Tuesday, March 18, 2014

April's a busy month

Next month, April as the pretty little JPEG says, is the Blogging form A to Z Challenge and so I'll be posting for the month a series of short posts all about, you guessed it, Ethiopia.   Be prepared to learn!    
That being said, I've also been informed that my Close of Service date in August 7th, depending on the flight times and layovers, hopefully I can be back home on the 8th.  And then eat cheese and chocolate and good wine and hug people I haven't seen in two years.                             

Monday, March 10, 2014

International Womens Day

I've mentioned it before, but I think there is much more important work for me to do here than teach English.  Additionally, I've been thinking a lot about women's rights, because I see the lack of it all over the place and many conversations between PCVs involve the subject in some manner. Many PCVs, myself include, wish to change women's situtations here in Ethiopia.

But what I've noticed lately in my conversations with Ethiopians involving gender roles here and in the States, is that it's either a comparison (If we were in America Tadeck, you'd cook dinner at least sometimes) or an attempt to make others understand, accept, and internalize an American viewpoint (Analyem, you can be married AND go to school because women are capable of many things and your husband isn't your master) and forgetting the cultural issues that surround the Ethiopian viewpoint.  In either case, I can't help but wonder if I'm not necessarily trying to improve lives here, or just trying to Americanize Huruta and it's residents.

Not exactly what I came here to do.

 So I backtracked a little.  I can't force women's rights and gender equality on people here.  I can't explain the American way of thinking and expect Ethiopians to understand and then follow it.  It didn't even work that way in America.  Women didn't think we want gender equality, they first realized that they were equal and then demanded the country treat them as such.

Women went to work in WWII and learned they were self-sufficient.

Everything we try to teach girls here – confidence, self-esteem, leadership – weren't learned by American women in camps or workshops but in the real world when women realized just what they could do.  In Ethiopia, I was (and most likely still am most of the time) skipping a step. Telling a housewife that she is a strong woman who could start a business just like her brother if she wanted to isn't helping her take the step towards a gender equal society. She needs information to bridge her reality and dream.  She needs know how to start a business, to know that she can support herself and not relay on her male relations, before she can start thinking of herself as equal to them.

 International Women's Day, March 7th, I figured was a great day to not just teach women and girls about self-esteem, but practical skills so they could develop that self confidence themselves.  I set up a program with the woreda, specifically the Women's and Children's Bureau, where twenty girls who had failed the 10th grade exam and thus were sitting at home because they couldn't continue with their schooling, would job shadow twenty successful women business owners. This would allow them to find a role model in Huruta as well as ask question about how to reach a similar position themselves.  Along with the job shadowing, the girls would get a training on goal setting from another PCVs who was helping me and I would teach the women about effective money use.

Of course, this being Ethiopia things didn't exactly go to plan. Namely half the people showed up and most of the women the town had identified as role models were actually unemployed.

A little of bit of flexibility and inventiveness on the parts of me and Kyrie, we cut half our program and just did the workshops where every attendee received training in both subjects, made up mini sessions and an assessment on the spot, and have representatives from the micro-finance bureau talk about how the women could get business loans.

It wasn't what I had planned, but it worked beautifully in educating the women.  All of them left with a financial goal and a plan on how to use their money more effectively.  In the span of four hours I could see them grow, from the shy bunch who just stared at Kyrie during the first workshop to women who were eager to share their opinions and money use during mine.  And wonder of wonders they wouldn't say no to another gathering where they would love to learn about the legal rights of women.

This project almost didn't happen, but I'm so, so happy it did. I'm disappointed I didn't get something like this up sooner, I could have been meeting with these women monthly for a year teaching them finance and employablity skills. Regardless, it's trainings like this that make me feel like I can actually help the people here and that is one of the reasons I joined the Peace Corps.