Former BBC reporter, Rebecca Tinsley, uses her voice to empower thousands of African women. She speaks out about the plight of the survivors of genocide, rape and mutilation in search of the answer to the question she has been asking since she was a small girl, “Why do human beings do unthinkable things to others?” She first learned of these horrendous acts from her mother who was a WWII correspondent. Her mother did not sugarcoat the story of the Holocaust, and Rebecca turned her anger into a life-long search that led her to Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan.
Although she didn’t find the answer to her search for evil, she found something more profound. She reports, “For every appalling act, I do believe there is a corresponding act of decency.” Her search amidst the worst of human actions led her to discover the courageous survivors who exude love, kindness and forgiveness.
Rebecca told their stories in her third novel, When Stars Fall to Earth. She also founded an organization to combat the atrocities called Waging Peace, and the Network4Africa Foundation to raise funds to educate women and children in Africa.
Empowering Africans to Become Agents of Change
In her essay, “African Women Rising: – Empowering the Agents of Change,” in Leading Women, Rebecca tells the inspiring story of how one of these change agents affected her community in Africa. She stresses that you can’t step in, as a white woman, and create change and you can’t just shower the problem with money. Her organization’s strategy is to identify possible agents of change among the African women and men, she calls them “credible messengers.” Once she finds them, her organization supports them in whatever way necessary: education and training in a skill they can use to make a living. Rebecca says the agents are never among the leaders. The leaders are the wealthy elite and they risk giving up their power and position if they change the culture that keeps Africans poor.
Rebecca feels that men must also be included in the cultural change. The action is called “positive masculinity” and involves finding respected African men who can speak and impress upon other men that they need to change their definition of what it is to be a man. It is no longer appropriate for men to identify with being hunters and expect women to have a dozen babies and do all the work. When they are shown how having fewer children to support and educate, will produce successful wage earners who will care for them in their old age, they are motivated to change.
Where to Begin Change
Dr. Nancy recently joined the advisory board, Women of Hope, and is soon visiting the Convoy of Hope’s Women’s Empowerment Initiative in Africa. She and Rebecca discussed the daunting task of so many things needing change in developing countries. In fact, western women look at all of it and shrug it off as something they can’t begin to fix. Rebecca says that it’s important to choose something small and specific where you can have a positive effect.
Her foundation Network4Africa focuses on education. Rwanda actually has women’s rights in its constitution, but it can’t be enforced if the women can’t read. Also, Rebecca says that when a woman learns to read and finds other women have similar feelings to her own, it opens an entire world of what it means to be a woman and be free.
Minimal Resources Can Make a Huge Impact
Westerners think individually, while Africans think communally. African women take turns looking after the children while another woman sells the bread they made. Rebecca’s foundation uses this cooperative culture to create the “cascade system.” They educate 150 women a year in their school. As part of that agreement, once they graduate the women must help others. They join the cooperative that works to earn money to support their families and educate others. In this way the numbers of successful families continues to grow. The program in Uganda has prospered using this method with a tiny amount of resources. Rebecca proudly reports that they have managed to transform 50,000 lives.
We Can All Help
Women are emerging as a force for helping others. Rebecca has shown us how using a skill and a thirst for understanding humanity’s cruel actions toward others can blossom into a powerful force for good. To find out more, listen to this inspiring interview and check out Rebecca’s websites Network4Africa and Waging Peace to see how you can help literally change the world for thousands of courageous women.
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