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The Power of Feelings
At the NGO Resource Centre (NGORC) in Zanzibar, a project of the Aga Khan Foundation, we are working with the Tumbatu Women’s Development Organization (TUWODO) on Gender at Work. As a zero-budget project we face obstacles, and this was apparent in August when we set out to do our baseline assessment. It was important to carry out the assessment in Tumbatu to get a better understanding of the issues they face. We gathered just enough money for fuel, the boat ride and a soda for each member, and we journeyed to Tumbatu Island, 45 minutes by boat. Tumbatu, a Muslim island like the rest of Zanzibar, differs because there is not much exposure to foreigners. The people are proud of their cultural and traditional values, but often these values hold women back from pursuing income-generating positions.
The baseline took place in a dark room and there were no fans running. This was our first introduction to the challenges Tumbatu residents confront, as most do not have electricity. The baseline began with a community mapping exercise, where TUWODO members, both men and women, illustrated their community and ranked the importance of schools, hospitals and other services. Focus group discussions followed the community mapping exercise and tough questions about the successes and challenges of their community were revealed.
This meeting between NGORC and TUWODO was an exciting time for both parties because the baseline marks the beginning stages of our future work together. The day was coming to an end and although discussions had progressed smoothly, the room was not energised and the group was not spirited. Collecting baseline information is tedious and often not exciting but we had managed to collect all the information required. Just before departing, we asked ourselves if there were any further questions to ask TUWODO before leaving the island. One NGORC member suggested asking: “How do you feel about NGORC and TUWODO working together?” We returned to the group and asked this simple but often overlooked question of feelings, which as a result transformed the entire session.
The natural shy nature of the participants soon dissolved. Both men and women revealed the traditional nature of their community and the fact that women are not viewed as significant contributing members of society. One man said, “we (TUWODO members) volunteer ourselves to be the ones who revolutionise the community and help others realise that the time has come for women to be lifted and empowered with the support of men.”
We stayed for at least another hour discussing our feelings, and TUWODO even invited NGORC members to share their feelings as well. This spontaneous exercise improved our work and energised everyone involved. Now meetings with TUWODO always end with the “how do you feel” question, and everyone in the room is given the opportunity to share. For us at NGORC this exercise has significantly strengthened our team and our work with communities."