As part of a master’s program I recently spent two months in Rwanda during which time I talked with, interviewed and observed many organizations, both local and international, working on improving every area of life for the Rwandese people. I was deeply inspired and impressed when I learned about the work Global Grassroots is doing to educate and empower women to become their own powerful social change agents. Whereas I became leery of the charity-oriented mentality of many other international organizations working in Rwanda (and doubtful about the effectiveness of the actual work on the ground) a closer look at Global Grassroots offered an example of positive work from a paradigm I can stand firmly behind. You can read about the organization’s firm beliefs about the paramount necessity of the “conscious” piece of social change, and their other ideals on their website. I want to tell you what I saw on the ground. Picture a market, bustling daily with the everyday commerce of mostly women selling vegetables, cloth, offering their seamstress services. In the corner of the market, every afternoon from 3:30-5:30, a small door opens up and market sellers and other village women shuffle in for their daily lessons in literacy organized by their other friends from the village. The literacy skills the women gain empower them to be more assertive in their households, make better decisions for their families, and be more engaged in society. The same women have gotten together to learn math skills so that they can run their market businesses better. This is progress - for women, by women, sustained by the community. When the literacy class files out the classroom becomes a stage for another woman’s project. She is also a graduate of the Global Grassroots Academy of Conscious Change and is creating community theatre as a way to initiate community discussions about gender roles. The classroom is packed deep with people observing skits depicting different common interactions between women and men. Amongst the riots of laughter generated, there are also important dialogues starting and seeds being planted to show women and men another way to be in their village. Truly inspired by all of this I observed on the ground, I contacted the director of Global Grassroots to see how I could be involved. What developed was a project in which I got to explore my own passions- alternative healing techniques- in conjunction with helping Global Grassroots get a sense of the alternative healing field in Rwanda. By both the in-country coordinator, and the director who was busy working in other parts of the world, I have never felt more supported and empowered as I embarked on this journey to explore some of the inner healing work happening in Rwanda. Global Grassroots’ need for research before starting any new project paralleled the papers I was writing in graduate school about culturally appropriate and sustainable international development work. Again and again I saw Global Grassroots investing its energy and resources into carrying out their intentions for sustainable, proactively conscious work that empowers the local community and builds the capacity among women to change their own lives. It has been a gift to discover the commitment, passion, and intentionality behind the work Global Grassroots in doing in Rwanda. My desire to be continue to be involved in international development work is renewed as long as I can work for organizations like this one.
Global Grassroots is one of the greatest champions of people in developing nations. Their impact is multifaceted in training women to become agents of social change, aiding in the development of social change and supplying the funds necessary to implement the social change. One of the greatest aspects of GG is that its’ work focuses on the empowerment of the social change agent by creating a network of support, multidimensional training and friendship. Having worked with GG in Rwanda the summer of 2009, I have witnessed first hand the impact of GG on the ground. The empowerment it gives to individuals and communities is truly impressive. There are not enough words of praise for Gretchen Wallace and the organization she has created.
Gretchen Wallace has been a fantastic boss and mentor. The way she runs the Global Grassroots office is how she runs the organization-- with the vision of a true leader, and with an open heart. Her passion for the projects established by the graduates of the Academy for Conscience Change is truly inspirational, and her unflagging enthusiasm and commitment to constantly improve the organization is a quality that every change agent in this world should strive for. Gretchen is a wonderful listener, and that comes across both in her interactions with people and in the success of Global Grassroots. If someone offers a suggestion to improve the organization-- regardless of whether it's an established board member, an illiterate woman in Rwanda, or a student intern-- she always seriously considers the feedback. This collaborative spirit, willingness to learn from others, and openness to (societal, organizational, and personal) transformation has permeated the organization and is at its core. My personal experience with the organization has been extremely positive. I have interned with Global Grassroots for nearly a year, and I feel very fortunate to work with a team that has visible impact in people's lives.
Global Grassroots has achieved something extraordinary: a marriage of a philosophically thoughtful and sound approach to the problem, with actual hands-on, incredibly impactful work with the most marginalized and underserved women. Gretchen is changing and will continue to change the world.