On April 28, I attended The OpEd Project’s “Write to Change the World” seminar, led by Deborah Siegel and Michele Weldon in Chicago. In May, I implemented a program called Women Voices Rising–along with my colleagues Nancy Marin, Gema Rodriguez, and Gloria Coc–to serve as forum for discussion and development of female leadership in Belize and Nicaragua. I created about half of the content, pulling from my background and training in poetry, performance, and leadership development. The other half was adapted from The Op Ed Project’s “I am an expert” exercise. Overall, the workshops educated women on the importance of voice and diversity of representation in public discourse and challenged participants to explore and express their own creativity, knowledge and opinions.
Currently, the Women Voices Rising team is developing and sharing information and related opportunities with participants and other stakeholders. In Nicaragua, we are working through the volunteer coordinator office at Universidad Centroamericana to continue the work we began with emerging leaders there. In Belize Nancy Marin, who is developing a women’s resource center in her community in San Ignacio, is integrating this program into its mission. Also in Belize, we made a promising connection with Ann-Marie Williams, Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission, who attended a presentation and responded with a lot of excitement about the importance and potential of the project.
The work our team is doing in Belize and Nicaragua is a just one product of a larger program coordinated by a Chicago nonprofit called Heartland International which promotes the development of civil society in emerging democracies around the world. In partnership with Casa Alianza, Nicaragua and the Women’s Issue Network (WIN), Belize and funding from the U.S. State Department Heartland implemented Developing Grassroots Organizations for Women: An Exchange Program for Emerging Grassroots Leaders in Belize, Nicaragua and the U.S. In this program, young leaders from each country collaborate on projects to implement in Belize and Nicaragua to promote the development of women and women’s organizations. The grant period for these projects will be wrapping up this summer, however, my colleagues and I are determined to see the work of Women Voices Rising continue and grow across the Americas. We also look forward to more collaborations with our friends at OpEd