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Story of the Month

Each month we highlight the story of one woman who is making a difference in the world.  We invite you to celebrate these women, learn from and be inspired by their stories. We also invite you to share your stories of women leading the way, so that we might share it here.

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April 2015:

The power of the individual . . . The power of connection

Significant attention is gradually being focused on both the challenges women face worldwide, and diverse strategies that have been launched to support women in expressing their thoughts, articulating their vision, and contributing their value to the common good.

We have a long way to go to achieve rights for all and gender equality - - - AND - - - it is important to note progress. In this update, we do that by looking at some specific ways women are supporting one another on this journey.

FranklineFrankline is a young woman who makes things happen. She takes initiative and demonstrates both passion and compassion. From an early age, she has had a strong sense of leadership – volunteering, initiating and actively participating in programs as diverse as language clubs, sports, theater, and training other youth on ways to avoid HIV/AIDS and girl child pregnancy, even while in high school.

At the University of Ouagadougou where she received her Bachelor’s Degree, she was Vice-President of the English Club, and promoted the use of English language in schools in rural areas.

While at the University, Frankline led a group of students who wrote a proposal in response to Michelle Obama’s Young African Women Leaders Forum remarks.  The group was successful in their grant application and created the first female student association which aims to promote women’s education and opportunities for women to  “Find their Voice,” to speak out for their values and priorities.

She also initiated a Sensitize, Educate and Empower Campaign in an isolated village in Middle East Burkina Faso. “Frankline comments that “women in my country are always underestimated and left behind men.”  This awareness prompted her to initiate this campaign in a village where education is considered to be for men and boys. “This fact has led women to mistakenly believe and accept their position at the bottom of the society,” she observes.  She worked with the students at the high school, sharing her own experience and stories with them, and worked also with parents and staff to help them see the importance of education for girls and women.

Born of a mother who was from Ghana and a father who was from Burkina Faso, Frankline learned early about the importance of adapting and developing meaningful relationships with those who may hold different beliefs and values.  She describes her parents’ divorce as a very painful experience in her life.   She recognizes that it drives her to be a workaholic on one hand, but also, the experience has given her strength to find her own way and to defend other young girls. In 2014 Frankline was invited to mentor young girls at a camp with the theme:  “Aspire to Inspire:  Empowering Girls for Community,” (an Initiative of Acionaid Ghana).  

Mentoring
Mentoring girls at Asufisi Girl’s Camp in Ghana 2014

 

Frankline’s leadership has been recognized in numerous ways.  In 2013 she was selected as a Fellow by the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa (MILEAD), the first to be selected from Burkina Faso.  From the 2100 applicants from 44 African countries and the Diaspora, she was one of 25 who were selected for the Summer Institute Leadership Training in Accra, Ghana.

Ghana
One of 25 young women selected in 2013  by the Moremi Initiative
for Women’s Leadership in Africa  

 

At that time, the US Embassy in Burkina Faso formally invited Claudine Zongo to be a mentor for Frankline and introduced the two.  Frankline and Claudine have developed a vibrant relationship that supports and benefits Frankline, and brings joyful benefits to Claudine as well.  Frankline herself now mentors other young girls and female students.  She recently was invited back to the University English Club for Women to share her thoughts and experience on the topic of leadership.   

Frankline speaking
Frankline speaking to the University English Club for Women

 

In 2014 Frankline was selected as an Amani Fellow which was organized by the Peace Revolution project under the World Peace Initiative Foundation.  This enabled her to participate in a leadership-training event in Thailand. 

Amani Thailand
Amani Fellowship – Thailand, 2014

 

The Young African Leaders Initiative has been renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  Frankline has just learned that she has been selected as one of the Fellows for 2015.  She will be in the United States for six weeks at Rutgers University in New Jersey studying Civic Leadership.  This is the area she chose.  It focuses on serving the public through community-based organizations, NGOs, and volunteerism.  This opportunity will enable her to increase her competence in advocacy, strategic planning, organizational development and understanding of the ways civil society intersects with business and government. 

