voices for umoja
Voices for umoja (umoja means unity in Swahili) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to using various forms of communication and action to create change at the community level and beyond. Voices for umoja strives to connect groups and individuals with the goal of strengthening our global community.
Voices for umoja is currently partnered with community members in Kisumu, Kenya who are devoted to working to improve conditions in the community with a particular focus on youth and women. Kisumu, set on the shores of beautiful Lake Victoria, is the third largest city in Kenya. It is estimated that 40% of the sexually active population is HIV positive. In addition, the residents of Kisumu are plagued by the multitude of issues that are brought on by poverty.
In 2006, voices for umoja and its partners began providing basic training in video and photography the young people of Kisumu and invited them to use the media in creative ways to communicate about the issues they face, as seen through their own eyes. Using donated video and still camera equipment, these young people were given the opportunity to use media to voice their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. Since then, the trainings have continued and expanded. In 2007 voices for umoja brought a Hollywood screenwriter to Kisumu to teach intensive one-week screenwriting workshops. Trainings in photography and video continued in schools, community centers, with youth groups, HIV-positive support and advocacy groups, and informally with community members. With the belief that communication leads to social change, voices for umoja has exhibited these projects to audiences in Kisumu and beyond. This showcase has given the world an opportunity to hear the voices of Kisumu youth.
Voices for umoja and its partners have worked together to create a cross-cultural exchange between youth in the Kisumu area and students at Oakwood School in Los Angeles, CA through internet and postal mail. Voices for umoja and its partners worked with the Columbia University Partnership for International Development (CUPID) to facilitate an internship program through which a multidisciplinary tear of six Columbia University students traveled to Kisumu and worked closely with community members for six weeks in the summer of 2007. The goal of these programs is to give individuals the opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other in an effort to build community across borders.
In the last year, the town has undergone a social transformation over as it grappled with the effects of a bitterly contested presidential election that resulted in extreme cases of violence. Unfortunately, the women and children bore the brunt of the violence. Given that the society is patriarchal in nature, many women were victims of sexual violence, others lost property, while still others lost their breadwinners in the violence and since have been exposed to increased poverty and ill health. At this time of economic recession, the country is unable to adequately provide its people with basic needs and food prices continue to skyrocket. This has lead to cases of increased incidences of HIV/AIDS and food insecurity as women are forced to use various means to make ends meet. Following the trauma, fear, and injustice of the 2007 elections and their aftermath, there is a need for the people of Kisumu to be given the opportunity to have their voices heard, now more than ever.
Given the economic challenges facing the community, voices for umoja and its partners have facilitated trainings and networking for groups comprised of primarily women in the Kisumu area in an effort to develop viable and sustainable income generating projects to assist them in providing livelihood for both their families and orphans in the community. Through these trainings, the Opuk Jakinda Cooperative was born. Opuk Jakinda Cooperative makes marketable products such as jewelry, paper products, and woven mats from recycled materials and the water hyacinth plant, a plant that spreads over Lake Victoria at an alarming rate and is linked to increases in vector borne diseases, reduced supply of clean potable water, blocking irrigation canals, and a decrease in biodiversity. Voices for umoja is working to connect this cooperative and others with partners in the U.S. to earn them a fair wage.
Voices for umoja is an active member of the Coalition for a Sustainable Africa.