four members in Pemba.
- Ziredi and the Executive Secretary met to discuss who the remaining two GET members will be representing the ZANGOC EXCOM.
I returned from vacation on Sunday August 28th and on Monday August 29th a team of four sat down and reviewed the fifteen Unguja resumes and shortlisted candidates based on gender experience, leadership experience, research and advocacy experience and experience in social justice issues. As a group we shortlisted ten applicants, needing only seven, and set interviews to take place on Friday September 2nd.
Before the interviews began, we created a score sheet in order to help make a final decision on the seven Unguja members. The decision on the seventh member was close but after some discussion amongst the four interviewers, we came to a decision on the final member, which I think was a good decision. The interview process was very interesting for me, having never been the “interviewer.”
September 9th was the first official GET meeting with 10 members; the Pemba member was not present due to travel costs. However, we hope to be able to bring her to Unguja for gender training and GET meetings, on a quarterly basis. I feel that the meeting went well, even though there are still a lot of administrative kinks to be worked out but. A great discussion took place amongst members on how the team will operate and what kinds of activities are required in order for the GET to meet its objectives.
Yesterday afternoon, I had a productive meeting at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Youth, Women and Children Development. I met with the Gender Unit which is funded through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Within this Unit, I met with the Gender Program Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator who gave me some great tools on gender mainstreaming and guidelines on gender monitoring and evaluation. I was also given a contact to two gender companies in Dar es Salaam which the UNFPA hired to train the Gender Unit on auditing and mainstreaming. Either Ziredi or I will contact these companies to inquire about training rates because this is definitely the next important step for the GET if it intends to be a successful team, which I hope it will!
-Lisa D’Alimonte, IYIP Intern, Tanzania 2011.
YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) placements are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.
For more IYIP blogs, check out our IYIP section.
The eighth annual Ghana YMCA National Youth Convention was held in Cape Coast this past August. Youth members from six regions of Ghana came to the Cape for this event. I was asked by the organizers to lead two workshops on Gender.
The convention was held in two parts, a Delegates conference for selected dedicated YMCA youth members from each region, and a main convention open to all YMCA youth members. YMCA youth volunteers worked for many months to put on the convention and to bring youth together for this four-day event. (I think it is important to mention that ‘youth’ in Ghana is any person between 15 and 35…a much wider definition than we are used to in Canada; participants at this convention ranged in age from 20-35.)
The Delegates conference was arranged to give selected youth intensive training in advocacy, lobbying and messaging to help these young people speak with confidence on issues that impact their lives. My role within this conference was to introduce the Ghana YMCA gender policy that I am responsible for, and to speak to the use of policy as a tool within advocacy campaigns.
For the main convention I ran a workshop for 20 youths on Gender and Language. In this workshop participants explored gender roles and barriers that are reflected in language and were asked questions such as: How does what we say and how we say it impact those around us? What is the language of empowerment? What is the language of equality? How does language reflect our society and its understanding of gender dynamics. I used examples of popular Ghanaian music to illustrate how language can re-enforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes, while promoting negative masculinity. Brainstorming exercises were also used to engage participants in developing a list of gender specific expression within their local languages. From this I challenged the participants to pay attention to the words they used and to stop for a moment to think about the impact of their words think about how these expressions help Ghana become the society they want in the future.
My workshop went over very well and the feedback from participants was positive, some particularly liked the use of music. It was two hours of high energy with an engaging group of young men and women. The convention, while not free of bumps and setbacks, was lively and the attendees agreed that their favourite part was not the social activities, the meals or the games, but the day of workshops.
YCI also had two volunteers at the Convention running a workshop on advocacy tools, which of course tied in well with the Delegates conference. Facebook is very popular in Ghana but I have not seen it used as an advocacy platform by many here. I hope Sam and Candice are able to share their workshop with you here as well. (Click here to read their blog post about the event).
I am discovering with each workshop I run how much I love this work. Workshops are a different kind of education, you don’t TELL your participants anything they are not your students; it is a discovery session where they are only guided to explore new ideas and share their thoughts. Since starting my work here in Ghana I have received feedback from participants on how much they like my presentation style, that they were interested and wanted more information, but most important have been the feedbacks telling me that they felt respected and appreciated how open I am to listening to different opinions. As a foreigner I extremely careful in how I present an idea and the kinds of questions I ask. I am not here to ‘teach’; I am not here to educate Ghanaians about their culture and gender dynamics, they know it all, I am just helping them see it and facilitate the discussion. It is exciting to discover, and fine-tune a new skill. I have always been comfortable in front of crowds and I have a background in ESL teaching, but workshops like this require different or additional skills. This internship has given me the opportunity to grow my skills in several areas, particular in workshop development and delivery.
– Linden Deathe, IYIP Intern, Ghana 2011
YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) Interns are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.
For more IYIP blogs, check out our IYIP section.