98 women were celebrated in their communities last month as they completed Phase I of the Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) program in Gbeka, Grima, and Mamboma. Since January, the NOW women have been attending weekly sessions with us, learning about planning, saving, and budgeting the money they already have. We have also mentored them to use their voice and contribute to household decision making.
Since women alone cannot change gender norms within their communities, we worked to engage men too, through a series of Family Sessions, working with husband and wife teams to do communication and gender role activities. The Family Sessions were so successful – we added additional ones throughout the curriculum. After our first Family Session, a husband told me, “I never allowed my wife to take part in group activities, but now, I see the importance of this training.” The husband encouraged his wife to continue with the NOW Program and even began tending to the farm on his own so his wife was free to attend the sessions, an act he says would have never happened without the Family Session.
It is important to engage the community too – so we encouraged the NOW Participants to share their learning with other women and the community at large. This work paid off when hundreds of community members showed up to support the NOW Participants in a Certification Ceremony held last month.
I work in Gbeka, where we have 32 women enrolled in the NOW program. I was so thrilled to see the Community Action Group (volunteer Change Agents that are trained through our Community Program) collaborating with the NOW Participants to organize the activities of the Certification Ceremony to ensure that the NOW Participants’ Ceremony was successful. The two groups met and were led by Mohamed Koroma, the Community Action Group (CAG) Leader in Gbeka, and Kadie Momoh, the appointed leader from the NOW Program.
The participant groups from both the Community Action Program and NOW Program planned how they could get enough food to feed the entire community after the Ceremony. CAG men donated money and CAG women donated rice. The groups also approached the Town Authorities for help and they donated a goat for the celebratory meal. The NOW Participants also worked to get a DJ and sound system organized for the Ceremony. It was a total group effort – and led to an incredible celebration for the NOW Participants.
It is great for the Gbeka community to see this sort of unity and collaboration amongst the two OVP program participant groups. In Gbeka, women don’t traditionally have time to plan or sit with colleagues but the NOW participants are making time for this to talk about their workbooks, lessons from NOW sessions, and using their voice in decision-making.
Other community women are seeing this collaboration between the NOW Participants. This is influencing other women in the community to also see that they have the ability to make time to collaborate and work together to better their families. Just like I believe the NOW Participants will continue to be united for their own development, I believe the NOW and Community Action Program Participants will continue to ensure development happens. They will continue to be mobilizers and motivators and the Town Authorities will look to them whenever development is spoken about.
This was really exciting to me because it demonstrates social cohesion between the two OVP program participants in Gbeka and it will promote unity and group work within the entire community. I’m certain they’ll keep working together to promote positive change from within their community.
When we are in the community we are always working to diminish power differences and be on the same level as the community people we are working with – we work to empathize and to show the importance of empathizing with others. We are really role models to the community people, showing unity amongst our fellow colleagues and within the groups that we work with. If the community continues to come together and work hand in hand – ultimately, this will propel social change and create sustainable systems for communities to thrive.
Introducing OVP Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) Coordinator: Josephine M. Sellu
From: Jokibu, Sierra Leone
What motivates me is when I work with these women because I too came from the same community as my participants. I enjoy mentoring them to see that they have the skills and knowledge to make decisions in their families or about their finances.
Something you might not know about Sierra Leone?
Women hardly make decisions in the communities here because they will be dominated by the men who think they are the only ones with the right to make decisions. Especially in some religious traditions, people say, where men are talking, women should not be talking – they should just be listening. So this is why OVP works to transform traditional gender norms. We believe that women too have the right to do anything that men can do and beyond that, we believe that when women are empowered, communities are empowered to create change from within.