A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing Diesa Seidel, the founding director of United Initiatives for Peace, a global non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the lives of girls and women by promoting higher education, offering creative recreational programs, and encouraging grassroots social reform.
We talked for about an hour, so I’ve broken the interview into three posts. Part 1 describes four of her five programs, Part 2 is about the fifth program, and in Part 3 Diesa talks about what she’s learned about starting and running a non-profit organization.
Aside from removing discourse particles and some of the content, these posts are largely transcriptions of my recording of the interview.
Girls’ Reform through Artistic Creative Empowerment
KELLY: So how did you develop the curriculum for the G.R.A.C.E. program?
DIESA: It just kind of unfolded. And I think it’s constantly being revised and changing to this day. And from community to community as well.
One of the main things is having them identify issues in their communities that they want to change. And just because they’re 15 doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference. So not waiting until they’re 45 to feel like they can be a leader, understanding what they’re capable of doing now, and then three years from now, and then forever more.
So what we do is we have them identify things they want to change, and then we create an action plan for that. Okay, well what’s step one? Who’s going to be involved? Who do we need help with, what supplies do we need, how much is it going to cost? How can we raise the money?
So we have it all outlined for them as an action plan so they understand once you have an idea that’s the first step and then how do you implement that idea, that’s what makes things effective. Just so they have that understanding of how to become their own community organizer.
KELLY: So they can do it after you’re gone.
DIESA: Exactly. So that’s part of the program. And then, of course we’re there, so we’re there to be their sponsors, and also explain to them you’re not always going to have us to be your free ticket, to buy your supplies or to help you organize it, so who else can you go to with your ideas and to get it done and get it funded.
‘Cause sometimes all it takes is volunteers, you don’t need any money. Or everyone can contribute something. And just as far as getting sponsors and asking people to offer their, their professional services, whether they’re a carpenter, or they own a store that owns something you need for your project to have them be a sponsor because it’s for the community. And just, you know, how to approach people like that. So then once they identify what they want to do, how they’re going to do it, and then we actually do the service project together.
So, in Nepal, one of the groups, they wanted to paint like their playground wall. It was just like this really gray, grim brick wall. So they just painted it all different colors so it just looked beautiful. And they all pretty much agreed on that right away.
And then the other group wanted to do some beautification projects on their school grounds, so we did like a whole garbage clean-up, and planted flowers. Those were the main things. And then just understanding, like, okay that’s great. We can get volunteers and we can pick up garbage, but how can we prevent the garbage from building up? And then just being aware of their actions and how it affects the environment and their community. It’s one thing to make sure that we don’t litter, but how we can encourage others to realize the damages that litter causes, and just visually.
And then I go through the 30 human rights and how they were created and what each one means and realizing that everyone has human rights and this is what they are and what each one means. And that obviously these are for each individual girl, but it’s also our responsibility to make sure others are protected. And who do you go to if you see somebody’s rights being violated? And just letting them know it’s their right to be educated. It’s their right to choose who they marry.
And just being aware of these global laws and how they’re violated every day. And that it’s not okay just because governments in the world don’t respect them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. And if there’s human rights violations, who to go to and what steps to take to make sure that that’s taken care of.
And then another project, game, activity that we do is Create a Nation, which is one of my favorites. So that’s a little more artistic. First they brainstorm in groups, and then we give them big construction paper and like markers and crayons, whatever they want. And basically the purpose of the project is for them to kind of erase everything that they’ve learned about society, or a country, or the world, and to create their own from whatever their imagination tells them.
So like if you had this ideal country, what would that society be like? And everything from like a political structure, you know, basic stuff, nothing like too in-depth obviously, ‘cause they’re like high school kids, but you’d be surprised how much…Um, but just like how serious they take it. Like, “This is what I would want.” And just how attuned that they are to these issues of equality and religious freedom and just what is fair.
And then how would that country sustain itself? What are your crops? What do you export, what do you import? What are your peace agreements? Do you have a military or how do you get along with others? What attracts others to your country? Do you have a tourism industry? You know, just different components of what makes up a society and a country. They can just be totally creative.
And I have like an outline, but I encourage them that that is just an outline and points that you can present but then you just run in whatever direction you want to go with. And then we’re there if they have questions or whatever but it’s really them doing everything. Then that always takes longer ‘cause then they always want to make every picture perfect and pretty, but that’s part of the fun.
And then once everyone’s done, then everyone presents it, and then the rest of the group asks questions at the end.
If you enjoyed this post, check out Part I about the other programs UIP delivers all over the world, and come back next Monday to learn about Diesa’s experiences starting and running a non-profit organization.