I’ve been working at GRAG for a few weeks now and I feel I can safely say that this is a really, really interesting, cool organization. And perhaps a model of work I’d like to do in the future. GRAG is a team of highly qualified people from a variety of backgrounds, attracted to the idea of doing research on and then advocating for vulnerable populations. Through years of experience researching vulnerable populations, the GRAG team are extremely informed about the problems that people in vulnerable groups face, as well as pertinent information about the social and political climate in which these vulnerable populations must work. Members of the GRAG team all seem to have their hands in many different projects at once; the one I’m working on being the Learning Center for vulnerable populations.
When I heard that GRAG was going to build a learning center for these populations, my first reaction was: “What? Why?” Knowing that homosexual relations are illegal in Senegal, that vast numbers of female sex workers are unregistered and therefore more at risk of getting an STI, and that hundreds of talibe boys roam the streets hungry every day, why did GRAG want to spend their time and resources on a learning center?
Now, of course, I have done a 180. Why a learning center? Because the potential value that this learning center could add to vulnerable populations in Senegal is tremendous. Our hopes for this center are not limited to just to training individuals in advocacy and other topics directly of use. Through mastery of the skills that this center will focus on, it is our hope that members of these populations will be able to reintegrate into the workforce as productive members of society. In this way, these vulnerable groups will become not just visible, but powerful in their circles, and in seeing their example, other segments of society will be able to recognize that though members of stigmatized groups, these individuals have dignity and are valuable to Senegalese society. In this way, GRAG hopes this learning center will be a catalyst for reversing the dehumanizing societal perceptions that come with being a member of a stigmatized group.
This will undoubtedly happen slowly. Reversing longstanding stigmatization as well as legal and religious barriers to acceptance will take years if not generations. But I believe that this is some of the most important work the development industry can do. Empowering some of the most disempowered in a society. Enabling voices to be heard and stories to be told.
A lot of crap goes on in the development industries. It is often this that we Development Studies kids study at Brown. So it is heartening to know that there are organizations who have dedicated people, bent on pursuing problems and dealing with core issues. I’m not saying GRAG doesn’t have its faults – as of yet all the GRAG staff are not members of vulnerable groups. It isn’t perfect. But it’s pretty damn good.