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.

WISE Women’s Clean Cookstove Training Retreat Gaining National Attention

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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The WISE Women’s Clean Cookstove Project, partnership between WEA and Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE) in Kaduna, Nigeria, just completed its first of two week-long training retreats and The Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves featured the project its newsletter this month!

This [training] will help empower fellow women leaders in their communities, and break the structural barriers which limit the success of renewable energy initiatives around the world. This initiative is highly commended by the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

We are honored to have this work highlighted by an amazing organization, and one whose own work is so inspiring, like the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves! Read the entire article here.

The 15 cookstove teams are now back home, gathering information to build their business models during  the final training retreat at the end of May!

 

 

Stewards of Food Culture and Biodiversity: Voices from the Northeast

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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In her piece for Vikalp Sangam, Rucha Chitnis shines her light on the challenges faced by communities in Northeast India to preserve the region’s rich agrobiodiversity and food culture.

“A journey on a food trail in the region [also] reveals a rich agrobiodiversity and a unique food culture that has been stewarded by local communities–from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam to remote mountainous tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. In the face of modernization, mining, oil exploration and escalating deforestation, both, the biodiversity of species and food crops, including wild edibles, are threatened.”

As Rucha explains, since forests are a vital source of food and indigenous crops, new economic policies supporting large infrastructure projects in the area could pose a direct threat to small scale farmers.

The article uplifts the voices of four activists and advocates working for ecological justice in their communities of Northeast India. Their work takes different angles but it is no coincidence that each is concerned with empowering women to raise their voices and be recognized as key players in ecological justice. We are especially excited to hear from Mary Beth Sanate of Rural Women’s Upliftment Society (RWUS). RWUS works to promote sustainable livelihoods in the face of conflict and climate change, and was a WEA South Asia Small Grants Initiative partner. Mary Beth and RWUS’s work advocating policy and social change on behalf of women’s rights continues to be an inspiration to us!

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Mary Beth Sanate of RWUS (third from right). Photo: Rucha Chitnis.

“We need a strong gender policy in the state and women’s participation in the development of climate change policies is key…women are slowly realizing that the customary law is discriminatory. It needs to be reformed so that women can have equal access to property, political participation and other resources.” — Mary Beth Sanate

Read the full article here.

President Barack Obama Says, “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like”

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In June, WEA was honored to have our Leadership Board Member Pandora Thomas represent us at the #StateofWomen Summit in Washington, D.C., bringing our (and your!) voice to this historic gathering.

During the summit, President Obama made his now-famous declaration that, “I may have a few more grey hairs than I did 7 years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.” Now, in an exclusive piece written for Glamour, he expands on that statement, diving into being a feminist, a father, and the President of the United States — and how it’s all interconnected.

Credit: Glamour
Credit: Glamour

The progress we’ve made in the past 100 years, 50 years, and, yes, even the past eight years has made life significantly better for my daughters than it was for my grandmothers. And I say that not just as President but also as a feminist…

So we shouldn’t downplay how far we’ve come. That would do a disservice to all those who spent their lives fighting for justice. At the same time, there’s still a lot of work we need to do to improve the prospects of women and girls here and around the world. And while I’ll keep working on good policies—from equal pay for equal work to protecting reproductive rights—there are some changes that have nothing to do with passing new laws.

In fact, the most important change may be the toughest of all—and that’s changing ourselves.

Read the full article here.

Malnad Mela — A celebration of Seeds

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In an event hall in the small village of Sirsi, on the edge of the Western Ghats in the Indian state of Karnataka, more than a hundred women gather to participate in the Malnad Mela, a decade-old festival organized by Vanastree, a seed saving collective of women farmers. These participants, as well as the 800 or more community members who visit throughout the day, have traveled long distances to be there despite a week of heavy monsoon rains and winds, uprooted trees, and power outages.

Arriving at the festival, there’s a noticeable buzz in the air. Members are selling and exchange organic, local seeds along with other products ranging from “aromatic herbal hair oil and recycled-fabric patchwork bags to local snacks and spices.” It is also an environment of participation and conversation, where critical issues are raised and discussed.

Sunita Rao— seed saver, farmer and founder of Vanastree — believes that the mela is a critical opportunity to bring women home gardeners and farmers together to exchange skills, share and sell produce, and discuss solutions and adaptations to the growing threat climate change presents to the region.

The Malnad region of the Western Ghats is an area rich in biodiversity that has sustained their communities for centuries. However, the changing climate has rendered the monsoons — one of the area’s most essential ecological events — both unreliable and unpredictable. Rainfall patterns have drastically changed. Deforestation has increased.  Soil degradation has worsened. And women farmers are bearing much of the resulting burden.

The Malnad Mela is an opportunity for these women to share traditional ecological knowledge about saving flood-resistant indigenous seeds, promote tuber cultivation as a solution to climate-induced food insecurity, engage a larger market to sell produce, and take part in leadership skills-building with other local women leaders. Each of these goals is a strategic action Sunita Rao, Vanastree, and the women of the Malnad take to face the persistent and dangerous effects of climate change.

The Festival is also an important way for the Malnad community to appreciate their biocultural wealth, as well as the tremendous role of women as stewards of biodiversity conservation.

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