As the Africa Facilitator of the Community Resource Exchange, I closely collaborate and learn from the people who should be driving the development agenda: the local communities, the people who really matter. I am learning how they solve their problems and keep up with their struggles, while helping share their knowledge with other communities around the world.
Community members’ willingness to fight for their right to survive is unmatched. They are prepared to go the extra mile, set aside their own interest, and work for the benefit of the unit. It is difficult to express the challenges and risks that grassroots human rights defenders are exposed to and how far they are willing to go to ensure justice prevails. As their allies, the best we can do is offer a helping hand when they reach out for support, listen, understand and create opportunities for them to share their stories and struggles.
I initially joined the Coalition as an intern, conducting research with the Defenders in Development Campaign. At that time, I was seeking to focus more on advocacy and human rights campaigning. The research was quite different from what I had been doing before and it opened my eyes to the reality of development aid, something I had passionately advocated for. By working closely with local communities and human rights defenders, I learned who the rights holders are and how they can hold the duty bearers (such as development finance institutions, private companies or State authorities) accountable. This gives me hope and something to look forward to.
Before joining the Coalition, I worked at Child.org as a program officer in rural Kenya and helped coordinate a 6-week course on maternal and child health for 5700 pregnant women. We tried to bridge the gap between the communities and the public health services in their region, liaising with government officials to provide better health services to individuals and families in hard-to-reach areas. We also used media outlets to inform communities about the services offered at health facilities for expectant women. Through this, I learned the importance of listening to local communities: what do they want? How do they want to address their challenges? Getting solutions from the community members proved to be very successful, since they assigned themselves responsibilities and were accountable to their actions. Moving forward, I will continue to listen to what communities want and try to identify with them innovative ways to voice their concerns and solve their problems.
My hope is that more and more communities and groups will be empowered to understand that they have the right to their development, one that doesn’t put them in harm’s way. That the law can work in their favor, and their needs can be taken into consideration at all levels of power. And I hope international investors will change their approach and create opportunities for community-driven development.