Below is a small sampling of some of the individual grassroots women leaders that are actively involved in the campaigns and other other global work of the Huairou Commission.
What do we mean by "Grassroots woman?"
A grassroots woman leader is a woman who works on issues affecting her own community. In the Huairou Commission, the term grassroots usually refers to someone from an economically marginalized community. Grassroots women leaders are leading networks and federations of self-help groups, cooperatives and other community based groups, often at a large scale.
Veronica Kanyongo Ngwerume
Seke Rural Home Base Care, Zimbabwe
Corte Arte, Brazil
Union de Cooperativas las Brumas, Nicaragua
Ms. Rodriguez is the current President of the Union of Cooperatives Las Brumas, Nicaragua. She has dedicated her life to her work with women producers for the past 25 years, and she has supported the building of 20 cooperatives and a total of 1200 producers. She was born in the municipality of the Regadio in the city of Esteli at 65 kilometers from Jinotega. With ample knowledge of co-operativism, community leadership and organizing, Ms. Rodriguez has been especially committed to the struggle for women to own land. She has been involved in improving environmental sustainability, and the conservation of soil as well as the preservation of natural resources. A former Sandinista fighter, Ms. Rodriguez has led efforts to forge peace among the women and families in many communities and has supported the leadership development of the other rural women that make up the cooperatives. The Union of Cooperativas Las Brumas is a member of the Women and Peace Network and GROOTS International, and her organization is also part of the Coffee Conglomerate through the Ministry of the local government. Click here to read Haydee's Profile!
Garifuna Emergency Committee of Honduras
Analucy Bengochea is the Coordinator of the Garifuna Emergency Committee of Honduras (el Comite de Emergencia Garifuna de Honduras), an organization that was created in response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The organization has provided immediate disaster relief and support to communities working to produce sustainable organic agriculture and is involved in reforestation. Ms. Bengochea has 15 years of experience as a community organizer within Garifuna communities including her own town of Trujillo, empowering women through income-generating projects and other community development activities. Furthermore, her organization also works to preserve Garifuna culture, through producing traditional crops and raising awareness through workshops and public education about Garifuna cultural traditions. The Garifuna Emergency Committee of Honduras is a member organization of GROOTS International.
Through GROOTS, Ms. Bengochea has worked together with other organizations worldwide in disaster preparedness and response, has led in Peer Exchanges with other grassroots groups, spoken at numerous UN conferences, and played a strong leadership role within GROOTS at the global level. She has also participated in various global conferences as a result of winning the UNDP Equator Initiative Prize Finalist in 2004. Ms. Bengochea has been a leader in bringing the voice of grassroots women and indigenous to the global stage.
Ms. Nereide Segala Coelho
Ser do Sertão and Pintadas Solar, Brazil
Ms. Segala is a farmer and the President of Ser do Sertão, a women’s cooperative network of 900 rural women from 30 different communities in the municipality of Pintadas in the semi-arid northwestern region of Brazil, one of the most socially, economically and environmentally vulnerable areas of Brazil due to the prolonged and recurrent periods of droughts. Ser do Sertão is focused on food production, storage, product processing, and marketing of products that come from their own farming. Ms. Segala is also a founder of Associacao das Entidades de Apoio ao Desencolvimento Sustentavel de Pintadas, a development forum in the state of Bahia that brings together 13 CBOs and local government, women farmers' groups, agricultural cooperatives and other NGOs to establish partnerships and develop alternatives to promote sustainable development in Pintadas. Ms. Segala was the coordinator of Pintadas Solar, winner of a SEED AWARD 2008 for its innovation and entrepreneurship in promoting food security, income generation, social development and environmental management in Pintadas. Since 2008 she has led the local adoption of these practices through the Adapta Sertão initiative, an initiative of REDEH.
Kasthuri is a committed and hard working President of a women’s federation called Mahakalasm. She is based in Perungudi, a big village situated at the periphery of the Madurai city limits. Its proximity to the city has helped it assume more urban attributes in the past ten years and has also opened up some city oriented livelihood opportunities for people such as Kasthuri’s life partner, who is an auto driver.
Her Presidency is the culmination of sincere work put in by Kasthuri, a mother of four, in mobilizing more than 1500 women in the villages into self help groups and federating them in Mahakalasm. She organized the heavily indebted village women into savings and credit groups known as Kalasms. Previously, the market for credit was dominated by usurious moneylenders. She was the first person who understood the concept of self-help and mutual help for a self reliant and self-sufficient village development when the Covenant Center for Development approached her village for its integrated village development programme. Motivated by CCD’s programme strategy of promoting and strengthening community based organizations to implement community development initiatives and convinced of efficacy of enterprises for household economic development, she succeeded in forming the likeminded women into groups.
