Guiding the Way Forward
Where the borders of Egypt and Sudan meet there is a protected area called the Wadi Allaqi Biosphere Reserve. At first glance, you would think no one could possibly survive in this arid, desert landscape, but you would be wrong. Untouched by the political conflict in Egypt, the Sedinabe Bedouin tribe continues living much as they have for thousands of years, with one difference: their daughters can read and write.
In the past, education was not valued in this Bedouin tribe. They would occasionally send their sons to school in the nearby village, but there was no point in exposing their daughters to the potential dangers which may arise on the long walk to the village. This reasoning was not good enough for Dr. Hoda Yacoub, a CEDPA alumna.
Hoda, a senior researcher at the Wadi Allaqui Biosphere Reserve, applied to the Center for Development and Population Activities’ Global Women in Management (CEDPA GWIM) program in 2010 after she was passed over for a promotion that was given to a less-qualified male colleague.
“At that time, I was the only woman among 13 men because most women preferred not to work in protected areas. I was the only one who had a Ph.D., so I felt like I had the background and knowledge that qualified me for a director position,” explains Hoda. “And this was the reason that I sent the application to the CEDPA GWIM program.”
Having been born and raised in Kuwait and living in Upper Egypt, Hoda was used to the conservative attitudes that prevented women from advancing.
“I just accepted it. Sometimes when these things happen, you feel that it is something normal. This happens all the time with your family, in your job and in society. You begin to feel, ‘Oh, maybe they are right. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be a director,’” she says. “So, I did not take any action, but inside of me I thought it was unfair.”
Gaining the Confidence to Pursue Her Dreams
Hoda was accepted into the program and joined 19 other participants in Jakarta, Indonesia for the four-week training sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundations’ Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative.
“I think the first thing I learned from GWIM was how to be confident. And, how to fight to have your rights,” says Hoda.
“When I returned, I started with a strategy. I had three small projects, so I divided all my colleagues into three teams, making sure that they all had an opportunity to work with me on these projects. I wanted them to find out who Hoda was, so they would know that I was really capable and that I had the skills to be a director,” she explains. “I was just nominated to become a director, and I was nominated by my colleagues.”
After the workshop, the alumni were given the opportunity to apply for small grants to implement new programs. Hoda received a grant to improve the opportunities of Bedouin girls by providing them with basic reading and writing skills. They would also be taught handicrafts, which they could then sell or give away.
She faced an uphill battle; events in Egypt delayed the transfer of funds and she also had to convince the girls’ fathers to allow them to attend the school.
“They said okay as long as it was close to them and that the teacher was a woman who could educate them. So, I brought a tent and all the facilities,” she explains.
Despite a 2012 end date, the program has been such a success that it’s still running.
Empowering a New Group of GWIM Graduates
This year Plan asked Hoda to become a CEDPA GWIM Alumni Coach and, In August, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a coaching workshop with 23 other alumni.
The coaching workshop helps prepare new coaches like Hoda for their year-long coaching relationships through sessions on effective communication, running coaching sessions, establishing boundaries, recognizing non-verbal cues, developing active-listening skills, and managing difficult coaching scenarios.
“It is a big responsibility how to be a good coach. In my area of Upper Egypt, I think they need someone to be a coach,” says Hoda. “When I started the informal education program, I made an announcement for anyone to work as a teacher. Many young girls came, but, when they found out that they had to go all this distance and be away from home for two or three days, they started to refuse. In spite of being educated, they still need a kind of encouragement or someone who can help them make a change in their thoughts.”
And with Hoda as their CEDPA GWIM Alumni Coach, these women will certainly find the encouragement that they need.