Monday, February 25, 2013

Sustainability in Gender and Development

Caitie Gibbons
Health 4 - Kigali City
Recently I had a site change. A site change is when a volunteer is moved from the site they were initially placed in and put in another due to a variety of reasons. In the past two weeks I’ve said goodbye to my community, stopped all current projects, packed up my house, relocated, and started again. I left clubs and classes in the middle of planned curriculums. Experiencing this made me rethink and question sustainability. What it is and how we can provide it once we (volunteers) have left our communities.
In Saara K’s last post (the post directly after this one) she wrote about setting a precedent for women to imitate: “If we want women to be strong, we as fellow community members must set the precedent for how to conduct ourselves in a way that is an encouragement for other women as well.” While this is key in gender and developement, we must also provide sustainability in conjunction with setting the precedent. Therefore women and girls can continue to grow and flourish long after we've left.
 Joining Peace Corps I’ve learned that sustainability is a difficult thing. We have so little control over everything here. But change is still possible, and sustainability within change is possible as well. In my ten months of service, this is what I’ve learned about sustainability in gender and developement thus far:  
Cling to the positive. I’ve often found, while teaching, that in a class of thirty plus girls I will only have one or two girls who are actually listening and/or understanding. This can be discouraging, but as volunteers we must cling to the positive. Use these students, or people in the community who listen and understand, to initiate change. Find those one or two people who are interested, and hold onto them. Whether it’s a student, a Mama, a community member, or neighbor. They are the stimulus of change, the key to continuing gender and developement, and finding solutions to gender based problems in the community.
Conduct TOTs (Training of Trainers). Provide these individuals with skills to continue growth. TOTs can be as simple as talking over tea in your house, or as fancy as attending a seminar or conference. Find any means to empower, support, and provide resources from them. Many people in the villages do not have access to the Internet, books, and other resources. Find these resources, and share them. Knowledge is power. And while educating, maintain the precedent for yourself and for women in your community. Encourage, and educate them to be examples of strong women in their villages, and to continue to educate others as well.  
Promote and encourage peer education. People tend to learn better when their teacher is someone they can relate too. Students, likewise, learn more from each other (peer to peer education) than from the student-teacher dynamic. When the information comes from a community member or student leader the ideas become more attainable and tangible, rather than an outsider saying “this is possible!” Of course it is, from outside the community, it is within the community that the problems lie. What they don’t realize it is that it is also possible from within. Using peer to peer education shows that they have strong girls and women in their community, and therefore this helps the precedent for women to grow.

Educate your students, and communities, about gender and development. Set the precedent for yourself and for women in Rwanda. Empower them with resources and knowledge. Encourage them to set the precedent, and continue to be the example of a strong woman. Then sit back, let your students, community members and Mamas run the show, let them be the leaders to educate and empower each other.    

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