Her first four groups started doing savings and credit by pooling the member resources and it grew by leaps and bounds after a few initial months of slow growth. The pioneer groups became the role models for other village women who by now attained the requisite self-confidence and followed the suit. The unique feature that distinguishes the kalasm micro finance is its indigenous resource mobilization and non-dependence on donor funds. At the time, about ten years ago, women savings programme in self help groups was in its infancy and bank linkages were non-existent in the CCD operational areas. The mainstream financial institutions were showing clear apathy towards poor borrowers.
The federation, Mahakalasm, consequently developed in a number of areas. They revitalized local health traditions, household level remedies and implemented an herbal gardens program with over 2000 gardens started in four years. The federations undertook many community enterprise initiatives involving local resources and traditional skills such as neem seed collection and marketing, tamarind fruit processing and marketing and medicinal plant collection and marketing. Eventually they established a plant marketing company, Grama Mooligai Company Ltd (GMCL).
Kasthuri has become a role model for many other women in the kalasm movement and she has been one of the few who are instrumental in the establishment of three other Mahakalasms in 3 other districts: Madurai, Sivagangai and Dindigul. More recently, she has become a leader in community resilience, particularly after the Tsunami, participating in peer exchanges, monitoring of disaster response and development of community resilience trainers.
She notes that the respect bestowed on her by other members helped to transform her husband to look after the family chores in her absence due to her repeated community work. In the words of Kasthuri, “reaching a summit is not an individual ambition; it is the family’s mission”.
Josephine (Jhocas) Castillo
DAMPA Federation, Philippines
Josephine Castillo is a grassroots community leader and organizer with DAMPA in Manila, Philippines. She has worked extensively on a number of key urban poor issues for over twenty-two years, including reversing forced eviction and involuntary relocations, ensuring land and housing security for poor communities, and advocacy for the provision of basic services in urban poor communities. Jhocas is a community trainer and a program manager at DAMPA, and she is actively involved in all of the organizations key programs, including access to health services, land and housing security, gender and reproductive health, social inclusion, and income restoration. She is also a member of the Bantay Banay network, working to eliminate violence against women in cooperation with her local authorities. She is the official representative of the organization in various networks and forums in which DAMPA is engaged, including the Land Use Campaign and the Reproductive Health Network in the Philippines.
Her own community is located in the Baraga (neighborhood) Old Balata Quezon City, where community members acquired security of tenure through a community mortgage program that she was involved in. They also organized for and demanded the provision of basic services, such as water and electricity, telephone and livelihood projects. Their successes have included accessing services for water and electricity, and access to local government resources to support community- driven efforts around health and the provision of medicines (community pharmacies) and livelihood and income support.
DAMPA is a people’s federation, and a member of GROOTS International and Huairou Commission, and GROOTS Philippines. Jhocas is also a member of Philippine Community Organizers Society, an organization of community development worker of the Philippines, a Board member of Asian Bridge, an NGO Coordinating the exposure & training of Social activist in Asia, a member of Urban Poor Alliance of Quezon City & Integrated Peoples Organization Network of Metro Manila Philippines. Finally, she is a nominee for Local Housing Board of Quezon City representing the 3rd District
Chairperson of the DAMPA Federation, Philippines
Patricia Herrera is a grassroots community leader and organizer with DAMPA in Manila, Philippines. She has also worked extensively on many urban poor issues, including forced eviction and involuntary relocations, land and housing security, and advocacy for the provision of basic services in urban poor communities. Pat, as she is affectionately called by her fellow leaders, is the current Chairperson of the DAMPA Federation of Peoples Organizations, and is actively involved in all of the organizations key programs, including access to health services, land and housing security, gender and reproductive health, social inclusion, especially focused on the youth and elderly sectors, and income restoration. She is also actively engaged in the federation’s various advocacy agendas, having been an active member of the federation’s advocacy team
Her own community is located within the inner city of Manila, where community members live in constant threat of demolition, and where basic services such as water and electricity are often difficult to access, in spite of their close proximity to major centers of business. Her work involves direct action mobilization using pressure tactics, negotiations and dialogue, and collaboration with local government authorities for basic service delivery. Their successes have included accessing services for water and electricity, and access to local government resources to support community- driven efforts around health and the provision of medicines (community pharmacies) and livelihood and income support.
She is the official representative of the organization in various networks and forums in which DAMPA IS engaged, including the Land Use Campaign and the Reproductive Health Network. Aside from being an ardent social activist, Pat is also a mother of two teenage children with whom, together with her husband, she spends her time in between activities to uplift the lives of her fellow urban poor.
