Saturday, August 30, 2008

Training begins

by Julie Carney
Photos by Glenna Gordon
Our progress so far has been tangible, in the form of sewing machines and liner fabric, thread and hand needles. But the less measurable progress has been more meaningful, and that is the training.

I’ll attempt to explain this progress. It is arriving at our training space at Bobi camp, Prisca reading over the lesson plans she wrote up at home the night before. This is her first time teaching but she is a natural—a quiet, and patient instructor. It is the group of women, many of them coming to the training from miles away, sitting patiently at the door to the training center and scolding us for being a few minutes late. It is one young woman, quiet and focused as she peers at her stitches while Lucy watches closely, providing gentle feedback. It is the occasional laughter that erupts, as the women show each other their mistakes. It is the way they call Lucy and Prisca “teacher”. And it is Lucy and Prisca collecting all the women’s work at the end of the day so they can take it home and grade it.

During the trainings, I sit on the side, just watching and documenting; this is entirely Lucy, Prisca, and the women’s initiative. Being useless has never felt so good.

Selecting the trainees proved more difficult than we’d imagined, as many of the women who were initially selected by GWED-G were too old to learn tailoring, a trying profession that makes severe demands on your back, your wrists and your eyes. But all the initial women were desperate to participate, even if they weren’t strong enough physically. But we had to favor “business” over pity; if they were not going to succeed at the trainings, then it would be a waste of everyone’s time. The wrangling for a seat at the training demonstrated both the desperation of life in the camps and how NGOs can sometimes unintentionally create conflict by privileging some over others in their programs. This is why we asked them to bring their daughters or a female relative with whom they “share a pot.” Everything is usually shared among families, so they would presumably be benefiting if they bring their daughters or daughters-in-law. With some time, and speeches from Lucy, they’ve done so, some more reluctantly than others. Now—at both camps—we have two groups of young, eager and committed women.

While there is a certain divide between Lucy, Prisca—as women from town—and the women in the camps, many of the women have been opening up to Lucy gradually, and over time, she says she looks forward to building their trust. Some of them are now approaching her and discussing their family situations, their children, and in some cases, their HIV-positive status. She explained to me that they tell her they are happy to be participating in the training because it is not as back-breaking as ‘digging’ in their own gardens at home. I am happy that the women are opening up to Lucy, and that Lucy is beginning to counsel them in her own way. Perhaps because Lucy has suffered so much herself, her empathy is genuine.

Lucy has not read the books I have on ‘gender-based development’ or ‘empowering women’. She’s lived these theories. And she makes me believe in the power of good leadership and charisma. I had a very old professor, with decades of experience in development, who ended seminar one day with the comment that so much of development is based on charisma. I think we initially dismissed him as senile, but I think I understand his comment a little bit better in the context of seeing Lucy in action.

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