Where the Road Ends and the Walking Begins

sarah vail

The Cameroon Association
The Cameroon Association of University Women organized a workshop in Bamenda, on the counseling of girl street vendors, which the Global Fund sponsored. This is the story of one woman, and how her real education began the moment she set out to travel the world.
This is Tecla David, an AMRU bee-keeping trainer in Sussundenga, central Mozambique. AMRU focuses on development for rural women, operating several micro-credit and technical assistance programs.

Sarah Vaill is a program officer for the Global Fund for Women, a Palo Alto, California-based organization — run by women, for women — that grants money to groups around the world that “demonstrate a commitment to the promotion of women’s full participation in society, a commitment to women’s empowerment, or the promotion or defense of female human rights.” It’s the only such organization in the United States, and one of only four in the world, providing flexible and timely grants “on the basis of principles — and feminist values.”

Vaill recently traveled to Mozambique, a country that she honestly describes as “in transition,” and recollects some of the striking images and remarkable people she encountered. When she first landed in Maputo, the capital, she noticed that all of the important buildings were constructed in the 1970s, when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony. In the two-plus decades since independence, virtually nothing new has been built. She calls it “the stamp of time.” When she crossed over into Zimbabwe, she says, the capital has sidewalks, paved roads, and modern bank buildings. And when she visited Nairobi, she saw an even more modern city.

For Vaill, the most striking aspect of her journey was the transition from Maputo to the shattered northern countryside. There is an “incredible disconnect” in the country, she says. But one constant she found was the hope and optimism and faith in the women of this nation.

Women served by the Medical Foundation
Women served by the Medical Foundation which provides support to women victims of torture that occurred during the civil violence in Uganda in the 1980s.
Global Fund for Women's forum in Kindia
Participants in the Global Fund for Women’s forum in Kindia, Guinea, hosted by the Association Guinénne des Femmes Volontaires du Progrés (AGFVP). This women’s group assists women in rural areas in drying produce, building storage facilities, and bringing produce to market, in a country where abundant crops are lost due to lack of facilities.

For example, women’s organizations in places like Beira persevere. One group named Amai Amumsanye, which means “one woman helps another,” has spent years helping women in the impoverished, war-ravaged northern corridor between Beira and Chimoio, helping other women make bricks, weave cane furniture, and craft pottery. Their philosophy is rooted in African tradition: “when one gives, one also receives” — a motto which the Fund itself could easily use.

They met the largest number of women in rural Chamoio, including a group of single mothers who had become prostitutes in order to support their families. Most of them becoming infected with HIV. The women’s group subsequently launched an education campaign for other women so that they would know how to say “no,” how to use condoms, how to find other resources. Vaill will never forget these women. “That was so inspiring for me to see,” she says, “because that’s exactly the kind of education and resources that needs to be out there in the northern provinces that is not going to be conceived of, in the correct way, in the capital.”

Vaill sees a real solidarity between these women and says that she “couldn’t have felt and learned what I’ve learned… without having come to Mozambique.” Such trips have given her an entirely different take on world hierarchies, the effects of colonialism, and the resultant subjugation of nations — and women.

Vaill has a saying that has guided her for a long time: “The eyes that don’t see is the heart that doesn’t feel.” Her solid feminist education at Duke made her aware of places like Mozambique. But she had to take the actual journey and see the reality in order to feel it. True to the Fund’s motto, Vaill traveled to the end of the road and then she began walking. And it was quite a walk indeed.

To improve economic conditions, Association Féminine pour l’Entraide au Developpement Durable (AFFED) trains women in farming, proven successful by this harvest of peanuts.

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