When we had our first meeting (ever so long ago) we were planning on having a training about every two weeks, placing our second meeting at the end of October. However, things have changed and gotten bogged down and turned around, so it is finally mid-January when we reach our second meeting. It could not have been more different from the first.
The purpose of this meeting was to gather all of KCJ and all of the new women that we would like to work with and begin to choose what kind of work we would like to do together. We were hoping that this meeting would be a large brainstorming session with lots of opinions and contributions. However, I wasn’t quite sure how to make this happen and so was very worried that either no one would talk, or they would only have very obvious things to say and that no good ideas would emerge.
Thankfully it went swimmingly. We got over the first hurdle (attendance) when most of the women showed up half an hour after the meeting was supposed to start. I visited every house and found a number of women who told me that they were coming (but based on last meeting I didn’t believe them), so when I arrived back at the school and found a large group of the women there I was pleased and ready to start.
We started with tea and fried dough (that I made and Sam complimented me on), as is a Tanzanian custom. We had all of the women sitting in a circle on a mat on the floor. These two things combined to set a really nice tone- the women chatted and laughed a bit at the beginning and the atmosphere was very friendly.
Then Ashley and I stumbled through our opening remarks that we had written out in Swahili. (An area that we can be a bit more prepared for next time. We were still figuring out what to say with Sam and Ana right before we left for the meeting and I ended up reading some remarks Sam had written that I had never heard before, let alone read out loud.) We opened up the discussion to everyone to start thinking of ideas, with Ana doing much of the talking and Sam writing the suggestions on the board and drawing cringe-worthy illustrations.
To my surprise, this flowed rather well and the women managed to come up with a large number of ideas. None of them were brilliant and unexpected, but I was just pleased that every woman contributed, merits of some of the ideas were discussed, and the women really got to have a voice. My greatest fear with starting this work is that the project would end up being an idea that the women are not very invested in. Having them come up with projects (even if they came up with things we had already thought about) and having them tell us which ideas they prefer makes me feel very hopeful that the project will ultimately be something they are willing to invest their time and energy (and maybe money) into. Many of the women got more comfortable as the meeting went on and Sam and Ana’s urging that we had to come up with 15 ideas really set them a challenge that they were eager to meet.
After we had come up with our list of ideas, the group selected the four ideas that they liked the best. These ideas are
-buying chickens to produce eggs (to eat and sell)
-buying cows to produce milk (to sell)
-beginning a women’s community bank and loan group (there is a very well-known model here in TZ)
-processing food for sale
Ashley and I will spend the next week and a half researching these ideas and then we will have another meeting in which we will present the feasibility of each of them and the group will pick which one they want to do.
At the end of the meeting Msembe gave a great speech about how lucky these women were to be chosen and that if they stick with this they could really see some benefits. It made me smile inside because we know we want Msembe to be part of the group in an advisorial role, we just haven’t figured out quite what we want him to do yet. This speech really solidified for me why I think it would be great to have him involved, as he is so well respected and is a great conduit between us and native Swahili speakers.
We applauded and everyone left. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and carried everything home with a great feeling of hope and possibility. I think a lot of the success of this meeting was due to intangibles that are hard to plan, such as the women’s desire to take advantage of this opportunity and the strength of our friendships with them. I believe that our close relationships with many of them is the reason why they showed up so promptly and that they participated because they really do see that there might be benefits for them. Having Ana and Sam there was also very crucial, as I don’t think I could have managed the room with my Swahili skills. There were a lot of comments that I did not fully understand and I was often completely lost when multiple women were speaking at the same time. Additionally, I think we just picked women that are really interested in improving their lives and the lives of their families and so they are willing and eager to engage. I would love to say that this should be attributed to Ashley and my skills at selecting partners, but I think a lot of the success of this meeting was just luck. I really hope that our luck and this level of engagement continues.