Nearly two years after earning a Master's degree in international development, I'm starting to see some light.
|Jerissa Muro at her graduation in clothing she made for herself, watching |
her fellow graduates perform in a drama about women's empowerment.
this is what I think development looks like.
Some years ago, a woman named Ayikoru Florence had an idea to start a tailoring program for women in Juba. She named it the Women's Empowerment Program (WEP). The words "women's" and "empowerment" may seem politic, but they are the only ones that make any sense. Women involved in this program are being empowered. After naming the program and developing her mission and vision, Florence did her research, connected with the right people and secured funding from Mennonite Central Committee to get it started.
The WEP is in its sixth year and going stronger than ever. Many people have visited the tailoring center to see what is happening, and they always walk away inspired. I have been asking myself the question, why?
While I was studying in graduate school, we talked about what holistic development looks like. What are the ingredients for a program that works and is all encompassing - a program that meets physical, social and spiritual needs? The WEP started at the grassroots and still has some improving to do, as do all organizations, but I think Florence is onto something.
|The head teacher, Mustafa Atrima, assists a student.|
Ex-nihilo, out of nothing, she created a program that promotes:
Income generation/food security: The women learn how to sew and tailor, and many of them earn money while they are still going through the program by making dresses and school uniforms and doing repairs for various customers. The women also participate in small business workshops which give them ideas for marketability and sustainability in their future careers. After graduating, many of them establish themselves as tailors and continue to earn a steady income. The money they earn allows them to better feed their families and send their children to school, or keep them in school.
Health/hygiene/nutrition: Florence delivers weekly courses to the women covering topics around health, hygiene and nutrition. They learn best practices in keeping themselves and their families healthy and strong, how to prevent diseases, and how to increase the nutritional values in their diets.
Education: Many of the women in the WEP have very limited education. A lifetime of war left many of them with no other option than to flee or drop out of school to help earn money for their families. One of the byproducts of attending the program is for them to learn basic english, math and bookkeeping skills.
Self-sustenance: Some of the women whom have gone through the program have been victims of abuse and/or abandonment by their husbands. The program has helped them to find their own way, to take care of themselves and their children.
Peacebuilding: Women from a variety of backgrounds work side by side, five days a week, for nine months. Multiple tribes and religions are represented at the center, and the women inadvertently come to know one another as simply humans, as sisters. Testimonies have shown how much the women appreciate being part of such a diverse group.
Faith: The women participate in daily devotionals and sing songs of worship together.
The WEP is still very small, but it is growing. Fewer than 200 women have graduated or will have graduated by the end of 2014. But something solid is taking place. As Florence said, the impact may not be wide, but it is incredibly deep. More and more of the community is taking notice all the time. Florence has started to turn away applicants because the interest has grown so much in the last few years, and she cannot afford to increase participant numbers. "This is my year," she said, "I can feel it." She knows now is the time for something greater.
"Why do you do this?" I asked. "I just love to see the women supporting themselves," she said as she smiled.
We do, too, Florence. We do, too.
It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to work alongside this woman. Her creativity, servant leadership and selflessness have been an incredible source of encouragement and hope to me. May the light she shines become ever brighter.
The views expressed here do not represent those of Mennonite Central Committee. If you would like to support the WEP, please email me at lnzlonai at gmail dot com or click here: https://donate.mcc.org/ then click on "donate now", then in the "Comments and additional instructions" type, South Sudan Women's Empowerment Program.