Working with MenEngage Alliance from Uganda to ‘Global’
Earlier this year, Solomy Awiidi from Uganda joined the MenEngage Alliance Global Secretariat in Washington DC for a professional placement as part of her Hubert H. Humphrey fellowship. The fellowship is a USA initiative that supports young professionals from around the world to take part in a ten-month program of studying and professional development in the USA. In this blog post, Solomy reflects on her time with MenEngage Alliance.
It is often said that you seldom relive an exact same day twice, but I have surely re-lived a number of days – maybe not literally, but something close. Sitting on the top floor of the Connecticut Avenue Building in Washington DC was one of those déjà vu moments for me – evoking the same feelings I had on my first day of my law degree at the Law Development Center in Uganda – suited up, enthusiastic, nervous, but feeling somewhat out of place, as if I didn’t belong. My Hubert H. Humphrey fellowship gave me an incredible opportunity to study and work in the US, but I had never imagined I would have an opportunity to be part of the MenEngage Alliance Global Secretariat.
Previously, I had been involved in MenEngage Uganda Network (UgaMEN) and I am an Alumnus of the MenEngage Africa Training Initiative (MATI) – a capacity building course by MenEngage Africa and coordinated by Sonke Gender Justice designed to provide knowledge and skills in the field of working with men and boys. I therefore knew of ‘Global’ (a term fondly used to refer to the Global Secretariat of MenEngage Alliance in Washington, DC), but I had never paid much attention to it. So how did I end up spending five months as part of the ‘Global’ team? The opportunity came after I reached out to the North American MenEngage Network (NAMEN) enquiring about volunteer positions with them, as I wanted to continue my work with MenEngage Alliance but this time on another continent.
It was with great excitement that I received an encouraging response from the NAMEN coordinator who introduced me to the staff of the Global Secretariat, some of whom are based in Washington DC – which was perfect, as that is where I was already based for my Hubert H. Humphrey fellowship. I was able to meet with individual staff members who spoke about their interesting roles and work at the MenEngage Global Secretariat, which inspired me to apply for an internship with them.
From the very first day with the Secretariat, everyone welcomed me as a member of the team and genuinely expected me to make a contribution. I hit the ground running, there was a lot to learn – coupled with the pressure of the work experience in Washington DC I had to learn about MenEngage Alliance beyond Uganda. The opportunity to learn how to work with teams across the globe amidst the complexities that gender presents in various parts of the world; coordinating and working with members at regional and international levels as well as participating in meetings and conferences, while experiencing the work of MenEngage Alliance members and partners from a unique viewpoint was all exciting for me.
The experience helped me better understand the incredible reach of the Alliance’s work, the need for effective communication from members to the Secretariat as well as from the Secretariat to members, and the role this plays in policy advocacy from the corridors of New York to Geneva. It made me realize that networking and communication within the Alliance is not trivial but rather vital to the planning and innovation required in carrying forward the mission of the network.
When I took on my internship at the Global Secretariat, I was looking for a challenge – and it was indeed a challenge. I eventually got involved in highly significant tasks, the most memorable one being analysing and making recommendations for the language used in prospective policies on women’s rights and gender equality. Comprehending this new task kept me up some nights owing to how unfamiliar it was to me, but the patience with which I was taught and encouraged enabled me to learn. My time at the Global Secretariat was a rollercoaster – it is close to impossible to give an account of an average day as every single day brought something different. No single day was the same and the ability to respond to matters as they arose, while staying on course with one’s tasks, is a skill the team have developed quite well and an experience I will carry with me.
The work—meaningful as it was—was only a small part of what made my experience so special. The dedication of the Global Secretariat staff – both to their job and their fellow employees (including the intern) – is something I will never forget. Everyone I met, from individual MenEngage Alliance members from across the globe to the staff team, the board and partners, helped me grow in one way or another, both as an ‘employee’ and as a person. I always had someone to turn to with the many questions I had. Time and again, my supervisor talked with me about my ambitions and struggles, not because he felt obligated, but because he truly cared.
There are many reasons I value my internship at the MenEngage Global Secretariat, but perhaps none is more significant than being a part of something bigger than myself. The important work done there, the networking and advocacy, were tests I met and, to me, these are opportunities for self-reflection and growth with the potential to change one’s life. It has certainly changed mine.