The Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues (S/GWI) launched its first small grants initiative in 2009 to fund projects that promote women's political, economic, and social advancement in developing countries. These projects promote self-reliance and foster development for non-governmental organizations, schools, community groups, and local associations to advance women's political, economic, and social rights. One of my responsibilities as a program officer in S/GWI is to monitor and evaluate the programs we fund.
On a recent monitoring and evaluation trip to Suriname, we met with the Women's Business Group, a recipient through the Small Grants Initiative. Their eco-tourism project trains 200 women from the capital of Suriname and seven districts of the interior in business development skills to engage in the eco-tourism market of the country. Program participants are learning how to produce and market artisan crafts and clothing made from local resources.
What was striking to me was seeing how the men in these communities fully support women's participation in the program. The village of Boto Pasi, like many other villages in the interior, conveys a positive example of gender equality and community unity.
A gleeful welcoming committee that comprised all the women participants in the project were waiting to greet us when we arrived. In an unusual move, the three "Chief Captains" of the 12 villages within the interior met with us and personally thanked us for the Small Grants funding and the training that is empowering women in their villages. This is an important signal to the community that the project has support from key leadership. We discussed the successes of the project and had the opportunity to observe segments of the training program, including the creation of eco-friendly handicrafts.
This grant is making an important impact in the community that will last beyond the conclusion of the project. With these newly learned skills, women are able to earn money to support their families, and to gain literacy and numeracy skills. In addition, they will contribute to the economic growth of their communities.
Next stop Nicaragua! The vibrant women's civil society community of Nicaragua is fully invested in addressing many women's issues.
The project in Nicaragua is with MAM (Movimiento Autonomo de Mujeres) and CISAS (Center for Information and Advice in Health Services.) This project increases women's political participation through education about the democratic institutions in the country and the importance of voting, and encouraging women to be more politically engaged. We met with women political leaders and our grantee to discuss the issues that women in Nicaragua face when they are excluded from decision-making processes. The thought-provoking conversation gave us an opportunity to explain similar issues that women in other countries have faced and to share effective solutions to address these obstacles.
As MAM strives for political justice, other organizations are also working to address sexual and gender-based violence. We met with survivors of violence, many of whom were young teenagers. These brave women shared their personal fight to overcome serious instances of abuse. Thanks to their time in safe havens and the availability of counseling, these women are creating networks of healthy dialogue to work through injustices that have befallen them, and are becoming stronger survivors. Most of the women are now enrolled in school and starting new businesses to provide sustainable income for themselves and their families.
Final stop, Belize City, Belize. Our first meeting was with U.S. Ambassador Vinai K. Thummalapally, Belizean government officials from the Ministry of Human Development, and the head of the UNDP Foundation. We addressed possible opportunities for the United States and Belize to build partnerships to increase women's access to economic opportunities in Belize and to identify solutions to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.
Afterward, we met with the Women's Issues Network (WIN) Belize and WIN Belize's two project partners, Youth Enhancement Services (YES) and the Haven House. The WIN Belize project provides safe havens to women who have been victims of domestic violence and provides support and services for child victims of sexual exploitation. We toured the YES portion of the program, which provides the only safe haven for at-risk teens in Belize. YES is providing vocational, literacy, and numeracy training and counseling to the teens, as well as providing guidance to their families. The other partner, Haven House, is operating one of the only two domestic violence shelters that provides safe haven counseling and connects survivors to medical services in Belize City.
Meetings with partners for this grant allowed us to understand the hard work and dedication each volunteer gives to participants. There is a desperate need for support systems. The benefits of these programs extend throughout the community and are of immeasurable value.
The successes of the Small Grants Initiative in three different countries demonstrate the great impact small amounts of assistance can have in changing women's lives. Many of the issues women face are not specific to one country or one people. Effective community programs, such as the ones we saw in Suriname, Nicaragua, and Belize, are critical to tackling the larger issues women face around the world.