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Monday, March 31, 2014

My URI Journey

When I first heard of the United Religions Initiative (URI), I was a bit sceptical about what I had just gotten myself into. Being tasked with the humbling duty to represent Kenya as a Youth Ambassador in the Great lakes Region was by no means a small task. I wasn’t too nervous about the ‘diplomatic’ role but was definitely jumpy about this global grassroots’ organisation that had the word religion in its official trading name!
I definitely have no issues with religion(s) and their various forms and structures but I am quite aware of the tension and conflict that has and still arises all in the name of religion. With limited information available about URI, I honestly did not know what to think! It did not help much either that a Google search field lead me straight to a UN site. The page informed me that the UN recognisees this organisation and the effort it places on interfaith work. My mind could only register a super-religion at this point!!!
That was three years ago and thankfully none of my fears came to light! The United Religions Initiative is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. They implement their mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of their member groups and organisations to engage in community action such as conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, education, women and youth programs as well as advocacy for human rights. The purpose of the United Religions Initiative is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. The Young Leaders Program connects youth from diverse backgrounds to bridge their differences, and enables them to grow as leaders whilst also encouraging them to work together for the greater good of humanity. The Youth Ambassadors program on the other hand is a voluntary fellowship for young adults around the world interested in developing their leadership whilst deepening their involvement with URI over the course of a year. Ambassadors receive focused support, mentorship and a small seed grant to implement an original project.
My URI journey started from a point of curiosity as well as a need for a platform to not only grow as a leader but to also garner skills and support which I needed to take my mentorship project dubbed Sisterhood to the next level. Reflecting on the URI’s Charter, preamble, purpose and principles it became clear to me that they recognize our diversity and respect and celebrate that. Further they encourage us to support this diversity especially in our programming. I had never factored the need to have holistic representation of the teenage girl in my mentorship program. Last year through the support of UR’s seed grant, I was able to implement a debate for the International Day of the Girl child, which brought debaters, and a panel of judges from varied backgrounds together to strategize on best practices and the best way forward for the Kenyan teenage girl. It was remarkable having such rich discussions with very different people about issues that affect all of us regardless of race, colour, tribe, religion or traditional belief! Through URI, Sisterhood has definitely reached new heights but that is far from all. Through this network, I have been able to experience a flavour of different religions through voluntarily attending various places of worship. Mostly in the company of Nyambura Mundia, (URI Nairobi’s office Administrator) I have been able to get over various stereotypes and prejudices that I knowingly and subconsciously held. None of the places tour guides wanted to convert me but rather they were quite keen to explain their religion and traditions as well as various practices, which I believe has made me a more informed human being. Through URI I have also been able to network with amazing young leaders making significant impact in their own communities from coffee shops in Nairobi to elaborate training sessions held in Kampala and most recently in a retreat session held in San Francisco.
YLP Participants 2014
From my initial starting point, I think I got way more than I ever bargained for by joining this network. I have learnt important skills of engaging diverse audience and the need of incorporation and inclusion for successful projects and more so the great friendship bonds I have made among interesting young leaders around the world! Someone once told me that if I do it right, I can have lasting connections in every part of the world...URI taught me why this is important and has made this task more than half done easily!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

GDN - UNECA 2014 Essay Competition - Concours de rédaction - Appel à candidatures/Call for Essay submissions

English | French
Imagining the future of Africa 2025
If you are currently a student enrolled in an African university and are 21 to 29 years old, speak out on the future of Africa 2025: What does the future hold for the African continent? What are the possible scenarios? How will the future be different from the Africa that exists today?
  • Write a paper of 15 000 characters (with spaces). Submissions will be judged for both their analytical rigour and their quality of exposition and written expression. Your paper must be innovative and able to put forward positive proposals for the future of the African continent on three main issues:
    • Economic challenges: What are the main determinants and engines for growth and are they likely to anchor a high potential growth rate for the short, medium and long term? How do you describe and analyse the economic transformation that is taking place?
    • Environmental challenges: Is African growth sustainable? How to harness natural resources for structural transformation? How to combine sustainability with the demands of growth and urbanization in terms of access to energy and natural resources?
    • Social and political challenges: How inclusive has growth been and how much does it also lead to a social and political transformation? How can we build a bridge between informality and formality and initiate the process of moving out of informality?
  • In partnership or individually, whatever your degree or your specialisation, take this opportunity to make your voice heard and take part in the discussions on the future scenarios for Africa!
If you are selected, you will receive an invitation to join the GDN 15th Annual Global Development Conference and exchange your views with experts, researchers, policy-makers and economists from around the world.
  • 50 selected students will be invited to attend to the Conference, on June 18-20, 2014 in Accra - Ghana (travel and accommodation paid by the organizers of the conference). Students will participate in a dedicated session the day before the Conference on June 17th, 2014.
If you have any queries, write to us at: conference@gdn.int.
Click here to apply!
Deadline on March 31st, 2014, 18:00 IST

