Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Womens Learning Partnership

The monthly stipend from the Reagan-Fascell Fellowship at NED paid the deposit for my first and only vehicle during my nine and half year’s stay in the United States and it took me four years to pay off that car note and then I sold the car to pay for the air tickets for my family's return to Uganda.  More importantly, the networks I joined during the Fellowship and the recommendation from the friendly staff at NED; enabled me to find my first real job in the USA.  Prior to joining Womens Learning Partnership in October 2004, I worked as a salesperson, selling imported floor and wall tiles in Rockville, MD.  Even though I had never imagined myself working as a salesperson at that age, I used the experience from working in my mother's shop on Luwum street as a student and I remember how excited I was when the Temp Agency called to tell me that they found me temporary employment as a sales girl.  For two months I took orders and payments over the phone and before long I knew the different designs, colors and textures of the tiles that clients ordered.  

Then one day I received a call that I had been hired as a Program Associate at WLP and my days as a tiles sales woman ended.  I went back to the world of activism with a focus on women's leadership and empowerment.   WLP builds networks, working with independent partner organizations in the Global South, particularly in Muslim-majority societies, to empower women to transform their families, communities, and societies.  Mahnaz Afkhami the founder of WLP was the author and co-author of Leadership Training manuals, which were translated into the languages where our partner organizations worked and they were disseminated and then used to impart leadership skills to grassroots women.

During my two years at WLP I worked with some of the most courageous and amazing women from different parts of the worId.  Mahnaz founder and president of WLP, is a scholar and a writer.  She was a former Minister of Women's Affairs in Iran's pre-revolution government and has lived in exile in the United States since 1979.  She watched me dream about Uganda becoming a free society and gently told me to be prepared for the long haul.  Today I visited the website of WLP and memories of these awesome women came rushing back.  

In Jordan we worked with an organization called 'Sisterhood is Global' and it was headed by Asma Khader, a lawyer and human rights activist, and Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. She was a former Minister of Culture and Government Spokesperson for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and former President of the Jordanian Women’s Union.  Then there was Lina Abu Habib in Lebanon, she was Director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action (CRTD-A), a regional organization working in research, programme interventions, campaigning and lobbying on gender equality and social justice in the Middle East and North Africa.  I will never forget how we worried about her and how brave she was during the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War.  

Rose Shomali of Women's Affairs Technical Committee (WATC) lived and worked in Ramallah in Palestine a writer and poet with a big heart for children, her stories of crossing Israeli roadblocks on her way to meetings in Washington DC were unbelievable.  In Nigeria we worked with BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights a non-governmental women's human rights organization and Sindi Medar Gould its former Executive Director who passed away recently had a presence as large as her heart.  She was a women's rights activist who left her native St. Lucia to work in Nigeria and she stayed there for 25 years until the time of her death in April 2013.  She groomed many strong activists like the Program Director of BAOBAB, my friend Bunmi Dipo-Salami, a senior trainer, feminist, gender activist and researcher.  Dr. Aziza Abemba is a native the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but worked in Zimbabwe where she had refugee status. Aziza was personally affected by the political instability and civil war in the DRC she formed the Women’s Self-Promotion Movement (WSPM) in Zimbabwe and while in Harare Transit Refugee Camp, Aziza worked with refugee women and girls in the camp to alleviate unemployment, poverty, dependency, sexual exploitation and general abuse of refugee rights.

We worked with Dr. Sakena Yacoobi the founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, an organization she established to provide teacher training to Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children.  Marfua Tokhtakhodjaeva of Tashkent Women's Resource Center (TWRC) was WLP’s partner in Uzbekistan. TWRC was an NGO that empowered Uzbek women and promoted democratization by supporting women's economic and political engagement. In 2006, TWRC closed operations under pressure from the Uzbek government.   Rakhee Goyal, from India was my boss and Executive Director at WLP;  Usha Venkatachallam our volunteer IT techie also from India were an amazing and extremely modest breed of women’s rights activists. 

These women all dedicated to their cause came together in sisterhood that had no rank or pretentiousness.   They all shunned personal attention for their efforts.  They worked in troubled countries and each time any one of them was in danger they all stood up for each other and used their great influence to pull one another out of trouble.  Coming from a world of political activism with its big egos, I was always amazed by their grace and unassuming authority.

At 50 my biggest regret is that I was so wrapped up in the opposition’s cause in Uganda that I did not nurture the friendships that I started with these women even though I know they would still stand up for me anytime they believed I was in danger.

— feeling thankful.

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