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Darfuri refugee women tackling issues in their community

Women employed by iACT’s Little Ripples early childhood education program in refugee camp Goz Amer, eastern Chad have completed iACT’s LEAD with EMPATHY leadership curriculum. As a result, they are tackling the issues they find most problematic in their community.

When asked about problems in their community they are most passionate about solving, Souad and Ryaan, two Little Ripples Teachers, listed without hesitation early marriage, domestic violence, and violence against children. These complex and taboo topics are not typically a part of our conversations and training with Little Ripples education directors and teachers, but we know these issues exist beyond the walls of our Little Ripples preschool Ponds. LEAD with EMPATHY is one tool we hoped would further empower these women as leaders at Little Ripples and also in addressing problems they identified in their community.

Rayaan (photo: iACT)

This past week, I sat with Souad and Rayaan to hear their thoughts on the LEAD with EMPATHY curriculum, whether the curriculum has been impactful, and what problems, if any, they aimed to tackle. Souad is 21 years old and has been an Education Director of Little Ripples for three years. She is the only person in her family with a formal job, receiving a consistent monthly salary which she dutifully uses to support her entire family. Rayaan is 18 years old and is a teacher at Little Ripples Pond in camp Goz Amer. Neither women are married or mothers, yet. Upon listing the three issues they were most passionate about, here’s how Souad and Rayaan described their approach to solving these issues based on what they learned from LEAD with EMPATHY.

“Before, we didn’t know how to communicate with the community in a positive way. We learned about the feelings of others and how to lead the community even outside of Little Ripples. Now, at meetings with parents, with community leaders, and in education meetings, we share our ideas.
For problems we want to fix, we prepare what we will say and then meet with camp block leaders and talk about the issues and try to explain the rights of women and children and why what is happening is not good for the community. For example, we try to explain the consequences of domestic violence and talk about the rights of women. Some leaders listen and say okay and support us…and some take time and many conversations. But it is good.”

Souad also explained how she put her newly learned LEAD with EMPATHY human rights knowledge and communication skills into action in order to travel outside of her camp, for the first time ever, to assist iACT in expanding Little Ripples—an obstacle we did not know these women would have to overcome.

“Women are not allowed to travel, it’s forbidden. As our job, iACT asked us to travel to refugee camps Mile and Kounoungou to help with Little Ripples.  And because of the curriculum [LEAD with EMPATHY] we know it is our human right to choose and decide if we travel. People were worried it would be dangerous and we would do bad things. So, step by step, we had conversations with our families and leaders and we explained ourselves and explain that it is good for women to travel and it is good for the community. They allowed us and we are here [in refugee camp Kounoungou—a two day travel by road from her home in camp Goz Amer].”
Souad (photo: iACT)

I also asked Souad and Rayaan what was the most surprising information they learned from the curriculum that they did not know before. They responded:

“We didn’t know about the human rights of children. Now we know all the rights of children and so we feel we can protect children and their rights.”

I think it’s safe to say that at only 21 and 18, Souad and Rayaan are creating change and building the foundation for women’s rights and children’s rights in their community. Now, imagine what else these two young women and others like them could do with our continued support. This International Women’s Day, let’s keep their momentum going.

LEAD with EMPATHY is a 30-lesson interactive curriculum which aims to empower refugee women with a foundation for empathy-based leadership and human rights information and skills for nonviolent communication, community organizing, and problem solving.


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