The Women’s Group Challenge – Alessia

As female Development Instructors (DIs), creating a women’s group is one of our biggest wishes but also one of the hardest tasks!

We once tried in Toledo, one of the poorest districts in Belize. In our village, Blue Creek, we saw that many women were selling their art crafts (hand made bracelets, necklaces, “jipijapa” palm leaves baskets, traditional maya bags, and more) to the tourists passing through the village; we understood there was a real potential for these women to get together in an association and develop their commerce, so we decide to meet the leader of the previous group.

We had our first meeting with the previous leader of the group, asking her why the group was dissolved, if she thought they would like to stat over with a better structured one, where we could help with some leadership class and filling forms to apply for grants, as it was already done in other nearby villages with success.

At the end of the meeting we agreed she would speak with the other women and come back to us with an answer. Honestly we had a good feeling about it, and were waiting eagerly for an answer.

However, it didn’t work out: the day after, her son came to our home with a handmade letter from his mother, explaining that NO ONE was interested in going through this experience / experiment again… It seemed that structure and commitment were frightening them. We could have tried to push some more, but this is not the DIs aim, we are there to help but the will has to come from the people; so we decided to go on with other projects the community was sustaining, supporting and participating in.

Nevertheless after a few months, after our return to Saint Vincent, after some dramatic events in the village nearby our boarding school, where a woman was found dead because of jealousy of her boyfriend, and another one got beaten hard in the street in front of others, without receiving any kind of help (not even the police); we decided to do an investigation about domestic violence in the village and speak with the police officers to understand better the roots and consequences of this worldwide issue.

What we found out was disconcerting: domestic violence is not taken seriously by the authorities as a result of private problems between husband and wife, most of the time caused by a previous bad behavior of the woman, quote from one of the police officers. You can imagine our reaction going out of the police station!

Nonetheless they gave us good information: most of the victims of domestic violence are not reporting any crime, because they completely depend on their husband, boyfriend and most of the time have kids too. What a vicious cycle!

So our new plan was clear: empower the women, show them they can stand for themselves, that they have the skills!

We started a project aimed to produce local products (coconut oil, breadfruit flour, plantain chips and more) which would be sold to the school and the shops in the village (after investigating what can actually be sold here). All the people we spoke with seemed really interested (both women and men) and willing to participate. After many meetings within my team and other students we started to give flyers all around setting an official meeting on the 5th of August 2015

You will never believe what happened! … NO ONE SHOWED UP! Total disappointment, why? how? Were they not interested?

The reason is another one: the government offered the same day weekly jobs to clean up the roads from bush, trees and other organic materials, that is why! What a bad luck for the project right?!

But no worry faithful reader, we are not running out of ideas, we will just postpone and try again, that is our STRENGHT – OVERCOMING THE PROBLEMS!

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The Women’s Group Challenge – Alessia
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