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Women creating #BalanceforBetter in Africa

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, we pay tribute to some of our many incredible female partners on the African continent who, in Charlotte Maxeke’s words, “rise” in order to “bring [others] with [them]”. The theme for IWD 2019 is #BalanceforBetter, focusing largely on gender-balance but also tackling inequality and injustice more generally. The three women interviewed here, Rosie Mashale, Resian Letoluo, and Margaret Kenyi, all demonstrate an unwavering commitment to creating more balanced societies.

“This work is not for yourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.” – Charlotte Maxeke

Resian Letoluo | Maa Beadwork, Kenya

Hailing from Olkinei Conservancy in the greater Maasai Mara in Kenya, Resian Letoluo currently manages Maa Beadwork, a women’s financial empowerment project under the Maa Trust. Resian explains that, as a social enterprise, Maa Beadwork empowers women from bordering conservancies to become financially independent. Through income earned from beadwork projects, women are able to support their families whilst reinforcing the benefits of conservation and promoting peaceful co-existence between people and wildlife.  “I love the concept of giving back. Giving back to others adds meaning and purpose to life.”

#BalanceforBetter:  “For me, Balance for Better means equality of opportunity and a society in which women and men are able to lead equally fulfilling lives.”
Female role model: “My dear mother Esther Letoluo and the late Laureate Wangari Maathai. I admire both of them for their strength and determination.”
What you love about Africa: “Nothing compares to Africa’s beauty and heritage. It is home to friendly people from diverse tribes and cultures. It’s amazing wildlife and beautiful beaches.”

Read more about the Maasai Mara Conservancies Service Learning Projects students can get involved with in Kenya.

Rosie Mashale – Baphumelele, South Africa

Rosie Mashale was born in a small village in Matatiele in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She worked for many years as a school teacher before starting Baphumelele, where she currently oversees ten community service projects. Baphumelele was born out of Rosie’s desire to help hungry children in Khayelitsha, a township in South Africa, and has since grown to provide education, support, empowerment and care, to people from all walks of life, from an Educare center and orphanage, to employment programs for the youth. Despite receiving global recognition for her work (Rosie was voted the CNN Hero of the year in 2017), she wants no personal recognition; her motivation and passion for giving back is rooted strongly in her religious conviction and faith: “What motivates me are the impact and the strength that God has provided for me to take care of the 5,305 orphans and vulnerable children who have been through my care. We have 270 permanent staff, 85 volunteers and many different programs, from babies to teenagers, a hospice, skills center and respite centers for adults and children.”

Despite the seeming enormity of these tasks, Rosie continues to plow forth with her vision for Baphumelele which, in isiXhosa, means “we have progressed”. It is also not enough for her to just to do good for others — her hope is for her work to “empower people from all walks of life so that they may become advocates of positive change in their immediate communities.”

#BalanceforBetter:  “To me it means surround yourself with people who share the same dream, passion and ambitions so as to help you to realize your dreams.”
Female role model:  “Annie Chikwaza, founder of the Kondanani Children’s Village.”
What you love about Africa: Africa is my beloved country and I love the diversity of languages, cultures, a country of many possibilities, the rainbow nations, very proud to be the daughter of Africa, the most inspiring context is the richness of cultures, and people are kind to each other, living in peace and harmony.”

During your faculty-led program to South Africa, students can get involved in Community Development & Education projects.

Margaret Kenyi – Step by Step Learning Centre, Tanzania

Margaret Kenyi was born in Uganda,  but has been living in Tanzania for over 20 years now. She is the Founder and Director of Step by Step Learning Centre (SSLC), a phenomenal center in Arusha, Tanzania that provides a special program for persons with disabilities. Margaret’s reasons for starting SSLC were very personal: “My motivation is my very first born child, Ruth Kenyi, now a lovely 34 year old lady living with autism. SSLC was born in 2005 out of my great pain and frustration at failing to find a suitable school or program that could cater for Ruth’s therapy, training and educational needs. Compounded by the many myths and stigmas surrounding disabilities and the dire need for ordinary education, I realized I had to drop my already established career in chemistry and do something for and around Ruth if she was to get equal rights to life and education as her siblings. This meant going back to school to train in Special Education and I have not regretted the decision at all.”

Over 45 students of SSLC have been empowered to be who they are: persons with equal rights to safety, acceptance, love, kindness, patience and a positive environment in which they can play and learn. Over 2,000 community members and visitors to SSLC have seen the program and realized that this population has a lot to give back to society. Margaret works tirelessly to raise the dignities of those with special needs, spurred on by the belief that, when fully included, special needs children and adults are far from the burden or curse that stigmas make them out to be.

#Balanceforbetter: “Balance to me means redressing inequalities, discrimination, and negative cultural norms and practices for example gender disparities in education, politics, economics and religion. I am particularly passionate about eradicating ignorant beliefs pertaining to disabilities and advocating for the health and rights of children and young people with special needs.”
Female role model: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the 24th President of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in promoting peace, reconciliation and social and economic development and ensuring the safety of women in conflict zones. During her tenure as president, she also showed extraordinary courage and strength in containing the Ebola crisis in Liberia. I am also inspired by all of Ellen Johnson’s female supporters who participated in the movie “Praying the Devil Back to Hell,” a must watch in my opinion.”
What you love about Africa: “Africa has abundant natural resources and beautiful weather. The people are diverse – each with a rich culture of music, dance and food. Africa is emerging from a difficult past into a future that Africans themselves are beginning to realize they have the power to choose, shape and own.”

Sarah, a DPT student, tells us about her Physical Therapy service learning experience in Tanzania.

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We are grateful for and will continue to support these, and many other inspiring women on their journeys of creating #BalanceforBetter in their communities.