I write to you from Tanzania, where I am currently on my third volunteer mandate with Crossroads, with a simple message: global citizens for change are needed now more than ever.
I have been supporting Kilimanjaro Women Information Exchange & Community Organization (KWIECO), a non-profit organization focused on advocating for access to justice for marginalized populations, on the implementation of a Girls’ Empowerment Program.
STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Many women and girls in Tanzania – and around the world – are survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), live in poverty, face threats of sexual violence, and must overcome barriers to access their basic human rights to live safely. Thankfully, organizations like KWIECO and others are doing the kind of grassroots education and mobilization that will change lives.
The Girls’ Empowerment Program I am supporting is based on the premise of creating a safe space for the Girl Child through an after-school club where she learns about topics often silenced and rendered taboo – ultimately empowering her and increasing her knowledge about GBV, her rights, and gain access to the available resources that support survivors of GBV in her community. The program integrates the aspect of literacy by incorporating books, in Swahili and English, as a means for the club members to increase their vocabulary and reading skills, thus permitting them to articulate their own story and advocate for themselves.
I am inspired and I am learning much from our partner organization, including lessons that can be applied to Canada. For example, the Girls’ Empowerment Program, as well as Boys for Change, a program specifically engaging boys on issues of positive masculinity, consent, sexual and reproductive health and eliminating gender norms, should be replicated in schools throughout Canada.
While I am proud to assist in this Program, I am nevertheless very disappointed that the global society we live in has created a high demand for an extracurricular activity. Ideally, principles of respect, equality and consent would be integrated into our families and our education curriculum and there would be no need to create programs to address inequality, abuse and sexual violence.
VOLUNTEER COOPERATION FOR A GLOBAL COMMUNITY
It should not take repeated in-person exposure to the challenges faced by individuals and communities in the world to understand the need and the means to take action. Before I found Crossroads, I volunteered overseas as a teacher for a short period of time. The design of this program did not take into account the fundamental importance of cooperation in international volunteer mandates. No single country or its citizens can unilaterally solve these challenges, nor should they try on their own: we are a global community.
Privilege does not make for a good volunteer or sustainable development strategy; we must ensure cooperation.
I want everyone’s rights to be respected. I want equality between all humans, independent of their gender identity. We must work together to dismantle patriarchal ideologies on behalf of the Girl Child and society at large.
International volunteer cooperation can be one of the most effective vehicles for delivering achievable results working towards equality, equity, inclusivity, accountability and sustainability.