How do I Inspire Change?

Thursday 27th February 2014.
By Kate Kiama

This post originally appeared on IWD's website to mark this years International Women's Day on March 8th 2014.
Where you are born should not, and does not define the whole person you are, or are yet to become. Unfortunately for others, some experiences, normally harmful cultural practices and their socialization processes, limit their potential greatly and as such they do not have the ‘luxury’ to live a full life which many of us take for granted.
I may be considered a lucky girl having being born and raised up in a city. In many African contexts, this may be the world of difference between being a child bride or having had to undergo female genital mutilation and thereby increasing the risk of being infected with HIV & AIDS amongst a plethora of other issues that most girls in rural cities are twice as likely to go through every day.
We have no control of where we are born, or what continent and culture we most identify with. We do on the other hand have control of what we can do to end all form of violence against women and children and break the circle of silence everywhere and especially in our own back yards. We also have control to change the course of this story through our own small way by building young women’s self-esteem and empowering them to speak up and let their beautiful voices be heard. This is how I inspire change...
My name is Kate Kiama and I am a proud African young woman. I was born and educated in Nairobi, Kenya and run my own unregistered mentorship project called Sisterhood for teenage girls in Nairobi’s informal settlements and within the outskirts of the town. Sisterhood aims to inspire, support and encourage young impressionable teens to be the best they can be through teaching the young ladies vital life skills. Key among these lessons are self-esteem, sex education, career advice as well as goal setting. I am of the considered opinion that if we empower a younger generation of women, they will be at a better bargaining power if they are self-confident, educated and able to articulate their issues. To get to the desired promise land, society has to be willing to unlearn some things and thus begins the genesis of a new socialization process...
Sisterhood may not be as fancy as most renowned mentorship programmes. In fact it is the very basic element of what mentorship is. I knew I had to do something to change the course of the path that most girls’ life face, and what better way to do that when they are young and in safe-spaces. I initially identified a school where my grandmother comes from in Ruchu area of Murang’a in central Kenya. I initially noticed that the girls did not identify with me because I was from a city. Still fired up with my mission, I started hunting for women and young ladies who were originally from the area and have defied all odds to be successful mothers, wives, business women and professionals even if culture necessarily dictated that they could only be family carers and nothing more. I did not have to look far and started with my own family, my grandmother, mother, aunties and their friends have all been focal mentors to the girls in the area to inspire them and help them realize that where you are born does not define all of you and that if they want to be whatever they dream about, they are entitled to it as much as anybody else. It has been an amazing journey having being in the area for four years at the first initial school and it makes me believe that you can do something small that will have a lifetime of impact and you can start today in your own garden or in your own small bedroom…

There is a local saying in many African communities that women like children should be seen and not heard. This would be the barometer to measure a ‘good African woman’. I do value my culture and heritage but I do also acknowledge that some of the beliefs and practices are both archaic and morbid and must be done away with for the full realization of young women to flourish to their potential. It is easier to teach a new dog a new trick and never vice versa. It is for that reason of paramount importance to ensure that young ladies are reinforced with positive imagery of the joys of being a woman and never the shame or second class citizenry they are often portrayed as.
Inspiring change begins with me. It begins with me taking action. It begins with the basics of what are my beliefs and values that I hold dear as a young woman. It begins with the gesture that I am willing to hold another young woman’s hand so we can go the mile not necessarily faster but further. Inspiring change means that I am willing to speak up for my sister until she finds her voice because I know she would do the same for me and my sisters-sister! How are you inspiring change I wonder?