I hope you've enjoyed reading Fatima's blog and enjoyed the glimpse into UNFPA's work to improve the health and rights of women in Uganda and Rwanda. As Fatima showcased, UNFPA's in-country work is largely dependent on the local needs and really calls on community involvement to build programs that succeed.
As the Americans for UNFPA staff delegate, I had the pleasure of traveling with Fatima and delegates from across the United States.
Fatima, 2008 Student Award Winner, had a powerful impact on the other delegates, and even more so, on the many women we had the privilege of visiting. She was able to draw connections, beyond the surface, with many of the women we met - as a Muslim, Somali-American, and student.
Our leadership delegations consisted of eight women, and one man, ranging from age 18 to 60+. Each delegate brought a unique perspective from corporate executives to an oilfield engineer.
Fatima's blog offers a sampling of the insightful comments she shared with her fellow delegates daily. Unlikely many delegates, her college research afforded her the opportunity to visit UNFPA funded fistula programs earlier this year in Eritrea. From that trip, she was able to share with us an in-depth perspective on fistula - a problem affecting so many women in Africa.
Fatima's age and position as "Student Award Winner" particularly offered significant hope to the young women we met. The youth population in Uganda/Rwanda is nearly double that of the U.S. [25% percent of Uganda's total population is currently between the ages of 15-24 living; compared to 20% in Rwanda and only 12% in the U.S.]
What that means is that, literally, everywhere we went we met young people who were impacted by the work of UNFPA. From job training programs for women who have been trafficked to HIV prevention and reproductive health services, I was overcome by the young and hopeful faces we encountered.
And, for our team of delegates, Fatima was able to connect to these young people in a unique and profound way.
One situation in particular comes to mind. When we visited the REACH program in rural Uganda we went to a school with about 700 students, many of whom were also Muslim. They were immediately drawn to Fatima, I think because she didn't seem as "foreign" as the rest of us. At the end of our visit, she was asked by the headmaster to share some words of advice with the students. Needless to say, she was able to connect with the girls, I think because in her they could see a role model. In sharing her personal story with them, she was able to inspire. And her insights about the importance of education and stopping FGC (female genital cutting), certainly hit home with both the delegates and students.
I hope that the many readers of both Fatima's blog and Marie Claire continue to stay involved with Americans for UNFPA. And for those of you who've caught her travel bug: our upcoming delegations are to Laos in October and Nepal in March 2009. And for U.S. College students, keep an eye out for news about the 2009 Student Award-applications will be available in December.
For me, this trip has brought to life the obstacles and challenges facing women in Africa, and given me a deeper understanding of the programs available to tackle these problems. By sharing this experience with Fatima, I very much hope that readers of her blog understand the importance of US support for the work of UNFPA.
Thanks for traveling along with us. And, thanks to Fatima for sharing her wisdom with the delegates and with the many young people we met along the way!