Friday, March 2, 2012

Listen Before You Help

The session on “Rural Women in Food Security” appealed to my interest in environmentalism and the role of women’s involvement in sustainable development.  I was in for a pleasant surprise, however, as the topic quickly changed from educating girls in order to decrease illiteracy and dropout rates to issues such as migration, trafficking, and the need for African women to help themselves.
I was utterly inspired by the director of Nation to Nation Networking, an Ethiopian NGO.  Her passion and devotion manifested itself differently than appeared in the other women present at the event.  Throughout the entirety of the session she remained composed and reserved.  She acknowledged and congratulated the passion of each woman who approached the microphone and commended them for their work.  She spoke of the issues in Ethiopia concerning migration and security.  Although she did not raise her voice or call for a rally of agreement, no one doubted how deeply she felt about the issues concerning her people.  The issue of migration was particularly interesting because they called for the help of the United States (a melting pot) to help Africa learn how to adequately deal with the diversity resulting from migration.              
 The session eventually turned into more of a forum for discussion opening the floor to any person who wanted to speak about an issue important to them.  Issues of empowering women, corruption, and listening to the needs of women were areas of particular importance and energy.  There was a conversation between an attendee and a panelist, Mary, from South Sudan.  Mary’s response to the commonly asked question of what can NGOs do was that organizations need to include African women in the solution and that if an organization wants to interfere internationally - they better do so properly. 
Another problem that was addressed was the issue of corruption in Africa and where the development money goes.  The audience and panelists agreed that the issue of corruption needs to be on the agenda of the UN Women.  Mary, however, wanted to bring attention to the Sudanese belief that if problems exist with their leaders that Africa should be able to handle the issue in their own way.    
An important lesson I took away from the panel discussion was the necessity of NGOs to listen to the needs of the people they want to help.  A representative from the NGO Mothers to Mothers spoke of how she personally will sit down with an individual and learn what actions or resources will most directly and effectively help their situation.  This notion goes back to Mary and the director of the Ethiopian NGO for the empowerment of women to allow them to better their own situation.  The Ethiopian NGO director ended with a challenge to the audience suggesting “If you can help the NGOs on the ground-do it.  You are the funders, resources, voices.”   

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