The Elephant….and the Mouse

I’m going to preface this blog by saying that I heart my workplace.  Big time.

Never before have I had the privilege of working for an organisation as open-minded and creative, willing to learn, adapt and change, and so determined to address needs from the ground up and by community action.

I love them even more because I get to be a part of it and because I am, little by little, contributing to that change.  How?

1.  If my workplace sees an opportunity to do something better (big or small), they take it.

Gone Rural boMake has started incorporating a short Capacity Building session as part of our weekly team meeting.  A few weeks ago, I took this opportunity to do a quick exercise on productivity (Thanks Kylee for the fodder).  Since then, my organisation has started to conduct our weekly meetings standing up, sometimes outside under the tree, which has seen meeting times cut down from almost 1 hour to about 15 minutes.  There is also a consistent murmuring in the mornings about “Prime time” for productivity.  This may not seem very exciting to you, but this is the first place I’ve worked that has actually done that.

2.  Gone Rural boMake is ALL about community need.

This is where I really start to get excited.  As part of my mandate, and for the first time in my career, I have had the absolute luxury to be able to get down and dirty conducting a comprehensive needs assessment of our 773 artisans.  After 212 in-depth interviews, four focus groups, endless amounts of statistics and theming, and around a hundred-odd pages of graphs and heartwarming / heartbreaking stories later, the results are in.  What’s more, in two weeks time, this data will be used to develop our Strategic Direction for the next 5 years.

If you don’t have a belly full of excited butterflies now then clearly you don’t understand what this means.  This is, literally, what I jump out of bed for each morning and my ultimate career goal.  For me, it means that every project our organisation works on over the next five years is not based on some political whim or misdirected donor opinion, but rather goes to the heart of what our women have identified as the barrier to taking control of their health, and their lives.  My excitement is on the verge of explosion when I hear that my colleagues are as excited as me about these findings.

3.  My workplace is changing lives.

The needs assessment that I just mentioned, gets even more exciting because it has also enabled us to assess changes over time and get a snapshot of the impact of Gone Rural boMake’s projects to date.  In short:

  • We work 773 self-employed artisans from 74 rural communities across the country.
  • Our women are old!  The median age is 41, much higher than the Swazi median of 20.9 (and remembering life expectancy is a little over 30).
  • Almost 22% are widows, yet each woman takes care of a median of 6 dependents with 64% having dependents under the age of 5.  One of our Grandmothers takes care of 23 dependents!
  • Two years ago, 41% of artisans were the sole income earners for their families.  In 2012, this number has risen to 62%.
  • In 2005, 60% of women were the primary decision makers.  Today, that role goes to 92% of our women.  Anyone else getting the tingling hint of empowerment here?
  • In 2010, 86% of our artisans had school-age dependents who weren’t attending school.  This number has plummeted to 17% in 2012.  I sense our School Fees Bursary Fund had something to do with this.
  • Six years ago, two thirds (66%) of our women were relying on river water that they shared with livestock.  Today, this number has dropped to 41%, accompanied by a spike in the number of women accessing our boreholes.
  • 95% of artisans know their HIV status, compared with just 71% two years ago, and just 36% nationally.  Should we credit the mobile clinic, the homeopathic clinic or the Peer Educators?
  • 56% of women say their lives are better than others in their community.

And if the numbers still don’t convince you, perhaps you need to hear from the ladies themselves.

“My children are now no longer a laughing stock as they now go to school just like any child, and this makes me happy”.

“I feel that I didn’t love my kids enough before but then I was taught the importance of showing them how much they mean to me”.

“The clinic and the work provided by Gone Rural boMake has really been of great help to us because we do not die of hunger and sickness”.

“I am now able to take care of others and have an impact on their lives because I am a Peer Educator”.

“We used to drink dirty water, which we shared with the livestock.  Plus the river was far.  But now, with the borehole, it is much easier for us to access water and there is no more diarrhoea at my home”.

We can now eat vegetables that we have grown ourselves”.

“I can earn more money now because I no longer travel far when going to the clinic and that makes me have enough time to do my handicrafts”.

This, readers of Rossco Rants, is what we call empowerment. This is sisters doing it for themselves.  This is behaviour change in action (and with barely a pamphlet in sight).  And this is why I heart my organisation.  Big time.

With that in mind, I’m going to leave you something to ponder:  I know that you are all scouring the shops trying to find me the perfect Christmas gift in thanks for the awesome blog-tertainment that I have provided over the last 8 months.  Alternatively, you may be stressing about what to give the other important people in your life.  Let me help you out:

  • Those Lindt chocolates will not be as satisfying as knowing you’ve trained Peer Educators to provide education and support to survivors of rape.
  • Those socks and jocks will never make you feel as warm and fuzzy as knowing you helped a rural girl finish school.
  • And while the latest iPhone is very cool, it is not as cool as knowing that you’ve provided a widowed grandmother, and her 6 dependents, access to a borehole and a life free from water-borne diseases.

Change 4,638 lives this Christmas.  Put your Christmas dollars here:

Categories: Work | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Elephant….and the Mouse

  1. Kylee

    Isabel – you are awesome! Apart from actually using that productivity stuff (yay!), you are doing what most of us only dream about. And I now know what to buy for Christmas…. Thanks for reminding us what is really important.

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