Monday, March 21, 2011

Working with women

In Niger, especially amongst the Tuaregs, gender roles are still well defined and for the most part, very strictly followed.

As a woman, it has been hard sometimes to work within the greater community group. I am a oddity to them. It boggles their mind to think that I might be educated and competent and run a business, teach etc. I am not the typical stay at home quiet mom they are used to. And i think for many reasons that is good. Women here need people to encourage them, model a healthy balance and their rights, and to fight for their own freedoms and to give a good example. But I also know it is something I need to be aware of. I cannot lead the men’s group forward in development. And yet no women come to the community meetings. So frustrating to want to work with them and yet find they hide away their women. It takes a very long time and a deeper level of trust I think before the community on a whole opens up their “jewels” in women to outsiders. Some families have been an anomaly and been open right from the start, but in general it is harder to know them and especially if we want to do any teaching, help, programs etc  as the men demand it goes to them first. But we all know that when you invest financially in a woman she gives 90% of it back by investing in their family, whereas a man only does half of that (if that even!)

I spent some time with a small local women’s group last year, but they broke apart and didn’t do much. I know I teach girls at the school but still don’t know many of their moms yet on the Tuareg side. When we had our parents meeting a few weeks ago every single parent for the Tuareg morning class was a man (their fathers)  not a single mother attended. The afternoon class had almost all mothers attending. What a cultural difference!

And yet this morning there were 4 women (in their 30s I am guessing? so hard to tell here where the elements wage their own war on beauty and age) at my door. 4 Tuareg women. I knew who one of them was, having met her once, but the others were new to me. They came to tell me they are starting a woman’s group in the community. That I would know many of them as mom’s of girls in our Girls at Risk school. They all live in this area. I don’t know how many exactly she was talking about, but I am guessing maybe 20 women? They even had gotten organized enough to write out their papers for the local mayor and get “official” papers stamped making them an “official” group in the eyes of the community. They wanted to know if I could come and see their group and talk with them and help them. They used the words for both teaching and education help as well as monetary help to start up small projects. I don’t really know what it all means yet, or exactly what they are looking for, but it is a group of Tuareg women, in my community, who want help and are asking for it. So my interest is piqued!!

But here are some thoughts to share with you about how I think through these things and how I need to process and be aware of our work here. Please feel free to leave suggestions or thoughts in the comments!

- they are a new group who has just started. they have not yet “done” anything together at all. What if they don’t stick together and really don’t make it work.

- with many of the mom’s from my Girls at the school, I could run them all through the same health and hygiene teaching I gave to their daughters!

- do they want teaching and education or just monetary help? From what they were saying they seemed to mentioned “help” in a financial sense several times. Do they want loans up front to help buy fabric/wood/milk/grain etc which they will then resell at a profit? How sustainable is that? Do they think I am just a bank with access to money to help them?

- so do they want me to be a participant, or the guide? I would love to come alongside and sit and listen and be a participant but I don’t see it working if they just want me to come, me to talk, me to teach, and me to fund. I told them I would come and sit and listen to their first meeting but not talk too much since I didn’t know them yet and it was not my group, but they kept insisting I speak and help, etc right off the bat. Not sure how I feel about that

- I usually like to see community groups run on their own for at least 6-12 months and save money as a community, nail down their own system of savings among themselves etc before we add on a new layer. But we only have 16 months before we leave on furlough for a year to Canada…

- is this a great way to enter into deeper relationships with this group of women my age who are more able to express their opinions (and listen to the opinions of others and possibly talk about moral/spiritual things) than their young daughters?

- I am weary of people who seem to want to use us just as their personal bank and personal failsafe in times of illness etc. It gets tiring and I feel just used sometimes. I am not here to bring them money and run projects, loans ,etc. There is so much more!

- gah! I am short on time and manpower as it is…can I add more layers to my own life?


So there you have it. Pray with me, send your thoughts, and we will see what this new opportunity brings together!

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Sakki, a dear friend of mine who happens to be one of the anomalies and open from the start to a great friendship. She has 8 living children- ages 24 to newborn, and she is only 2 years older than me!

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts and exciting opportunity! Motivations for relationships were always a challenging issue for me in Africa also. I would suggest that a group coming to you for assistance might have "purer" motives than an individual trying to come to you merely looking for a handout. Hopefully they really want to make a difference for their community! Will keep that in my prayers.