The Half Sky Contest
PCVs Emily Routte and Katie Doane submitted entries to the `Half Sky´ Contest in September, which are accounts of the work the REDES project is doing with women in the developing world. Their entries are featured below because they are good summaries of the REDES Project.
Nicolas Kristof, who put on the contest wrote:
I’m delighted to announce a contest for readers with an interest in global poverty. The New York Times Magazine this Sunday is a special issue focused on women in the developing world, including an excerpt from “Half the Sky,” the new book by my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and me. Now we want to hear from you.
Have you had some poignant encounter underscoring the importance of educating girls in Nepal? Any aid organization you’ve seen (or worked for) that is in the trenches doing amazing work in Kenya? Any one you know who is fighting sex trafficking in the United States? (And if you’re reading this by candlelight in the maternity clinic you’ve started in Timbuktu, tell us about yourself!) In short, we’re looking for personal stories that show the work being done in this field around the world, and the possibilities of change.
We had the idea for this contest because Sheryl and I have been so moved by seeing people — local and foreign — do amazing work in the field, and we wanted to celebrate it. So it’s your turn, and don’t be bashful or modest. We’re looking for experiences, more than arguments, but they don’t have to be entirely successful or heroic; the entries can certainly acknowledge that helping people can be more difficult than it looks at first. We’re also interested in innovative ideas for helping people.
The REDES Project
Submitted on behalf of the REDES Committee
By Emily Mooney Routté, Peace Corps Volunteer (’07-‘09), Mozambique
In Mozambique, women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four are twice as likely to be HIV-positive as their male peers*. As Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Mozambique, these women are our students, co-workers, neighbors, and friends.
The Peace Corps is an independent agency of the United States government through which Americans volunteer for two years in countries requesting support. Peace Corps volunteers in Mozambique live in the communities where they work as teachers in local schools, or as technical support for community-based health organizations.
The REDES Project was formed by a group of Peace Corps Volunteers in 2005 with the objective of holding an annual conference and organizing community projects to address the problem of gender inequality that plagues our communities and manifests itself as higher HIV-infection rates for our female students. REDES stands for “Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação e Saúde,” or “Girls in Development, Education and Health.” The annual REDES conference is an intense week where representatives of REDES groups across the country meet in a supportive, all-girls environment. Nurses provide accurate information about women’s health issues, dispelling widespread myths and misunderstandings. Mozambican teachers work with Peace Corps volunteers to plan and facilitate discussions about the importance and potential of a woman in Mozambican society. Girls develop their dreams and strategize how to realize their goals. They work on projects to develop technical skills and communication skills that they will use when they return to their communities. The conferences are organized by Peace Corps Volunteers in collaboration with Peace Corps and the Public Affairs Office of the United States Embassy, with the understanding and support of the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Mozambique.
The First Annual Conference in 2005 involved 43 girls. Each year the project is taken over by a new group of Peace Corps volunteers. In 2009, the project expanded to 3 regional conferences, to involve 146 participants. The groups of girls seemed to transform themselves over the week of the conference. Many girls entered timidly, reluctant to participate, but left speaking out and singing loudly. They reflected with comments like “I feel more confident to participate in class when I return to my school,” “I learned so much about my body that I never knew before,” “Now I know that I’m an equal,” and parted with exchanges like, “I know you can achieve your dreams. Call me if you need some encouragement.
The conference participants return to their communities as peer-educators and leaders in their community girls group. There are over 400 girls participating in REDES groups across the country, facilitated by 26 Mozambican teachers and 32 Peace Corps Volunteers. A typical group meets once a week to work on a project. Some groups choose to sew or cook; others decide to learn about computers or prepare theater. Whatever the shared interest, the girls are together to support and learn from each other. They build their confidence and skills as they develop projects. The Peace Corps Volunteer and Mozambican teacher who facilitate each group use the environment to bring up discussions about gender equality, HIV/AIDS, or other pertinent issues. With the support and encouragement of their peers and group leaders, their eyes are open to see a better future for themselves and their country.
For more information, please feel free to contact this year’s coordinator for the REDES project, PCV Gracey Uffman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The REDES Project
Submitted on behalf of the REDES Committee
By Katie Doane, Peace Corps Volunteer (’08-‘10), Mozambique
Belarmina was perplexed as a room full of girls looked down at their shoeless feet. Without speaking, certainly it would prove difficult to guide a discussion on girls and sports. How could she get them to see this was their time, their chance to safely express themselves? Bela’s decision: having the twenty pre-teen girls tell a story, any story, their stories.
Laughter and voices emerged into the quiet room as one timid girl contributed. Often it takes incessant prodding to get one girl to speak up; this week was different. One by one, girls began sharing their short, humorous narratives. The Mozambican teen girls found their inner confidence without even covering their mouths with their hands or averting their eyes to the floor. Seeing them speak in front of a roomful of their peers was astounding.
Belarmina, a young woman working towards her teaching certificate, is part of a group called REDES. Raparigas Em Desenvolimento, Educação, e Saúde (Girls in Development, Education, and Health) is where she and more than 500 other young Mozambican girls and women meet weekly. REDES groups are creating auto-sustainable and community projects, learning technological and leadership skills, gaining knowledge about health, gender, social, and education issues affecting women, and exchanging ideas about Mozambican culture’s importance.
REDES began in 2005 with foresight from five women Peace Corps Volunteers seeing the need to realize a place where girls could express and learn about themselves— a place where they would be granted freedom to be girls. Originally, REDES was proposed as a week -long leadership conference enhancing girls’ HIV/AIDS, gender, self-image, and educational skills. After convening and receiving funding from the U.S. Public Affair’s Office and PEPFAR, along with revising the idea from merely a conference to girls’ groups meeting regularly, Peace Corps Volunteers helped expand the REDES vision into what it is today. REDES groups give young girls and women the skills, knowledge, friendships, and support to make their own informed, independent decisions to improve their views of themselves, livelihood of girls and women in their country, and their place in the world as autonomous women.
The world is touched by REDES girls making strides for women’s development. REDES girls participate in a technological exchange with Brazilian peers. They utilize technology to resonate a message of courage, confidence, and positive change on all sides of the globe.
Belarmina’s attempt opening a conversation seems like a small advancement in the larger objectives of REDES. However, Mozambique is perpetually growing out of its colonizer’s shadow, civil war past, and facing the challenge of making its history heard. REDES girls do the same. Week after week, REDES girls grow and learn, together finding their own voices and independence, sharing their histories, valuing who they are now and who they will be as future Mozambican women. Starting with one audacious girl telling her story, it ends with a new Mozambican history of women serving as leaders…or her story of Mozambican girls turning into empowered women.