Emma learns about the wide-ranging work of our Activist Fellows and even finds one who sells his hair to finance his activism.
The rest of the day is spent learning about everything the Fellows do. Largely, they begin their work through children. They teach hygiene, they bring health-care and mosquito nets into communities. They help start up small businesses, like piglet-raising, making washing-fluid, and also help save money to buy machinery. All this is done with the co-operation of community and local government. All ActionAid does is to provide the fellows with training in leadership, community capacity raising, voter education, civic education, human rights, report writing, accounting, awareness and much more.
There are a lot of exchange programmes too – because after the two-year immersion, it’s important they don’t stay in just one village.
Because of the fact that free association has been very difficult in the past, they network mostly at traditional festivals (like the Festival of Lights). They stand at the microphone, open-faced, hugely confident, completely sure of their power and identity. One, a tiny woman from the western provinces called Khaine Khaine, has travelled five days to get here.
They also establish libraries in their communities – newspapers are useless and covered with large headlines announcing, amongst other things, that the BBC is all lies and slander.
The testimonials convince me even more that training is by far the most useful contribution that anyone can make to this country – or any country, for that matter. Even the simplest things – one of our companions from ActionAid, KhinKhin, is 29. She learnt how to type in 2008 and before that hadn’t even seen a computer.
There’s a male activist That Zin with us who has long hair – Ni Ni tells me he grows it to sell and uses the money to fund his activism.
As the presentations continue, my hips become inflamed – the scent of jasmine enters into a heated punch-up with my sweat glands and yet the young people are so mesmerizing that I have forgotten my dismal night altogether. As Jo says, they make it clear that great leadership has nothing to do with age.
We all get up for tea. Hooray, I think. Everyone wants to take pictures with me and Tindy so by the time we’ve finished there’s no more tea.
Everyone starts to share information and I talk to some of ActionAid’s partners, organisations that also support the Fellows, some of whom have representatives here. Religious organisations are permitted to contribute but not proselytize.
It’s fascinating to watch these young people, all so engaged and so voluble, all listening to each other. Somehow I can’t see it happening in Eltham but it’s exactly what’s needed. Identification of the challenges, the creation of the right training programmes to overcome those challenges and then training, training and more training.
Jo, Tindy and I talk with the partners (DFID, SIDA which is Sweden’s DFID and a National organization called SHALOM) about how to move the Fellows up from community to national levels of activity. Difficult without creating another hierarchy, which this country really does not need.