Think Big – Working in Partnership

Val BishopAfter 6 years at African Initiatives I am moving on to a new adventure on Friday. So every day this week I have been blogging about my time with the organisation and my memories of the people, experiences and our achievements. Three days to go. I may be an emotional wreck by Friday.  

One of the things that has meant the most to me over the last 6 years; and subsequently one of the things I have learnt most about has been the value of working in partnership both in the UK and in Africa.

African Initiatives is a small organisation with big ideas. The only way we, as 6 members of staff (and most part time), can see these ideas bear fruit is through working with others. In the UK I have done some inspiring work with both large and small organisations; from the British Red Cross to Development Education Centres/Providers such as Wiltshire Global Education Centre and WISE Learning and over 500 schools, universities and colleges. One ant can be at a bit of a loss when faced with the weight of the world; a whole ant colony is so all over it.

Wamale land certificates 2It is our African partners that really mean we can turn those big ideas into big successes. And it is our African partners who have taught me most about development and global issues coming as I did from a history teaching background. My visits to Africa gave me more insight into gender inequality, food insecurity and livelihood instability than a month’s worth of reading. They also gave me more insight into myself, and challenged my own perceptions of a continent which is often misrepresented at school, in the media and by society.

One of the things I love most about AI is the fact that we have equal partnerships with the organisations we work with in Tanzania and Ghana. From my time in Africa with partners I have learnt that it is hard for small community based organisations in rural Africa to work with the “big boys” of development – those brands we all know so well – because of the sheer size of the organisation, the bureaucracy this incurs and the fact that their priorities do not always correspond with the immediate needs of the community. What African Initiatives has always tried to do is work from the community up; when developing our current girl’s education programme in Tanzania CASEC (Community Aid and Social Enterprise Consultancy) went out into the field and talked to people to ask them what they thought, what real problems those girls faced and how they could work together to overcome them. The programme (now funded by DFID and Comic Relief) was born out of what those people said.

CSRC StaffThe impact of our partners is clear whenever we visit the project areas. When I was in Ghana at a community meeting talking about our women’s rights programme both men and women were clear about the difference they had made. One Chief told me, “Because of CSRC our women have confidence in sitting up and talking in our meetings and we want to listen to what they have to say.” When I asked him if I thought that it was a result of our Women’s Rights project he looked at me with disbelief at my stupidity, “of course.” At another community where the women had benefited from microfinance and started small shea nut businesses which generated a small amount of income their husbands were so pleased they gifted them some land. Probably not the best land in the area, but in a culture where women have no rights whatsoever- they do not inherit, own land or even have control over their own bodies – this was a huge achievement.

Our partnerships are strong because of the relationships we have as people. We are able to CASEC Staff and Volunteers group 2012bounce ideas off each other, learn new things from each other and overcome the inevitable challenges that occur. They are also two way. I could sit for hours and listen to Philip Ayamba or Alfred Sakafu, Directors of CSRC and CASEC, talk about their huge wealth of experience; but our Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Programme of 2011 where two members of CASEC visited Bristol to learn about education in the UK was a fantastic experience for them and for us. One unforeseen result has been that CASEC now have a new focus on disability within their work, and in Tanzania disability is hidden. Another: after seeing the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police talk to a St John’s Ambulance group, the Chief of Police in Arusha City has now spoken to students of 14 schools about the problems of drug abuse- something that just wouldn’t have happened before.

I think of the staff that work at CSRC, CASEC, the Ujaama Resource Trust or the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) and I smile. They are committed, knowledgeable and passionate individuals and together we have built something special – those big ideas have become big programmes. And they have big impacts.

Val Bishop

To learn more about our partners click here

For Days 1 and 2 of my leaving blog click here