At the beginning of this year I read a report about The United Republic of Tanzania’s laws. The report was quite detailed, it explained a lot. I understood what it meant and wondered how many women especially at the grass root were aware of these laws and what they meant to them.
Most women at the grass root in my community are illiterate. Our community has maintained the beauty of its traditions/ culture for so long but not without retaining some unfavorable culture. Women were once girls with many problems. Issues of forced marriages still exist contributing to lack of education among women especially, among our indigenous Maasai community. Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) have attributed negatively to many difficult circumstances on women and girls. Early /forced marriages, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), health issues, early /unwanted pregnancies, violence and low-self- esteem are problems facing women in my community. Access and control of family resources is another issue that needs to be dealt with.
When I thought about it, this reminded me that our traditions / culture started a long time before formal education was introduced in Africa. This therefore meant education had to get itself somehow in, to replace part of the tradition/ culture which already had its roots dip in the ground for so long and had fruits (whether termed good/ bad). It therefore meant that the traditional practices had to accommodate the formal education and marry at some point. What did not happen? Why, have we continued to have many girls not attending school even in the 21st Century? Yes, we have systems in place; national, International goals, and International conventions on child rights. What then is the solution to all these many issues? Always remember; The entry point to any problem solving is very important. If you have a poor entry point into any problem or initiative the results will be poor and very slow to achieve good results. Education is very important. It is one solution to poverty eradication and a key to sustainable development. While this is true, capacity building was never done to help people go through the process of realizing the need and importance of education in many African communities especially among the indigenous and marginalized communities. Many of the people who joined school those years among the Maasai people explained to me how their parents were forced to take them to school. This was without explaining the importance of it. Meaning the entry point to education among them was poor.
I saw how much women and girls in my community were suffering silently. One would mistake their silence for not being concerned but behind all that they suffered from low-self- esteem. Talking about their problems boldly is not common among them. They needed someone or people who could relate to them and share their problems and help them find solutions. I mobilized women in my community and sensitized them on the importance of self identification, self appreciation and education for them and their children.
As a professional teacher I always knew the problems girls were facing. I taught both boys and girls but girls had more and peculiar problems. They were very vulnerable and many times had no way of getting themselves out of their various difficult situations. Others had similar problems while for some were different. I decided to help them. I created a friendly environment for them to speak out to me so as to release and free themselves from so much pain and emotions that they had. They needed guidance and sometimes counseling. This was difficult to do for each one of them at the same time so I established the first girls club at the school. From then, I thought of helping more girls not only in my school but also in other neighboring schools and communities. This was quite a success. Some schools realized how much my work was helping. They invited me to their schools to talk to girls and it worked out.
This bore and developed the idea of my founding Girls’ Empowerment Program and Network (GEPaN)- Tanzania. It was a way of giving back to my people, my community and in respect and honor for important people who played a tremendous role in my life and education for me and my family. Its hard to pay back to them in any other way apart from doing this for girls and women in my community, Africa and now the whole world (Thanks to world pulse). The greatest challenge GEPaN is facing is funding for its projects. This has led the founder to use limited personal/ family finances and other resources to implement its projects.
Again always remember; Empowerment is a process that requires proper planning, the involvement of all our stake holders and patience to make it a success. There is an African saying that says “Umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu” meaning “Unity is strength, division is weakness”.