August 1, 2012
Started my new job as Communications Officer with the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) on Monday. The office is on Esser Road in downtown Manzini. With a population of around 70,000 it is the centre of activity in Swaziland. We are in the tail-end of winter, so the temperature ranges from 6 degrees C in the morning and rises to around 25 degrees C in the afternoon. I wrap myself in a shawl to get through those chilly am moments. So far, I am getting to know my colleagues and finding out about all the amazing work that SWAGAA does. The organization has 6 offices throughout the country and there are four core departments: Care and Support, Prevention Education, Access to Justice and Court Watch. The organization’s mandate is to eradicate gender-based violence – clients are primarily women who have been abused by spouses or boyfriends. Some powerful initiatives the organization has undertaken are community outreach programs such as Girls Empowerment Clubs and Male Involvement forums. The girls clubs are in schools throughout the country and provide a safe space for girls to learn about their rights, how to respond to sexual and gender-based violence, HIV/AIDs, livelihood skills, and assertiveness. The men’s programs include communication workshops and the goal is to recognize men as change agents. It’s all powerful stuff in a country that has rampant HIV/AIDS (1/3 of the 1.1 million population) and sexual abuse (1 in three girls have been sexually abused according to a recent survey). SWAGAA not only helps victims of abuse, but works to advocate change on the government policy level. There are consciousness raising events throughout the year that I’ll be working on, including 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence which starts in November. As I learn more about SWAGAA’s efforts, I’ll be blogging about them here. Onward!
First day outside the SWAGAA office in Manzini.
As I wrap up the second semester of my international development course at Humber College, I must admit I feel relieved. The workload has been heavy. I’ve never done so much group work in my life. Dealing with various personalities presents a learning curve of its own. But, the experience has been good. I’ve hammered away and met much success on my assignments which have included writing a detailed implementation plan to get an imaginary fruit-growing NGO in Vietnam up and running, creating a water and sanitation proposal for a post tsunami community in Thailand, penning an emergency health program for a community struck by an erupting volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and taking part in a two-day emergency relief simulation on the fictitious island of Humbola, hit by an earthquake as severe as Haiti’s.
As my colleagues and I scrambled to find the best shelter and fresh sources of water for 20,000 IDPs, something suddenly dawned on me. I was no longer an outsider to development language, or to the bureaucracy that wraps itself around so many humanitarian efforts. I was getting my head around the multitude of acronyms that go hand-in-hand with this work. Terms that were Chinese to me before were now rolling off my tongue like well-worn song lyrics — UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), ODA (Official Development Aid), OCHA (Organizing Committee of Humanitarian Aid), JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency), DFID (Department for International Development).
I still have a long way to go, but at least the words are starting to make sense.
As of today I am on break. Next term, which starts in a week, will be devoted to monitoring and evaluation, the Canadian development context and international issues. I’ll be learning how to monitor a project’s progress and evaluate the end results. It’s all about picking the right indicators, I’ve learned. And getting local participation is key to addressing and ultimately achieving goals.
What am I doing for my break? I’m going to Montreal attend the Canadian Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers Association’s annual meeting. It should be fun, and hopefully earthquake free. But if not, I’m prepared!