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Connecting in Latin America

Dr. Saran Daraba Kaba
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Mar. 20, 2013—Last week, 24 CEDPA GWIM alumni from eight countries were brought together in Argentina by Plan International USA and ExxonMobil to form the first Latin America CEDPA Alumni Network. Among the participants was Alicia del Socorro Meneses, a graduate of a 2009 CEDPA GWIM workshop.

Alicia, already eager to participate in forming the network, was excited when she heard that CEDPA was now part of Plan International USA. Two of the most influential forces in her career had joined to become one.

She first heard about Plan International in 1986, when her youngest son turned two. Alicia is from the Aguablanca (Whitewater) district in Cali, Colombia. Most people in this community are internally displaced, either escaping violence or searching for a better life for their families. Alicia and her neighbors heard of an organization named Plan International that sponsored children, so they decided to investigate.

Alicia learned that if she enrolled her son, the money collected in his or her name would be dedicated to projects that would improve the quality of life for the entire community.

Once Alicia better understood the process, she enrolled her son in the program, and began organizing her neighbors. She and her fellow community members presented Plan with a project idea to build a sewer system for the community.

“Plan accepted the project, but we had to pay a portion of the cost, and provide the labor,” she explained. “We all started small economic activities, so we could afford to provide our share, and it worked.”

The project was such a success that more families joined Alicia’s group, and they began to call themselves Familias Unidas (Families United).

“That is when we really got started. We saw that we had a sewer, but we all needed an indoor bathroom,” Alicia said.

The group developed 19 projects that led to indoor plumbing, indoor kitchens and additional living quarters for the 100 families that were in the group. With Plan as their advocate, the local government allowed them access to the city utility systems.

Through that experience, Alicia recognized her skills at organizing people. She dedicated her life to working for her community for more than 25 years.

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In 2009, because of her experience working with microcredit at the grassroots level, she was asked to speak on a panel with the President of Columbia at the time, Alvaro Uribe. After the panel, the first lady, Lina de Uribe Moreno, spoke to Alicia about the CEDPA GWIM program and encouraged Alicia to apply.

“The workshop had a major impact on me, despite all of my experience,” she explained. “CEDPA gave me strength and more tools. And, I learned from the other participants about the different things they did in their countries.”

After the workshop, she returned to Cali and made history by becoming the first female candidate from a poorer community—a mujer del barrio—to be nominated for a departmental-level congressional seat. Unfortunately, Alicia did not win, but she found the process invigorating.

She applied many of the skills and tools she learned during the workshop to her campaign, especially when dealing with the unavoidable, challenging relationships that occasionally arise in politics.

When the opportunity to attend an alumni event arose, Alicia was excited.

She and her fellow alumni from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru spent a week in Buenos Aires building an alumni network that will focus on issues facing women across the region.

The women leaders are from different sectors and work at different levels from the U.N. to local, indigenous community organizations. With guidance from facilitators, the 24 participants decided on a vision and mission, designed an organizational structure, and formed committees to support women’s leadership in Latin America.

Alicia and the other alumni enthusiastically signed the Memorandum of Association on Friday, March 15, 2013, committing their time and energy to the Red MUA – Mujeres Agentes de Cambio (MUA Network – Women Agents of Change).

“It will not be easy. Imagine forming a network at the global level with people from other countries, other cultures and different dynamics,” said Alicia. “But, I know and I believe that with our effort and the skills and knowledge that we learned from GWIM, we will make it work.”

The ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative has generously sponsored the CEDPA GWIM program since 2005.

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