Women's Mentoring Walk 2009

Maggie Sheahan is a Program Coordinator with Educate! Through Educate! she helped organize the Women’s Mentoring Walk, an international event that aimed to bring together women in mentoring partnerships. Below she writes about the day and the support Educate! finds in promoting values of socially responsible leadership and entrepreneurship in Africa.

 

A group of 300 women walked together through Kampala to demonstrate their commitment to building strong female leadership in Uganda. On November 21, Educate! partnered with Vital Voices and other local organizations for Uganda’s first annual Women’s Mentoring Walk. The Women’s Mentoring Walk promoted the values Educate! strives for everyday— Responsible Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment— with a female spin. I was proud to watch Educate! Scholars experience the commitment Ugandans have to these values and even more excited to watch them build relationships with successful female leaders. “By agreeing to attend this event,” Winnie Lakowo announced to the group, “every woman here has signed herself over to a mentoring relationship. They have signed over the next 20 years of their lives, and they are committed to guiding young women into a generation of powerful leaders in Uganda.”

The Women’s Mentoring Walk occurs all over the world, Uganda being one of eight countries to participate. This year, we were honored to host Geraldine Laybourne, former president of ABC and founder of Oxygen Media. She inspired the initial idea of a Women’s Mentoring Walk through her work with Vital Voices. As she walked with women and girls through Kampala, she extended an ear and offered advice to some of Educate!‘s Scholars. “I promise to return when you become a surgeon. I don’t know what surgery I will need, but I’ll be sure to figure it out before then,” she said jokingly to Nina, a student from Gayaza High School.

Following the forty-five minute walk, everyone listened to inspiring women speak. A young woman told her story of establishing one of Uganda’s most successful fish farm. She encouraged the young girls to become entrepreneurs, despite discouraging circumstances. “At first, I was ridiculed for my work and everyone called me Fish Girl. Now I am able to support not just myself, but my parents and all my siblings too.” Another woman told her story of overcoming blindness to become a lawyer in Kampala. A student from one of Educate!’s partner schools read a poem she wrote about female empowerment and the importance of mentorship in her life. After the program ended I scanned the gardens where it was held; women searched for business cards, wrote down their contacts, and checked appointment books for time to schedule follow up meetings.

 

Above Educate! Scholars Resty and Victoria from Namugongo Vocational Secondary School talk with Norine Kaleeba at the Women’s Mentoring Walk. Norine is the founder of The Aids Support Organizaton (TASO), one of the largest AIDS-based NGO’s in Uganda.

Educate! Scholars found the opportunity to speak to a variety of female leaders. I asked one of them who mentored her. She answered, “I talked to the first female pastor in Uganda. She spoke to us about the courage that is needed to break through stereotypes. She also talked about the importance of persistence, and to never give up.” Another Scholar came up to me afterwards with a huge smile on her face “Thank you so much for inviting me,” she said, “I have found a mentor!”

The Women’s Mentoring Walk demonstrated the support Educate! has from the larger Kampala community in reinforcing the values of socially responsible leadership. It also showed that there are hundreds of women who are committed to the project of empowerment, giving the Educate! programs even more strength. Our Scholars learned about the potential women have to make a difference in their cities, towns, and communities. It proved to me that Educate! is part of a larger movement, a movement for positive social change through strong local leadership.