Meet the Team - Fortunate Paska
Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung is made up of hundreds of talented, devoted team players from numerous backgrounds and cultures. It is with that spirit that from time to time we want to highlight those team members who make HRNS what it is today. In our first installment of "Meet the Team" we introduce you to Fortunate Paska, our Gender Expert on the ground in Uganda.
HRNS Communications: Fortunate if you would just take a moment to introduce yourself, how long you have been at Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), and just to give us a little bit of an introduction please.
Fortunate Paska: Thank you for the question. My name is Fortunate Paska. I have worked with HRNS since 2011 as a Gender Expert. My key role is to ensure that gender is mainstreamed both at the organizational and project level. I have worked for more than 15 years now in different organizations, focused on gender and women’s rights and that has given me the experience and the knowledge for this line of work. I started my career as a teacher but somehow along the way I found myself more into social work.
HRNS: You are a teacher! That explains the background, seeing the video and hearing about you giving training, it seemed teaching was something that comes natural to you but clearly it is also a profession that you have practiced. Can you give us a little bit of your history, in terms of where you are from, what part of Uganda, and where your roots are?
FP: I come from Uganda, the western part; near the border of Tanzania and Rwanda. I am the third born of nine children. My family background had a huge influence on who I am today and the kind of work I do. My parents were leaders both in the church and in the community. My mother was the head of the married groups and head of the women’s’ club. I used to see many people flood our home all the time seeking counseling, help and support because of different issues. As a child they would say “Go away don’t listen to this, this is for big people,” but somehow we would get to know what the discussions were all about. Majority of the people that used to come home were women. I grew up with the desire to change this kind of situation and see families and communities improve themselves.
I also got the opportunity to teach at one of the big schools in Kampala [which was] a mixed day school after I graduated. I was a young teacher but somehow I always found myself with students, especially girls. They usually came to me with different challenges. I discovered that most of the children were from either single mothers or broken families. Eventually I landed in an organization that was doing family life education in schools offering counseling for young girls and providing life skills training. They trained us in life skills, counseling and women’s rights. It was at that time that I got the opportunity to complete a Masters in Gender and Human Rights at Makerere University, thanks to Horizont3000 an Austrian Development Organization. This shaped my whole foundation on gender and women’s rights. All the work I have been doing has revolved around issues to do with gender and women’s rights up to this day.
HRNS: Thank you for sharing. At HRNS we work with farmers so I am wondering what your personal relationship to farming is? When were you introduced to coffee farming? Did you grow up with farming?
FP: As I said, I come from the western part of Uganda and we grow a lot of coffee. We also raise cattle and other animals. I grew up working with my parents on our small coffee farm. It was approximately 4 acres but mixed with bananas since it is the most important food crop in our region. Our coffee enabled my parents to pay our school fees. In my previous job, I also worked on gender issues in agriculture but mainly at policy level. In fact, when I saw the advert for this job, I knew that this was my sign. Coincidentally, I had just came from the CEDAW Committee sitting in Geneva where we presented an alternative report on the progress on how Uganda is implementing the rights of women. The issue of gender inequalities in agriculture was one of the key issues that we raised in our alternative report. The job advert was just a nudge in the right direction; this was an opportunity for me to deal with these issues directly.
HRNS: Very interesting! The key points we take from what you are saying is the fact that your parents were a team and they communicated, there was a lot of transparency, and having the opportunity of exposure and interacting with other people, engaging is what shaped you. You told us about what you do and what your task is. What would be interesting is to know how you do it. If you could take us through a day or the key aspects of your job: for example the couple seminars, trainings, who you are talking to. To give an idea to someone who is not in the office with you what you do and how you achieve the goals that you have for gender mainstreaming within the organization and at project level.
FP: One of the key things that I do in the organization is gender mainstreaming. This is to ensure that tools and strategies are developed to help in mainstreaming gender in the organization. The starting point was coming up with a gender strategy. In our strategy we focus on two aspects, how to mainstream gender at project and organizational level. We build the capacity of our staff to be able to integrate gender in their work. At project level we adopted a household approach that promotes joint planning and decision of the resources and income in the household. Couple seminars are strong pillars in this approach.
