Update from the Field: April 27, 2019

Community forums

I’m catching up on our activities the last few weeks as the end of the project is always a flurry of activity.  In the last two weeks of project the girls participated in four community forums in different neighborhoods to engage with the public about their work.  About 20 people attended each forum. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the moment we take our activities out into the public spaces there is constant engagement with the community, as neighbors and passersby stop to observe and ask questions about what we are painting.  However, the community engagement forums are a bit different because the girls have time to present in a more formal setting, to engage in more in-depth discussions, and through this experience to develop their leadership skills. This project is the first time we’ve designed such forums.

We had originally wanted to present in front of the murals themselves, but it was difficult to arrange for outside seating and to coordinate with the neighborhood chiefs.  To accommodate a planned meeting of this type, the community forums were held at the small offices of the neighborhood chiefs.  These are typically small buildings made out of wooden planks decorated with a Congolese flag.  Inside the chief and his team field all sorts of community issues from the common thief, agreements to sign with the Mayor.  To exhibit the work, we brought photos of the murals and posters.  An interesting outcome of printing these materials was that people who attended the forums were really interested to carry the print outs with them.  It became a great secondary way to disseminate the images in the communities.  For example, in the neighborhood of Mapendo, one priest will share some of the posters with his congregation, and another woman who owns a pharmacy said she would like to put the  poster prints in her store.  

In general, the community members who attended had a positive response to the images created. Some commented how this project and the images created could encourage other girls to be ambitious and pursue careers that are normally male dominated.  Many recognized that this project showed appreciation for women and promoted them in society.  

Others questioned why the training only included women, which of course led to a discussion with the girls about why women and girls need additional support and the realities of gender inequality.  These discussions are important and also frustrating as many don’t recognize the disadvantages that women and girls face.  In general I really appreciate that in Congo people are eager to discuss and debate and how lively the forums were.  

As everywhere, public speaking can be a challenge, and especially for some of the girls we work with who have not had many opportunities to practice, (e.g. who haven’t spent much time in school.)  Our community engagement lead Grace and her assistant Gracy trained worked with the girls on presentation skills.

Some of the most moving exchanges that I heard were comments from the girls themselves, showing their growing self-confidence.  In Goma, where decades of instability have made NGOs and the UN a constant presence, people are used to outsiders bringing in projects and proposing solutions.  It’s therefore easy for people to fall into the habit of looking to others for solutions to their issues. Perhaps as a result of this, many community members in the forums expressed that Colors of Connection needed to do more, and to provide more materials for the girls to launch post-project.  However, one participant Natalie responded that it will be possible for her to go out and find work by herself, as a house painter, or as a sign painter, and in fact it is something that she done in the past.  She highlighted that she has what she needs and her entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.  I don’t dispute that there is a big need to work with more girls and our participants can definitely use more resources.  However, it is important and hugely valuable that some of the participants show this self-confidence, and are ready to take the initiative to find opportunities for themselves. This is one of the outcomes we have hoped for in the project, and something that we believe creativity can cultivate.  -Christina

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