Author: Emmanuel S. George, Community Action Coordinator
Isata K. Harding (pictured right) has lived in the village of Pejewa for three decades now. With six children and a blind husband, Isata has been successful at providing for her family. Before OneVillage Partners entered Pejewa, Isata was a very reserved and passive woman who had never felt inspired to contribute to her community’s development. This is because Pejewa excluded women from leadership, seeing it as the realm of men. So Isata like many other women reserved themselves to be followers and subordinates to men’s decisions. Isata believed in men’s superiority over women, which contributed to Isata being too shy to take part or lead any public life. Isata had contributed little or nothing to community’s previous local projects and looked upon herself as an ordinary community member. “I was never a leader and was never involved in any community activities because even if I went to the meetings, I was never considered in anything.” Isata explained this was the way that many women in Pejewa felt.
In 2016, OneVillage Partners partnered with Isata’s community, and Isata was amazed that the organization spoke to the community as a whole, rather than just the leadership. For the first time, she chose to play a role in her community and put herself forward to volunteer with the Community Action Group. This group of volunteers is voted in by the community to represent the interests of the community and foster development, mobilizing individuals to lead their own change. Upon first becoming a volunteer leader, Isata struggled with her normal shy personality, finding it challenging to properly interact with others. She continued being quiet and was normally nervous when she attempted to answer a question or contribute to training and meeting discussions. Isata however became determined to overcome these weaknesses and decided to be regular in meetings and accept the rules of learning. Clearly knowing that OneVillage Partners saw her and everyone in the training space as equal partners, she started gaining confidence and was fully involved in all discussions during meetings and training sessions. Isata would then ask questions, volunteer in training activities, and even learned basic fundamental rules of leadership at household, community, and group levels.
She felt encouraged that in all OneVillage Partners’ meetings, everyone was given equal chances to express their voices without discrimination. She began to believe that everyone’s voice was important and everyone was equally respected and listened to. Trained in leadership, mobilization, communication, and other skills that equipped her to be a leader in Pejewa, Isata learned the principle of leadership, honesty, and the equality of all. She felt a boost in her integrity and the urge to become a leader in Pejewa, with community leaders appointing her as the community’s Health Monitor, a prestigious position that sees her provide households with advice on improved sanitation. She now sees herself as a leader in her house, in her community, and in the Community Action Group as well.
These changes have been mirrored in her home, where Isata is now the breadwinner of her family taking care of her children and her ailing husband. She feels comfortable as the head of her household and has taught her children how to become leaders as they grow up. Isata realized the necessity of women leading development, becoming pivotal in implementing Pejewa’s latrine project, which has seen every community member have access to a latrine. Pejewa now consider her in all her community decisions and respect her position as local health monitor of the latrines she helped her people to build. She inspires other women to be active and join her to break with her community’s gender norm.