HRNS: Would you mind explaining what a couple seminar is?
FP: Oh yes, a couple seminar is a meeting that is organized for our farmer households at village level. Usually farmers attend as a couple. What normally takes place in a couple seminars is a discussion around the issues that affect the household using simple gender tools. We divide couples in groups: men and women separate, to discuss the household situation in terms of the work done, resources utilization and decision making. In the plenary, each group shares the outcome of their discussions. From the discussions, couples discover on their own that there is an inequality in the sharing of roles, the distribution or resources and decision-making. Those who feel that the message has sank and they want to see change happen in their household, pledge to change and we recognize them. We follow them up to the next step. We move with them for three months to see how they implement some of those actions, after which we focus on how they can mentor other households through training.
HRNS: In your work, you meet many people, from donor representatives/donor officials, the farmers that we work with, community leaders, government officials. I am sure you have many memorable encounters. Can you share one that comes to mind where you say, “This is why I get up in the morning!”
FP: There is an experience I will share with you, which give me joy and the energy every morning to go to work. We had traveled to Masaka visiting one of the communities and it was my first time to visit that household. They had a very big farm like 4 acres of coffee but they did not have any money to treat the sick child we found. Together with the gender officer, we discussed the situation in their household and introduced them to household visioning and planning. The gender officer later informed me that the family had made tremendous progress in their standard of living. Having contributed to a positive change in someone’s life is the best feeling ever.
HRNS: I think you have already talked about it, but we would like to dig a little deeper. If you look at our work, if you look at our gender work what do you think the impact that we are having is? If you were to boil it down to one or two things, what is it that you would say?
FP: We have created a lot of impact especially in the communities and people embrace our concept. You see big improvements in the livelihoods of the farmer household’s aspects such as quality of housing structures, family assets, solar energy installation, children’s education, medical care and food security.
Our impact goes beyond the household level to the entire coffee value chain. A few years ago, gender was not an issue; today it is common knowledge that gender is one of the most sought after aspect in the coffee industry. The coffee sector overall is becoming cognizant of the economic implications of gender inequality and many efforts are geared towards gender equality. Very important to note, that when it comes to gender in coffee, HRNS is the reference point in Uganda. That recognition and appreciation of what we do and how we try to make small changes is what drives me.
HRNS: Would you say that is something only in the private sector or also within government organs/institutions?
FP: We work closely with Uganda Coffee Development Authority, they recognize our strength on gender issues. During the Inter African Coffee Organisation (IACO) conference that was held in Uganda in 2015, I was invited to make a presentation on our gender work. We also work closely with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, in terms of our participation in women’s day celebrations both at national and local levels .We contributed articles in their magazine. I also serve on the Executive Committee of African Fine Coffees Association Uganda Chapter, a function that has enabled me to gain greater knowledge in policy decision of the coffee supply chain
HRNS: You have given us so much wonderful information, so rich. The outlook is also important so we would like to know what the one thing is that you still want to reach or do. It can be one thing or it can be more.
FP: One thing I would like to see happening is gender being mainstreamed in all program components not being treated as an isolated category. What I mean is that every aspect of the coffee value chain, let every programming that is done within the coffee value chain address the gender aspects not bring gender as a by the way or as an afterthought. So every planning, every stage, gender issues must be analyzed and taken care of – from the planning up to the end.
HRNS: Is there anything that you would like to add?
FP: Gender work requires a lot of patience since you deal with deep-rooted cultures, but with this kind of household approach, miracles happen. This is a magic bullet; it takes a relatively short time for someone to realize that there is a problem and decide to do things differently, which gives me a lot of hope as you see households getting better and better. I have found this rewarding. For sure, I will ever be grateful to HRNS for giving me the opportunity to do what I love most.
HRNS: Fortunate thank you so much for all you have said. You are also an inspiration to many inside the foundation as well as many others aspiring to be just like you.