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The Unexpected Can Happen When We Listen

The Unexpected Can Happen When We Listen

The Unexpected Can Happen When We Listen“It is better to be crazy than dead,” said a local Nepali woman when giving feedback to Equal Access’ CEO Ronni Goldfarb in 2003. Goldfarb was on her first trip following the launch of Equal Access’ flagship women’s and girls’ empowerment project focused on preventing HIV and the trafficking of girls. She spent several hours with a group of women who had formed a listening and discussion group around Kura Khasra Mitha, Equal Access’ original radio serial drama.

When Trafficking Is Not News

Accompanied by an Equal Access’ Nepali staff member, Goldfarb was curious to hear how the women liked the program, what information was helpful and what else could be provided to them.

They all said they loved the drama and especially the star of the series, Thuldidi. They went on to say, “Living in the Terai, we already know that the jobs men from India are promising our daughters – ‘office jobs’ – are anything but that. However, for our sisters in the mountains, this will be valuable to know.” The women went on to explain, “Crazy is sending your daughter with one of these men for money. Dead means that if you don’t and have other children to feed and nothing to eat – they will die.”

Listening to Listeners

“We heard there is something called a ‘group self-saving club,” one of the women said. She went on to say, “We don’t have microfinance out here, but if we could learn how to organize a club and save together, we would have money to say no, and keep our daughters at home.” The women shared that they all had goats but if they could buy a buffalo they could pool the funds.

They went on, “We also raise chickens, so through your radio program, can you give us animal husbandry tips? This will help to increase our resources”. Goldfarb was inspired by these women. They proposed a solution to their ‘better-to-be-crazy-than-dead’ dilemma. The way forward became evident through listening. And listen, Goldfarb and the team did.

The EA team went back to Kathmandu and developed the next set of scripts. Thuldidi, the inspiring star of the drama series, decided to form a women’s savings club. Through each episode, listeners learned how to organize the club, how to save together and how to pool funds for protection, resilience and empowerment. Then, in the 30-minute magazine feature that followed the drama animal husbandry education and agricultural information became regular features.

Those early meetings with women of the Terai confirmed the basis for Equal Access’ approach, one which is committed to relationships, trust and constant collaboration with the people we are striving to inform, educate and inspire. Since that initial field visit, EA’s community engagement model has evolved to include content advisory groups, community listening and discussion groups, town hall forums, interactive voice response (IVR), community journalists and researchers, curriculum and life-skills training and an entire theory of change based on generative communications.

Just as there is no magic recipe for social change, there are no “one-size-fits-all” program design. That said, if there is one thing we know, it is that it all begins with listening and creating a space of trust and dialogue where new ideas and solutions emerge from the ground up.

While Equal Access excels at providing critically needed information and education, the heart of our mission is focused on developing partnerships with communities that foster human development and empowerment.

One of Goldfarb’s favorite quotes brings to life Equal Access philosophy.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, the 1970s

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