Thank you for writing to us at the Community Tool Box with your important and very big question. We have no doubt that fighting against poverty and other social ills is one of the most significant tasks a community worker can undertake. Women’s empowerment is a major way to do this. And so we applaud your efforts.
While we cannot provide a fully detailed response in the space we have available, we can suggest some key points you may wish to keep in mind as your work progresses.
First, to do your work together with a group. This has several major benefits: (1) You can usually get more done, because you are sharing the effort; (2) You can learn from others’ ideas and perspectives; and (3) You can provide personal support for each other. You mention that you have colleagues who want to work with you – that is a good idea and a big advantage.
Second, to take the time to plan your strategies and actions before getting too deeply involved. There are many possible actions that you could take, but you can’t take them all at the beginning. So what is most important to do now? This will take thought: but having an overall advance plan for what actions you want to do and when will pay off for you in the long run.
For example, you mention an interest in conducting lay forums, and this may be an excellent idea for you. But how does this fit with the other overall goals and the actions you wish to take? Is it the best action to take at the moment? It’s worth asking this question, and to be clear on your answer, before you begin.
Third, to prepare for a long-term effort. It will help you to realize that if you get involved in this area, that your goals will not be reached overnight. They may take quite a long time to achieve. So it will be good for you and your group to be mentally prepared to continue your work for an extended period.
Fourth, since this is likely to be a long-term effort, it will also help to be thinking of new people who could be recruited to work with you and perhaps become leaders in the group, for you (or any one person) may not be able to continue to keep doing this work indefinitely – you might move, or take another position, or your life circumstances might change. All this is natural, and so you want to be thinking of ways you can keep your group fresh, strong, and moving forward.
Finally, since the big rewards may not come for a while, you will want to celebrate the small victories that occur along the way. When they happen, you can gather and have some fun, maybe share a meal together! Celebrating your successes is important in keeping up group spirit and motivation.
In addition, we think you will find helpful information on your question within different sections of the Community Tool Box itself. Specifically, you will find materials on planning within Chapter 8 of the Tool Box, and on developing a community program in Chapters 18 and 19. We encourage you to take a look at these sections, and to be guided by them in as your work progresses.
We hope these thoughts will be useful to you in your work in South Africa, and that they will help you improve your community effort. Thank you again for writing, and all best wishes for great success.