“It is possible to do great things if you decide to work hard.”
It is 8 a.m. and Paulina Sumayani, the Executive Director of TEMBO Trust, is already hard at work. This morning, she is meeting with a new girl who has come to TEMBO to get ready for school. Paulina takes the time to explain details to her parents while helping to adjust the girl’s school tie. Paulina knows all too well the mixed emotions of heading off to secondary school for the first time: “My father did not want me to go to school but my mother supported me and my brother helped me to get that opportunity. Now, I want to see girls in my community getting the same opportunity .”
Later in the morning, she gathers under an Acacia tree to meet with a group of women in the microfinance program. She understands that it is hard for these women to make time for meetings. After all, “women in our community manage the families. They take care of children, they look for food for the whole family, they go to the bush and collect fire wood and fetch water.” But the women make time for these meetings, because under Paulina’s guidance, they learn basic business skills, exchange ideas and receive encouragement.
Since joining TEMBO Trust in 2009, Paulina has spearheaded the women’s micro-finance program for more than 150 women in Longido District. As a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment, she strongly believes in women having the opportunity to become involved in decision-making. Paulina notes that ‘If a man wants to sell a cow or goat, most do not involve their wives.” She also points out that “women do not own properties in the family; cows, goats and land belong to the head of the family – the man. Even when the situation is really difficult, women cannot sell a goat and buy food for the children.” When a woman has her own successful small business, she is able to start to make some decisions.
Where does Paulina find the inspiration to do her work? “I am from the same culture. I understand the challenges and difficulties that women are going through.” As a university graduate with a degree in sociology and a specialization in community development, she believes her education is directly related to the issues she faces in her work with TEMBO Trust.
On International Women’s Day, Paulina’s message reflects this year’s theme: Be Bold for Change. She wants all girls and women to know that “It is possible to do great things if you decide to work hard. I want them to know that people make mistakes but they do not have to lose hope and focus on them, they have to move forward and look for another opportunity.”