Summary of organization/program
Gashanti Unity is a group of young Somali women in Toronto. Our mission is to provide girls and young women a safe atmosphere to develop their gifts, abilities, and positive relationships. We do this through the provision of leadership and mentoring programs, consultation and information services; and through community capacity building and training and education.
- Greater Toronto Area
- Girls and young women (large emphasis on Somali girls and women)
In 2007 a small group of Somali women started connecting after meeting through various forms of community work and participation. We realized that there were many cool programs and initiatives happening in the city all aimed at engaging youth, but none of them addressing the specific needs of young Somali women. Our newly formed group decided to fill this void by creating spaces that were safe and accessible to young, Muslim women of colour. We began meeting weekly, and still do, to discuss some of the issues affecting our community across Toronto and back home in Somalia. In addition, we got more involved in projects like Schools Without Borders’ Blitz Camp and the Emerge program, SOYAT, the Toronto Youth Cabinet and others. We also gained foundational support from funding organizations such as the Youth Challenge Fund, helping to develop our capacity as a group and organization. Word started to spread in Somali community about Gashanti UNITY, and more and more Somali women started contacting us, wanting to join our movement.
Women have always represented strength and perseverance in the Somaili community. Somali women play a strong role in most of our families but they still raise their daughters to act like daughters or ‘Gashantis’. Our responsibilities as young women in our families and communities is to be proactive and empowered, at the same time being supportive to all those who need advice or a helping hand. Many of our young women and sisters, while encouraged to attain educational success and advancement, sometimes are limited in terms of recreational, social and artistic opportunities due to the lack of cultural relevance and sensitivity that exists in mainstream society. Our programs and events have become a window of opportunity for these Somali girls, whether they live in the east, west, north or south of Toronto.
Now our group has grown from our core of seven to over 40 girls that participate in our programs on a regular basis. We hope to help young Somali women develop their gifts, abilities, and positive relationships within their families and amongst the broader community. As for the future of Gashanti UNITY as an organization, we look forward to helping to create specific physical spaces to make room for female specific programming, and are excited to continue building a curriculum that speaks specifically to young women, giving us an opportunity to share our experiences while living in dual cultures across generations.
Dominant Media Forms
- Gashanti UNITY represents a voice for racialized, young women. We aim to enhance the ability for girls and young women’s to gain control over their lives by:
- Promoting social, emotional and behavioural competencies.
- Enhancing girls and young women’s resiliency by building their self esteem.
- Building life-skills, values and ethics, family involvement, mentor relationships and community attachments.
- Provide alternative activities and opportunities for law-abiding, drug-free behaviors, such as basketball activities, creative art, and more.
- Address underlying precursors of drug abuse and delinquency.
- Providing education and job skills training by linking to appropriate agencies.
- Through our relevant and innovative programs we address important issues that young Somaili women face every day. These include: racism, sexism, self teem, cultural alienation, issues leading to school drop out, Islamphopia, anger management, career planning, positive role models, family communication, developing self-control, stress-management, responsible decision-making, social problem-solving, and communication skills.
Statement of Principles
- Workshops and education sessions.
- Forums and conferences, and mentorship.
- Organizing activities to promote self-esteem and team building.
- We prevent peer pressure and isolation by:
- Organizing activities for girls and young women including, role playing, group discussions, and observing videotapes to help girls and young women to develop resistance skills and problem-solving skills.
- Fostering interpersonal and decision making skills which will help them choose alternatives to high risk behaviours by creating an atmosphere that helps with expressive, creative ways, including dialogue, poetry, singing, “Write a Story” contest, shah and sheeko, and more.
Samples of work
Each One Teach One
Gashanti UNITY partnered with Lost Lyrics, a hip hop education program to run the pilot project, Each One Teach One. This project worked with young women of colour between the ages of 18-30 from all over the city (Lawrence Heights, Teesdale, Chester Le, Malvern, Weston Mount Dennis, Jane-Finch and Parkdale) and provided spaces for them to share their experiences of exclusion from formal systems of education, employment, politics, and more. The collective of young women met once a week to engage and talk about these experiences of alienation and to develop collective strategies of resistance that takes the “Knowledge to the Streets.” While using creative methods such as, creative writing, poetry and reciting, art therapy and creative storytelling through, film, photography and theatre, these women were able to expose their realities and find ways of sharing their stories in an interactive way. The learnings from this pilot program are now being used to inform the curriculum of future Gashanti programs.
- Youth Challenge Fund
- Laidlaw Foundation
- Toronto Community Housing
- Schools Without Borders
- SIFE George Brown
- Tropicana Community Services
- Grassroots Youth Collaborative
- Girls Action Foundation
- Creating Leaders in Chester
(*For more info and links, visit here.)