“Before I joined the Community of Practice, I didn’t know that, as an African, I could be a partner, rather than a recipient of services. So the mentality was that it is only the western countries that can… that they are superior to us. But during my participation in this project, I have found myself more of a partner rather than on the receiving end… Moving forward, if I was to engage with a white person, I would not see myself as on the receiving end. In the future, maybe my organisation can support an organisation in Wales – that is how much I have changed my thinking.”
Lucy Nkatha, Kiengu Women Challenged to Challenge
Lucy Nkatha is based in Meru, Kenya, and champions the rights of women and girls with disabilities. Having worked with a large international NGO, she is now the Coordinator of Kiengu Women Challenged to Challenge, and is the Chair of the Anti-Racism Community of Practice. This group is hosted by Hub Cymru Africa with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office through the Small Charities Challenge Fund Capacity Development Grant, and from Welsh Government’s Wales and Africa programme. It is open to individuals, trustees, organisations and groups based in Wales or a country in Africa.
The Anti-Racism Community of Practice is an informal group that meets online every six-to-eight weeks to discuss and reflect on the impact of racism in the global solidarity sector. Open to the Wales and Africa community, the group sees small and micro charities in Wales attend with their partners in Sub-Saharan African countries alongside civil society staff and volunteers from African or other British countries. Members support each other to recognise and challenge racism in our work. Each live session reflects on a charter point from Hub Cymru Africa’s Anti-Racism Charter.
Members find the Community of Practice a supportive space for reflection and for facilitating peer learning on challenging topics. For many taking part in the group, these frank conversations have supported Welsh charities with best practices through understanding the experiences of African-based organisations and individuals, which inform their work. For example, the November meeting covered Charter Point 5 of the Anti-Racism Charter:
We are an organisation that welcomes critical feedback, with a view to learning and improving our work. We will act without defensiveness or negative repercussions for those highlighting racist or colonial practices and create accountability mechanisms within our work.
Charter Point 5, Anti-Racism Charter
When discussing Charter Point 5, a group member noted that the Community of Practice was a platform for her to learn from others, and investigate how her organisation can realise the anti-racism commitments made by her board. Another member noted, “Now I understand better how to use feedback mechanisms – where people can give feedback without fearing negative consequences.”
This chimes with a recent survey where the members who gave feedback commented that “sharing experiences,” “grassroots women come together and exchange ideas” and “equal treatment to all members/participants” were what made the group a success.
An expert in equality and access for people with disabilities, Lucy, as Chair, has managed the agenda for group meetings and facilitated peer-led conversations on topics such as: power, privilege and race; challenging micro-aggressions and assumptions; and recognising and prioritising Black and African expertise.
In a recent interview with Hub Cymru Africa, she shared that, before joining the group, she had had negative experiences of working with international organisations, where European staff were dismissive and treated her disrespectfully when visiting the Kenyan office. Talking about her assumptions from that experience, Lucy said she used to think, “Oh! It is the whites, they are like that.”
Growing up and working with international NGOs, Lucy also felt that “when sponsorship would come, it was all about the white person. We would have to write them letters and give them presents and pictures so that they would support our children with education.”
Her views have shifted, however, since taking part in the Community of Practice, where members based in both Wales and African countries have learned from each other through feeling safe to share their views and experiences of racism and how to address it frankly and respectfully: “The difference is that I have gained confidence. Before, I worried that if I spoke out, that would be the end of it. But in this group, I am working with an organisation in Wales and I feel I am able to raise an issue, speak out and give my views on what I feel is not going well and what can be done better.”
This has resulted in Lucy taking the lead on new initiatives such as gaining financial support within Kenya to ensure access to education for the children of women with disabilities. “I could not think like that before… yes we can support, but I would think, Ah! That’s the work of the mzungu… through this Community of Practice, I have changed my mindset so much, that now I am able to gain support from my government and mobilise my members.”
This change of perspective has resulted in Lucy taking further steps within her own organisation that she would not have taken before. “I have put in an application for my organisation to partner with an international organisation… before, I would not have thought of doing this.” Similarly, Lucy has successfully applied for an additional paid role as Programme Coordinator of Share our Stories, a project run by Disability in Wales and Africa. Lucy attributed these positive steps to an increase in confidence as a result of the experience gained through being the group’s Chair.
On the subject of addressing internalised racism – defined by the epidemiologist Camara Phyllis Jones as “acceptance by members of stigmatised races of negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth” – Lucy said, “Don’t you think that if we change the mindset of 20 people in Africa, it will be easier to work with us… Because you will have people coming to the table as partners, and not recipients.”
As Chair, when considering recommendations for the Community of Practice, Lucy would like to see financial support to cover the costs of internet access for African development workers, allowing equitable access to engaging with the group. This corresponds to the drop-off that Hub Cymru Africa has seen in membership of the group from Africa. African members have fed back to the Chair that costs to access the internet are a barrier.
Hub Cymru Africa encourages Welsh organisations who work with African partners to consider the importance and value of making space within budgets to support non-project costs and partnership-building such as data to access training, networking and information-sharing opportunities.
Hub Cymru Africa hosts four Communities of Practice on the themes of Gender, Anti-Racism, Fundraising, and Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL). If you are interested in joining this or any other group for free, use this form to register to join a Wales Africa Community of Practice.
Screenshot from an online meeting of the Anti-Racism Community of Practice, September 2022. Clockwise from top left: Lucy Nkatha, Chair; Cath Moulogo (Hub Cymru Africa), Co-host; Sophie Kange (Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations), Guest Speaker; Lena Fritsch (Hub Cymru Africa), Co-host