In light of International Day of Education on Monday 24 January, Good News Shared is showcasing inspiring organisations under this year’s theme of ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education.’ 

In keeping with the theme, WONDER is creating sustainable and transformative change in the lives of women and girls throughout the world. Established in 2012 as the Women’s Network for Development and Educational Resources (WONDER) with a mission to empower women and their communities through education – now ten years strong, they are driving the force for improving access to quality education for girls and women globally.

Set up ten years ago by a group of young women with roots from all over the world – some of whom were studying international development whilst others were volunteering in communities – who came together to make the world a better place. Co-founder and Director of Programmes and Policy, Olivia Darby, shares the inspiration behind the charity.

“We knew that there were projects in the countries which we have links to that were really effective. They were being run by amazing women who were really helping women and girls, but they weren’t part of the story because they didn’t know it or they didn’t have the right connections, or they didn’t have the time to build those connections. They weren’t being consulted on policy related, or practice related questions because they were too busy serving the women and girls in their communities. And that’s where WONDER came from. We really wanted to bring recognition to this amazing work that is being done by so many women, the amazing leadership that these women show, and to give them the chance to be heard, the chance to access the different types of resources that they might need. Whether that’s financial resources, or training – all of those kinds of things that we in this country take for granted. Whether it’s funding or for example, someone offering training in project management, or the importance of having a website. These things just don’t exist in a lot of the countries that we’re working in. And that’s kind of where it started from those humble beginnings and big dreams.“

Working with 27 women-led local organisations globally, WONDER never set out simply to educate women and girls but to give them the tools to be leaders in their own lives. Indeed, WONDER’s ‘Being and Belonging’ project aims to do just this by cementing young people as agents of change. 

Being and Belonging is a youth solidarity project led by young people to engage peers, decision-makers and influencers in discussions around migrant integration by posing two simple questions: Who am I to you? Who are you to me?

The project empowers young voices by giving them a chance to reflect on identity and overcome how we categorise ourselves and others as good and bad or non-migrants. Given that current policies place the burden of “integration” on migrants, the policies ignore the challenges migrants face in high-churn areas. As a result, this surface-level way of thinking outlines integration as the ability to function, as opposed to flourish, in a society. The problem is that the diverse experience of migrants and other populations affected by migration are not appropriately reflected.

The Being and Belonging project aims to address this problem by empowering young people affected by migration to successfully use their voices to affect change.

Olivia shares how WONDER migration became a key theme of exploration. “One of our partners is the Baytree Centre in Brixton which focuses on migrant women and girls. It became very clear to us that migration was one of these cross cutting issues, because of the projects we’re working with, for instance, projects in London that were working mainly with migrant and minority women, we were dealing with the consequences of migration there. But also on the other end, many of our projects were working in areas where people wanted to migrate for the chance to have a better life, which is a perfectly logical thing to want to do.”

Building upon this, WONDER received funding for the FATIMA project, a collaborative project between five NGOs supporting the empowerment and social integration of migrant women across four European countries. Even before this, WONDER published research called ‘Women Breaking the English Barrier’ looking at the challenges that women face to access language learning in the UK.

Olivia shares the importance of the youth solidarity project Being and Belonging. “It became very clear that we needed to have conversations about integration, and we needed people to really spend time reflecting on what that meant to them. And how that also is so important when it comes to our sense of identity – because it is identity, these kind of sets of ideas of what is normal that we cling on to that prevent us from crossing those divides. It’s looking at how we actually form meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds. Also, looking at the structures of power. How do we make policy? How do we have these discussions with people who have the ability to create change, recognising that we all have the ability to create change? How can we access other ways of creating change? And of course, understanding how these things work is very much something that comes from the environment you’ve grown up in, to a large extent. If your parents are talking about politics all the time, chances are you realise some stuff. But if your parents don’t understand how anything works, then you’re going to struggle with that.”

The project includes a policy competition whereby young people are given the chance to propose ideas for creating meaningful innovation, that is integration focusing on communities thriving together not just tolerating one another.

Women-led charity WONDER Foundation Empowers Young Voices Affected by Migration

Poorvika Mehra, a volunteer whose research inspired the Being and Belonging project shares the work she does with people between the ages of 16 to 25.

“We run programmes to help them be more sensitised to cultural differences, but also recognise their own underlying biases and the way that they view another person, keeping in mind, their perceived cultural background, and the knee jerk biases that all of us have when we think about being a migrant, or a person being Black or brown, or Roma, and the connotations that come with it. I never expected it to impact me in this way but I realised so much that I had biases as well because when you label a migrant as a good migrant, or some migrants as bad migrants, you’re again labelling them and there are biases that come with that as well and like grouping that occurs in your brain where you’re like, but ‘migration in general is good.’ The entire programme focused on sensitising young adults in that way, making them recognise that, you know, if you have these liberal biases, they might not be great either. And conservative biases aren’t great either. And everything in between biases in general are not the best when you’re talking about human interaction.”

“I think a project like Being and Belonging teaches you that change doesn’t have to be massive. It doesn’t have to be a movement that has a standing of a million people or 200,000 people. It can be a conversation between 20 people, right? And you go away learning something new about something. And, you know, the conversation helps you question the way you live your life. And then there’s a change right there. I think even the people who have participated have taken that away with them as well – the fact that you as an individual are an agent of change, and you can even affect a change in your immediate surroundings, for example. It might be a friend, it could be your mother, your family, it could be your school teacher, it could be anybody – the conversation you have is all you really need to start that process of change.“

To find out more about WONDER Foundation, click here.

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Uzma Gulbahar holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University College of London. She is particularly interested in exploring untold stories surrounding marginalised groups, identity and culture.

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