We congratulate you, Frankline!  And we highlight the overlap and the integration of the power of the individual – the initiative you’ve demonstrated, your vision, hard work, perseverance – AND – the power of connection – your relationship with Claudine and other mentors, the organizations that have provided opportunities for learning and demonstrating your capacity for leadership, the support you and peers have provided for one another.

We turn now to Claudine, a leader who both continues to develop herself,  AND, who develops other leaders.  She considers her role as mentor as a sacred responsibility and a gift.   She connects Frankline with other women and men who are role models, includes her in meetings and provides opportunities for Frankline to contribute to various projects. In addition, Claudine takes time to listen, to share her own stories and to provide guidance and suggestions as Frankline journeys her own leadership path.

Claudine
Josephine and Edith, (across the table from Claudine),  professional women
friends of hers.  Frankline is seated at the end of the table on the left, and
Jim and Barb Spraker sit at Claudine’s right.

 

Edith, Josephine and Claudine, professional women, are clear that they provide mentoring, inspiration and support to one another. Intentional connection with other women is one of the most important resources for personal and professional development for women.  Alone, it is easy to become discouraged, but regular connection with other women who can challenge, inspire, support, encourage one another fuels individual passion and action.

Claudine is a practical visionary.  She, along with other professional women in Ouagadougou, founded AProFEn in 2004.  Claudine has been leading this association, which is fully recognized by the government, since that time.  Through the association, these women now provide support to village women who have not had the same educational opportunities, and lead advocacy activities and projects to voice their strong will to overcome their social and economic burdens.   See Claudine’s story describing some of the work they do.

Claudine
Claudine at the site of the Community Center she is having built in
Ouagadougou. The intention is that young women can learn traditional crafts.

Another example of Claudine’s vision – and strategic thinking - is a Center she is having built in Ouagadougou.  A portion of each of her pay-checks goes toward this construction.   It will house a community center where young women can receive various leadership trainings including practical learning on economic empowerment activities such as traditional crafts, and a sales space where their products can be sold.  Claudine’s dream and priority at this moment is for the fulfillment of this ambitious project for which she will welcome any goodwill to help it become reality.

 

The theme continues!   Betty Kagoro demonstrates her commitment to continue to develop herself – and to develop other leaders.

In October, 2014, Betty received her Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and Human Relations from Nkumba University in Entebbe, Uganda.  Celebrating with family and friends, she “dances for joy!”   

Betty
Betty celebrates achieving her Master’s Degree. 

 

How she managed to complete this degree while employed full time, mother full time, and teen mentor is hard to imagine.  And, of course, it was a stretch.  Betty is very energetic, and also has to bend to the practicality of prioritizing how to channel her energy.  “This is one of life’s lessons,” she says, “and for someone like me with a lot of ideas, it is very difficult, but necessary.”

Now, with the Degree completed, Betty has focused more of that energy on the NGO she founded, Teen Empowerment Uganda (TEU). She recently initiated a Pen Pal Project, requested by the Teens with whom she works.  These teens in Entebbe, Uganda, are connected with teens in Seattle, Washington, enjoying an amazing opportunity to build relationships across cultures and to appreciate similarities and differences in their daily lives.  Check out the updated TEU Blog at:   www.teenempowermentug.org/blog   to learn more about this Project and Betty’s conceptualization of it. This may inspire you to consider how you might help arrange such a Pen Pal connection across cultures. Also on the Blog you can learn about the Celebrating Womanhood Project that Betty has launched, that empowers girls to learn how to manage menstruation.  As they learn to appreciate what is happening to their bodies, it boosts their self-esteem and helps them stay in school to work toward their future goals.

TEU1
The message on these shirts reflects the high regard
Betty has for each of the youth with whom she works.

TEU2
Teen Empowerment Uganda (TEU) teens creating letters to their Pen Pals in Seattle.


These three women model for us the incredible power of both continuing to develop ourselves – and supporting and encouraging the development of other women.   They inspire us – and challenge us - by their example.