Mirelle Kemai Tchaptchet
Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group, Cameroon
Mirelle Kemai is one of the earliest establishing members of the women’s community organization Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group in Cameroon. Mirelle has been active in women’s empowerment since age of sixteen. Mirelle was born in Bamenda in 1981 where she attended primary and secondary school. She then proceeded to the Technical Teacher’s Training collage at Mbengwi where she graduated with a grade I teacher certificate in 2005. She is married and a mother of four. She has held several positions within the group including Youth and Peer Animator, Public Relations Officer and is currently the group Treasurer. She has attended several national, regional and global gatherings on behalf of Ntankah Women, GROOTS International as well as Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights. Mirelle is an experienced public speaker and advocate. She is especially interested in women’s income generation initiatives, health and proper nutrition of persons living with HIV/AIDS, access to land, housing and property, as well as sexual and reproductive rights.
Violet Kyayecha Shivutse
GROOTS Kenya, Kenya
Violet Shivutse is a volunteer community health worker for Shibuye location, Shinyalu constituency, Kakamega district, and a member of GROOTS Kenya. She provides comprehensive care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and orphans. She has worked for her community for over 9 years after receiving training from Mukumu Mission Hospital to do voluntary community health services.
In 2002, Violet was trained by GROOTS Kenya as a Trainer of Trainers (TOT) in home-based care. She has successfully trained other women in home-based care. She now coordinates a large group of women who provide home-based care and support for PLWHA. In 2004, Shibuye Community Health Workers recognized the growing problem for women whose husbands had died of HIV/AIDS and left behind infected or affected widows. The land and/or property left behind would be grabbed and the widows and orphans would be subjected to great suffering as a result, exacerbating the spread of HIV/AIDS because widows went into commercial sex work to earn a living for family support. The home-based caregivers, conducted a needs assessment, and after regular reflection and planning meeting held by GROOTS Kenya Shibuye Health Workers sought to urgently address the issue of women, girls and orphans’ property ownership and inheritance.
The group has worked with their local administrators, opinion leaders/elders, and other stakeholders in the community. They have formed a strong Land Watch Support Group, which has been nicknamed Land “Watch Dog.” The “Watch Dog” has used public forums to create awareness on women, girls, and orphans property ownership. The home-based caregivers have helped the community to understand true facts about HIV/AIDS. They have referred PLWHA for ARTs/ARVs and now the community realizes HIV is not necessarily mean death. Women on ARVs have regained their strength and can own land.
Currently, Violet is leading a team of HBC leaders in her district to form a Home-based Caregivers’ Alliance that will create a platform for grassroots caregivers to speak as one and advocate for recognition of their work. Currently, little if any worth acknowledgement is given HBC givers. With a HBC Alliance resources available for managing HIV/AIDS in prevention, care and treatment would be effectively distributed to reach those who do great community work on the ground.
Violet is married with four children. Violet has grown tea as a cash crop to support her family. She is happy to spend some of the time away from her family working for her community. Her vision is to bring change in her community especially in issues that affect women and orphans. She believes that one day her community will be free from AIDS, that people will live healthy lives, and that they will address community issues equally without the interference of gender differences. Violet intends to set targets for her community to ensure that millennium development goals (MDGs) are achieved.
Association HOPE and LOVE, Rwanda Women’s Network, Rwanda
Ms. Kayitesi leads the Association HOPE and LOVE, a network member of Rwanda Women’s Network, which is also as a member of the Huairou Commission and GROOTS International. Ms. Kayitesi is from Chigari City, Rwanda, and she is the founder and coordinator of the Association HOPE and LOVE, an organization that cares for women, orphans and vulnerable children. Ms. Kayitesi was inspired to found Association HOPE and LOVE in 1996 by women and children’s needs she saw in her community while working for the Government. She began working at the district level as a volunteer, and eventually she secured a job as a Social Worker. As a Social Worker, she listened to the plight of women in her community who continued to suffer the effects of the war and genocide.
Association HOPE and LOVE works primarily with orphans and women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and the consequences of the genocide. The Association pays school fees and provide materials, such as mattresses and school uniforms, for 350 orphans. The women’s group also has income-generation projects, including a farming co-operative and a sewing training program. Ms. Kayitesi has connected Association HOPE and LOVE to 12 other grassroots women’s organizations through the Rwanda Women’s Network. Through this network, the women in Chigari City have access to a clinic, support groups, and income generation projects. The network also connects the organizations to local and national government to provide a united platform for grassroots women in Rwanda.
Ms. Kayitesi is also a home-based caregiver, and she coordinates all of the projects. She and other members of Association HOPE and LOVE visit homes in pairs twice a week, providing counseling and practical care, such as bathing patients. Along with her tireless work and dedication to Association HOPE and LOVE, Ms. Kayitesi is a mother of two children and she recently became a grandmother. She has been a widow for 15 years but she proudly managed to provide her children with higher education. Her advice to other women is to remain strong and dedicated to their vision in order to meet the challenges of meeting a community’s needs, encouraging them to reach out to the government to engage them in the work they are doing. She also emphasized working together with other women and other organizations to receive funding and also to budget well as to make the most of the funds. Ms. Kayitesi inspiring words to other women are: “To have a vision gives you strength, keeps you steadfast, and helps you manage your resources.”
