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Dec 13, 2012

Stories From the Field: Answering One Call

On my first day in Gulu, I began my visits to GlobeMed’s Ugandan partner organizations with Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G). Though GWED-G’s mission is a mouth full, the approach is simple: They believe that people have the right to participate in decisions that directly impact their communities, families and bodies.

As a headstrong woman who has something to say about pretty much everything, the idea of being denied control over decisions about my health, security, education, and future makes me want to punch something. It’s unacceptable and frankly unimaginable. Yet every day, people living in poverty, especially women, are denied a voice in decisions, like whether they can go to school, access HIV treatment, and have 2 children or 6, by politicians, aid agencies, local leaders, and their own family members.

GWED-G’s strategy is to train communities to understand and defend their rights. Project participants are at the center of every GWED-G initiative, leading planning, implementation, and evaluation. Through this process, GWED-G creates “self reliant agents of change” – informed voters, peer health educators, entrepreneurs – who can drive change in their communities long after GWED-G has left. Training is coupled with programs that help provide health and dignity, including HIV/AIDS prevention, income generating initiatives, justice for rape and abuse, and counseling for victims of the brutal conflict that ravaged northern Uganda for more than 23 years.

GWED-G is partnered with GlobeMed at Columbia University, my alma mater chapter. Since graduating in 2010, I have remained close with both the chapter and Pam Angwech, the Executive Director of GWED-G. What could I learn about GWED-G that I didn’t already know? A whole lot, it turns out.

Using an assessment tool developed by Alyssa Smaldino, GlobeMed’s Director of Partnerships, Pam and I took a 360-degree tour of GWED-G’s mission & vision, programs and operations. Through questions like, “Tell me about GWED-G’s board of directors,” and “Describe your strategic planning process,” we were able to collaboratively determine GWED-G’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities for growth. I gained a whole new appreciation for GWED-G’s work and the way GlobeMed fits into it all.

Two other fascinating and unexpected insights emerged from our conversations:

1. The National Office and GWED-G are facing many of the same challenges: From finding sustainable sources of revenue to building financial systems to expanding our board of directors, we’re hitting up against the same obstacles. Both organizations are trying to find established footing while holding onto our grassroots values of community, innovation, and partnership. I realized that, despite all of our differences, the capacity assessment tool we’re using for our partners is equally applicable to us.

2. At our core, GlobeMed and our partners are doing the same thing: Whether we call them “lifelong global health advocates,” “self reliant agents of change,” “Ambassadors of Hope,” or “community health workers,” we’re describing the same outcome: People who a) believe that everyone has a right to health b) understand that they have the power to advance this right and c) possess the skills, confidence, and support to do it.

Furthermore, we’re both focused on groups whose voices are often absent in conversations about these issues: youth and the poor. GWED-G has the same hopes for the HIV+ mothers they’ve trained as peer educators as we have for our chapter members: to use their knowledge and voice, and resources to influence their community and help others live in dignity and wellbeing.

50 chapters. 50 partners. One network.

Written by Maya Cohen, Executive Director

ON THE GROUND

 

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