GFMA's Executive Director, Sagdrina Jalal, Reflects on Her Recent Visit to Africa

IMG_0716.jpg

My visit to Côte d’Ivoire was, in a word, inspiring.

Though it has been almost a month since my trip, I am still deeply processing the experience. An appreciation for the richness of culture and heritage was evident in every person I encountered. From village elders to CARE staff, who are charged with supporting programming throughout the continent and around the globe, a thick thread of respect and value for this sacred land was woven throughout my interactions.

The bulk of my time in Côte d’Ivoire was spent in three full day sessions focused on a CARE initiative known as She Feeds the World (SFTW). CARE teams and local partner organizations presented on numerous projects currently in place around the world. Each of these projects connect to the six major core categories of CARE approaches which include Women’s Empowerment, Access to Resources, Access to Markets, Nutrition, Food Security, and Scaling Impact.

The She Feeds the World initiative focuses on Women’s Empowerment as its guiding force. CARE defines women’s empowerment as the sum total of changes needed for a woman to realize her full human rights. This includes the interplay of changes in Agency: her own aspirations and capabilities; Structure: the environment that surrounds and conditions her choices; and, Relations: the power relations through which she negotiates her path.

It was encouraging to see CARE’s approach to women’s empowerment framed as a solution to global issues, while at the same time placing an importance on engaging men in the process. I recognize it is challenging to respect longstanding cultural traditions and norms while advancing an unwavering position on gender equity. The Georgia Farmers Association faces a similar balancing act as markets increase their footprint in community led development. Simultaneously advocating for justice and sovereignty is not a clear-cut path. Given their 70-year history of international assistance, CARE team member’s current approach has been refined and supported by data and lessons learned.

The second day of the initiative involved a field visit to one of the villages that is a part of CARE’s network. The entire community welcomed us joyfully; lots of singing and dancing!  We were also formally introduced to the elders in the community, who invited us into their space for shared learning. This experience undeniably stands out as a highlight of my trip. Sitting with the community leadership gave me a deeper understanding of CARE’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) programming, which I was introduced to the day prior.

"CARE has promoted Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) for over 25 years to enable women living in poverty to increase their financial skills, gain access to and control over resources, and generate economic opportunities and income. In 2009, CARE set out to scale up VSLAs and has since expanded access to this savings-led, community-based financial solution from an initial 1 million members in 2008 to 6.7 million across 46 countries today. These members represent 317,335 groups of predominantly rural, poor women collectively saving and investing over $433 million per year."

While we were visiting in the village, we learned that the VSLA members had successfully pooled their resources and were eager to channel their savings into solutions for their families and overall community.  We only saw a snapshot of their hard work but it left me considering how we might apply this framework to communities in the U.S.. We are constantly asked to demonstrate the sustainability of our work, and I believe strongly that it lies within providing equitable access to resources and empowering existing leadership.

I am interested to learn more about CARE’s plans to support food justice work here in the United States. As this movement is still in its early stages, advocates and organizers are often left with limited access to tested models and structures. This trip showed me how CARE’s access to resources, combined with an expressed value surrounding equity, could positively impact some of the challenges we face.

This summer I aim to research and dig deeper into how CARE’s strategies can be applied to the work we do at the Georgia Farmers Market Association. I will also start planning my next trip to the African continent; she definitely left an imprint in my spirit and I am forever changed as a result.