Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Hands are Finally Dirty

After months of wandering and wondering, wandering and wondering…looking for “real, tangible” work and pondering on where I fit exactly in the world of community development, doors and windows are finally opening upon my return from the holiday break.

A Different Kind of Writing. I promised myself that I’d pick up on my writing while here in Honduras and I’ve been true to my word- my blog, journal and letter writing have kept me busy. Now it seems that I am about to embark a new kind of writing that I’ve never done before- project proposals. For the municipality. After meeting with the powers that be in my town and various institutions, I have been assigned to be one of the people responsible for writing the proposals to acquire funding for projects that have been defined in the town’s municipal development strategic plan. It’s not going to be rocket science, but I still find it rather intimidating, especially since I’ll have to be familiar with subject matter that I’ve never worked in before, such as water systems, infrastructure, agriculture production.

I’m getting a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. Oh, and did I mention that the concept of organizing or managing information does not exist where I am? But I wanted to be challenged, and I guess here it is, staring at me right in the face.

El Dia Nacional de la Mujer. January 25 is National Women’s Day in Honduras; 1955 was the year when women earned their right to suffrage. Upon finding this out about a month ago, I consulted some of the women I knew from various sectors about the possibility of celebrating the event. A committee was formed made up of representatives that included the Women’s Municipal Office, Red Cross, Media, Fundaci√≥n Pico Bonito, a network of women’s groups and of course…Peace Corps (i.e., I!).

What started as an idea turned into something larger than life. Prior to the day, some of the organizers appeared on television and radio spots to promote the event and discuss various themes concerning women. Yours truly, who has successfully dodged the media since September, eventually succumbed to the pressure and made my first radio stint and gave my first tv interview not long after. I suspended all my camera shyness and insecurities with my Spanish in the name of promoting the event and giving my own 2-cents on some gender issues. Happy to say, people told me I did a good job, and this was a huge relief.

The celebration itself ended up being a whole day event starting with a marcha pac√≠fica (peaceful march) in the morning followed by an informal conference where various speakers were invited to discuss various themes (historical significance of the event, gender equity, sexual health education, to name a few), combined with a small food sale of some of the products made by the small women’s micro-businesses. The celebration was concluded in the evening with a cultural night, where different performers were invited, and homage to various senior women (midwives, clothes washer, cooks, etc.) who have dedicated their entire lives to their labor but have gone unrecognized. Each of the day’s activities was successful and by the night time, the venue was packed and a lot of women came in their best outfits, it seemed. The showcase of talents (poetry, song, dance) was impressive and very well-received (not to mention a certain volunteer named, Leah, performed a jazz piece to bachata music, the beloved sound of Honduras, among ranchera and reggaeton).

It was a historic day indeed, not only in terms of success, but due to the fact that it was the first ever celebration held in Olanchito for National Women’s Day. And even days after, people kept telling me that the whole pueblo (town) was still buzzing about everything and one of the positive, tangible outcomes of it was that some women found out that day that the Women’s Municipal Office exists and were able to go there for assistance afterwards.

What made all this possible in the first place was the “WE” in team factor- when our committee presented the ideas for the celebration before the municipal council (90% male) they were approved for the way we presented our cause and ourselves. We weren’t a group of women who wanted some cute little party to celebrate, but we showed that we were serious, had something to say, and had something to show. This is particularly significant for me because when I first got here, the mayor wouldn’t give me the time of day when I told him I was interested in working on strengthening the Women’s Municipal Office, because he had age-old, political issues with a colleague. But persistence has paid off, especially efforts to team up with more women, and now we don’t feel so invisible anymore.

For this one time, I would like to toot my own horn, for a lot of the work happened after the approval and I ended up doing a whole lot of the organizing and execution and every dirty chore in between. I was blessed to work with people who did their part (and cursed by those who were just there for show) and those who came out of the woodworks to give their support. There were a lot of frustrating and stressful moments that could’ve been easily avoided, but since we weren’t in the same cultural page on a lot of things, especially on the concepts of accountability and responsibility, I had to respect that and learn to also gracefully concede without sacrificing the quality (well, not too much) of work. I really can’t complain with the outcome, for everything was truly worth it plus I sure learned a lot from the experience. Furthermore, we were able to promote issues at the heart of our committee- women’s rights and gender equity, and bottom line, that’s what really matters.