Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

Girls’ Power Initiative, Benin City

09 Apr

When I arrived in Benin City, I wasn’t able to make calls with my mobile phone, so I was a bit nervous about dropping by the GPI office unexpectedly. Luckily, Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi had phoned to let them know that I would be coming that day.

When I got to the office, Phil, the Office Manager, gave me a warm welcome, showed me around, and introduced me to everyone. After informing me that Mrs. Osakue would be in later in the afternoon for a meeting that I was invited to attend, she helped me make phone calls to the other NGOs on my list to set up appointments. Given that I had no idea how to get around Benin City, she asked Ety, a GPI graduate and intern, to escort me.

Ety is a nineteen year old, shy but self-assured young woman who had successfully completed GPI’s three-year comprehensive girls’ education program, which focuses on reproductive health and rights and assertiveness. In her third year, she did an intervention on rape and incest in her mother’s village.

GPI’s girls’ education program reflects their vision of “educating girls into healthy, self-reliant, productive, and confident women for the achievement of positive changes and transformation of patriarchal values in Nigeria.” GPI also has research libraries and resource centers in the four states, and provides counseling and referral services for girls who are dealing with cases of rape, sexual abuse, family and relationship problems, and trafficking.

GPI’s anti-trafficking activities are preventative in nature. According to Mrs. Osakue, girls who go through comprehensive sex education are better able to resist trafficking because of the self awareness, coping skills, and assertiveness that they learn. GPI is concerned about trafficking in both its internal and external forms. The offices Akwa-Ibom and Delta States work on internal trafficking. Mrs. Osakue pointed out that despite the fact that external trafficking gets more attention, internal trafficking may actually be worse because “the girl trafficked to Europe usually doesn’t die, and is at least able to earn money, but the girl trafficked internally only gets N7500 ($55) for a whole year of exploitation.”

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Apr 9th, 2007