In June, as my one-year work anniversary for PCI’s Women Empowered (WE) Initiative approached, I traveled to Tanzania for a WE regional workshop. It was my first trip to Africa, my first time helping to plan and participate in such a large workshop (with people from eight countries present), and was the first time we ever held a workshop like this with WE staff from around the world in one place. Weeks of planning, five layovers, four countries, and two overnight flights later, I was very excited to finally arrive and get things started.
It was my first time getting to visit WE groups, so it was really inspiring to hear directly from them how well the program is working and about the new opportunities they have. Our WE Initiative is a way to educate and support women to save and borrow money in small community groups. These groups are also used to encourage women to discuss the social issues that are important to them and plan to take action to bring about positive change in their lives and in their communities.
In one group we visited, a woman told us that she purchased a farm with a loan from her group and now sells vegetables to community members. Other women talked about successes like being able to purchase farm equipment and being able to pay for their children’s school fees. We also met women who became solar entrepreneurs through our partnership with Solar Sister, through which they sell solar powered lights and cleaner cook stoves to members of their communities.
After three days of field visits, we took a two-day break to go on a safari to Serengeti National Park. It was an incredible opportunity for staff from eight countries to get to know each other better as we squeezed 14 of us into two vehicles. We saw giraffes, baboons, warthogs, ostriches, elephants, hippos, and even lions sleeping in trees! The next day I explored the city of Mwanza with several other PCI staff and got a chance to relax with them and shop a bit in the local markets.
The five-day workshop began and we went over changes to how we would be training and implementing the program and discussed important topics like gender and male engagement, better supporting business creation, engaging youth, and our Theory of Change. We received a lot of constructive feedback, which makes me excited to continue supporting our field staff in new and better ways.
Getting to travel internationally just before my one-year work anniversary at PCI was a true gift. It gave me an opportunity to get to know coworkers from the other side of the world, who I skype and email constantly during the week, both personally and professionally. WE Initiative staff from the African region have never gathered all in one place, so it was fascinating to see them exchanging stories of the unique activities their groups are doing in each country while knowing we all implement the same program. Every country does its own thing and the programs all look a little different, but this workshop helped to solidify that we’re one Africa region and that there’s a lot we can work on together. We all have the same goal: the empowerment of communities through the social and economic empowerment of women. I’m confident we’ll all be able to work together better after participating in the trip because we now better understand each other and the implementation of the program across countries.
By Carolyn Kenney