Education, Health, Violence Against Women
Southern Sudan 2010, Seattle 2010, India 2002, Germany 2001
I received a generous Christmas gift in 2009 from my uncle that funded my trip to southern Sudan.
In Marial Bai (southern Sudan) I had the privilege of working on two distinct projects with two separate groups of women: tea shop owners from the local market and the girls attending the secondary school (like high school). As I was the first Westerner to work with the girls and women from an empowerment angle rather than a solely educational one (as the majority of volunteers were there to do), it was really important for me to hear from both of these groups what their concerns, issues and goals were. I also consulted extensively with Valentino, as this is his home town and I wanted to make sure my approach and endeavors were culturally sound and compatible. Additionally, a project that grew out of being there was to interview and transcribe the school girls’ stories for publication on the Foundation’s website.
I met frequently with the school girls in a group format to discuss their needs. One of the things the girls shared with me was that they would frequently miss several days of school when they had their menstrual periods. Because the Foundation is committed in supporting its students, especially the girls, I was able to get a process of menstrual pad distribution going.
Another project I organized with the secondary school girls was “on the fly”. I was able to procure a couple of disposable cameras from another volunteer and launched a pilot project in which the girls were to capture on film the answers to the question “what makes you happy to be a girl in Sudan?” The novelty and excitement about the cameras somewhat obscured the goal and the results were mixed. If I’m lucky enough to return during summer of 2011 I will come much better equipped to continue this photo project. I think the girls, and all the students, would enjoy having the pictures developed and hanging in the school as their own artwork of which to be proud.
With the tea shop women my main tasks were to meet them individually in their shops (with translation from two female students from the secondary school), explain who I was, why I was there and to see if they were interested in forming a women’s group. This group would meet weekly to talk about issues they were facing and brainstorm ideas to address these issues. We met every Saturday I was there and discussed a whole range of topics, from hygiene to alternative business ideas to gender issues and cross cultural differences. Their accomplishment was deciding to continue meeting after I, the facilitator, left.
The most rewarding experiences for me were the connections I made with the Sudanese women and girls. As I worked with both groups, I repeatedly told them that they are special – not something they are used to hearing. Especially with the school girls, I loved watching their initial reaction of disbelief transform over the weeks into skeptical acceptance. My joy was seeing them believe for a brief moment that they are worthwhile and valued just as they are.
I love finding out about new resources, especially ones like Stirring the Fire that bring so many active organizations and people together. Since learning about Stirring the Fire I’ve had the awesome opportunity to become a part of the Stirring the Fire team and look forward to contributing media and blog posts in the future. Through ongoing collaboration I am excited to share my experiences with others and further the movement towards gender equality.