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Seeds of Resilience: An update from our Seed Savers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving

“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree

The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!

Photo Credit: Vanastree

From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.


Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management

A core aspect of the trainings  has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master.  A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.  

“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).


Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community

One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated  by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:

“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee

“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee

In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.

One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home.  She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”

Photo Credit: Vanastree

We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens.  We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!

For more on WEA’s work with women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.

Ripples from West Africa, a partner update from Ghana

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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In 2010, Monica Ayomah was one of the eight local women trainers in the West African Women and Water Trainings in Ghana. We were thrilled to hear from Monica this month and learn how her leadership has unfolded over the years. Today she is a WASH trainer in Ghana, touching the lives of countless more women and spreading critical water and sanitation technologies to many.

Here’s a short clip of Monica during the training, reflecting on her role as a woman trainer and how important representation is for women in technology.

 

“They were thinking it was only men who can do construction, it was only men who can work on water for women to use.” 

The West African Women and Water Training, hosted by the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) — an initiative co-founded by WEA, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass — supported women to become entrepreneurial leaders in the WASH sector through workshops on capacity building, business development, and technical training in a range of WASH development projects. The training program also served as a platform from which women trainers could expand their training reach and capacity.

Monica trained the 15 teams on how to set up rainwater harvesting systems. Taking on that kind of leadership role, Monica said, she saw concrete ways her work could have lasting and far-reaching positive impact for other women and their communities.

“It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop,” she said, “that I realized I was empowered as a woman to empower other women to be leaders.” She explained that participating in the trainings connected her with a network of grassroots change-makers. This network helped her see how WASH intervention had the potential to empower more and more women. She saw how she could positively impact communities by providing education around safe water practices.

Monica came away from the 2010 Women and Water Trainings emboldened to carry her knowledge forward and help others gain skills, tools and confidence to realize those goals.

So, Monica started her own civil engineering firm!

Shifting professionally from masonry in private homes, Monica started a civil engineering firm and named it Won-Nyeya, meaning “God has seen” in the Builsa language. The firm works with WaterAid Ghana as a WASH construction partner and has five employees: a project officer, monitoring and evaluation officer, engineer, community development educator and a secretary. In the last few years Won-Nyeya has worked in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana to implement Water Sanitation and Hygiene services to underserved communities, schools and clinics.

Monica Ayomah started a civil engineering firm, Won-Nyeya. The firm specializes in WASH construction and always involves the women of the beneficiary communities in order to ensure their lasting efficacy and because women get things done!
Women are mobilizing local materials for the construction of water points. They also take part in the construction process so that in the future, they can also repair the water points should it develop some problems.
Won-Nyeya building an institutional latrine for a community in what Monica described as one of the poorest districts in Ghana.

Sometimes, Won-Nyeya’s work involves constructing or improving infrastructure like wells, rain harvesting systems and latrines. The firm may also be called upon to train Sanitation Management Teams or conduct WASH trainings at schools and health clubs.

Monica credits the 2010 Women and Water Training for helping her see ways to build Won-Nyeya as a firm with an effective engagement model that puts women at the center of their own community’s progress. 

“Before implementing any WASH project we ensure that women are actively involved at the awareness creation and community level planning,” Monica explains, describing strategies Won-Nyeya uses that are clear and concrete while staying flexible enough to use effectively in various communities with different needs. In fact, water and sanitation management teams that are formed have at least three women occupying executive positions, training women as pump mechanics so that they are “actively involved in community decision making.” 

A training of water and sanitation management teams to ensure sustainability of their water resources. Women are in the picture are elected as executives by the community to manage the water points.

And she is just getting started! In the future Monica hopes to develop construction and engineering programs specifically for women and girls in technical and vocational schools, as well as continue to increase access to potable water and sanitation services in underserved communities.

WEA not alone

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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“As a young child, barefoot women and girls carrying heavy containers of water on their heads, walking long distances under the searing sun were a common sight. The reality of this stayed with me, and I knew I would do something about it someday.”

 

Meet Olanike Olugboji, a WEA founding mother, who participated in our first Women and Water Training in Kenya, and then returned to Nigeria with a clear vision and a strong network. Equipped with technical skills, entrepreneurship training, and seed funding, Olanike launched her own NGO called WISE, which today has trained over 3,000 women in clean energy, safe water technologies, and entrepreneurship. Her work has created refuge for Nigerian women, who risk rape or assault on the long walks to fetch water and firewood, as well as opportunity for women to create a livelihood and secure a future for their children.

After joining WEA as a regional coordinator, Olanike linked with women around the world, and today has a global reach. Olanike is a correspondent with World Pulse, a recipient of numerous international awards, and a participant in several prestigious leadership trainings. WEA is now collaborate with Olanike and her team at WISE to train women in promoting and selling clean cookstoves, linking up with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Nigeria. (If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner over a wood fire, she suffers the equivalent of smoking between 3 and 20 packets of cigarettes a day. Over 120,000 Nigerian women die annually from inhalation of firewood smoke.) Olanike’s impact on the environment and on women’s well-being and livelihood has only just begun.

Together, we can build the leadership of women who will create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world.

Women Climate Warriors

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“I’ve got a 25-year-old son named Abe. I’ve got a 20-year-old daughter named Jessie. I would throw myself in front of a bus if it was coming at them. We all need to throw ourselves in front of this bus called climate change.”
— Mindy Lubber, one of Vogue’s 13 Climate Warriors

 

Have you seen the absolutely stunning piece VOGUE published just as COP21 was getting underway? The articleand the profoundly beautiful photographs by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin that accompanied itfeature 13 of the formidable women leading the way on climate action.

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Meet all 13 of these fierce women by checking out the full article here.

While we so deeply respect these women climate warriors and all they do, we also recognize that there are many more women living on the frontlines of climate change and taking action to protect their communities.  We are humbled and honored to support a number of these women and communities.

[In the News] The First Woman Of Women: How Melinda Gates Became The World’s Most Powerful Advocate For Women And Girls

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We’re loving this look at the life and work of Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a champion for the health and rights of women and girls.

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Photo: Forbes

Melinda Gates has stepped up to use her voice and platform, as well as make those huge, critical investments. We are so inspired by the message this sends about the importance and global impact of investing in the leadership of women and girls.For the first decade and a half of its existence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation deployed its remarkable scale toward eradicating polio and malaria, and experimentation in education issues. But over the past few years Melinda Gates has embraced having her name on the letterhead of the largest-ever charitable foundation, along with the influence that comes with that. She has become the most powerful person on the planet whose singular focus is women and girls…

“When you get women in roles of leadership, we make things happen,” Gates says. “It takes us using our voice, and it also takes us making investments, huge investments, in women and girls.”

It’s through women leaders like these, believing in the women leaders on the ground, that we can change the world.

Read the full article on Forbes.