Maxensia Nakibuuka Takirambule
Lungujja Community Healthcare Organization, Uganda
“Anything about us, without us, is not for us”
Ms. Takirambule is from Uganda’s capital city of Kampala and is the founder of Lungujja Community Healthcare Organization (LUCOHECO). They focus primarily on providing home-based care treatment and support to HIV and AIDS positive patients and other vulnerable groups. Thirty home-based caregivers serve over 7,000 people, including three nurses, three counselors, and one doctor. They also offer voluntary counseling and testing in her community, a smaller district of Kampala. Ms. Takirambule is an experienced local and global leader, and along with the work she does with LUCOHECO, Ms. Takirambule cares for her four children, the orphans of her brothers and sisters and her 93 year old mother.
Ms. Takirambule founded LUCOHECO in 2005. Prior to founding the organization, she had been caring for her brothers, sisters, and husband, who were all infected by HIV/AIDS. Her experience caring for her family inspired her to meet with other women in her community to look for alternative solutions to the problems caused by HIV/AIDS. As a community leader, Maxensia has noted many needs in her community. In an interview she said, “Women have no power. Women are infected because men force them into having sex, often because they have no power in decision-making regarding sex.” Therefore, the response of LUCOHECO has been to offer free or very affordable care services to those in need in their community. As home-based caregivers, they offer unique services because they go out to homes and involve patients in decision-making. Many of her clients are very satisfied with the work of LUCOHECO because they feel that home-based care service is better than clinics because the caregivers find those who need services and provide them comfort in their homes.
Ms. Takirambule sees a great deal of strength and resilience in her community and the women she works with. Most of the caregivers, herself included, are also HIV-positive and therefore know much about proper care for HIV infected patients and are able to offer meaningful counseling. Women are also very engaged in the community and have become empowered by the work they do, as many have acquired resources on their own. They are also grateful for owning the building they work out of which allows them to save money on rent to apply it directly to the work that serves the patients. She also is very thankful for the help of local networks that disseminate information for them.
Ms. Takirambule has seen many changes in her community as a result of the work of LUCOHECO. People approach LUCOHECO to be tested on a more regular basis, and community members have learned to their medication regiments. Ms. Takirambule believes the unique services they provide have encouraged people to come to them. She is also a part of a local women’s network called UCOBAC which she is actively involved in. Forty members of LUCOHECO joined her organization because they are a part of the same network. At both the national and international levels, Ms. Takirambule calls on policy-makers to directly target and support grassroots organizations because there are no sustainable programs for her organization to access. There is a current trend in government policy is to shift more responsibility to CBOs like LUCOHECO but without compensation. Therefore, she lobbies for government accountability to grassroots organizations such as her own. Her wise words, “Anything about us, without us, is not for us” is a perfect embodiment of what all care-givers are fighting for: recognition of their work and inclusion in decision-making processes.
Czech Mother Centers, Czech Republic
Rut Kolínská is the President of the Czech Mother Centers. The mother of five children, she spent 18 years on maternity leave and her interest in family issues originated in 1988 when she co-founded the environmental group, Prague Mothers. She founded the Network of Mother Centers as a professional civic association in 2001. However, the first centre was opened as early as 1992, shortly after Kolínská got the inspiration from the model of Mother Centers in Germany.
Women with small children in the Czech Republic are often discriminated against in the labor market. Maternity leave allowances are very low and often put mothers in an uncertain financial situation. Materská Centra prevents women from stagnating professionally and socially when they are on maternity leave. As a member of the government’s Council for Women and Men’s Equal Opportunities, Rut Kolínská lobbies for the benefit of mothers. Her goal is not only to establish equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace, but also to make on-site childcare possible at work. The Network of Mother Centers in the Czech Republic (Sít materských center v Ceské republice) is a non-profit organization that seeks to help women with small children maintain their professional skills and develop self-confidence. Establishing a Mothers Center requires close cooperation with the local authorities, fundraising and understanding of laws. This process is a great teaching tool for women on maternity leave. The experience has lead many women to become active in local politics. With 287 Mothers Centers throughout the country, it offers a meeting ground and direct help to more than 28,000 families. The centre’s numerous activities are also for families, and include crafts, sports, and educational and requalification programs.
Rut was named Woman of Europe 2003, which consequently helped with fundraising for the network. She was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. She is highly respected by all members of the Mother Center, and has become a natural authority in society due to her indisputable results and exemplary personal life. She serves as a role model for thousands of Czech women.