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Author Archives: Karen Chalamilla

Author: Karen Chalamilla

Gender and Media Consultant

How storytelling can (re)shape African Philanthropy narratives

I want to start with the idea of roles- that everything has its place in an ecosystem and for this ecosystem to function optimally everyone has to pick a part to play and be diligent about it. When I consider the philanthropy ecosystem, there is community led development, advocacy work, work on policy change, grant-making, among many other parts. There is also storytelling. Here, I want to make the case for storytelling, (and by extension storytellers) as an essential cog in the philanthropy machine.


Storytelling in Africa runs really deep. Historically, narrative making, sharing and archiving holds a central role in our cultures. We’ve used it to remember events, to teach and warn future generations, to celebrate, to mourn, among many other things. So, when I talk about its role in philanthropy, we would like us to consider that it’s as indigenous to our culture as philanthropy is itself.


On the 2nd day of the 2022 APN Assembly, Dr Awino Okech the assembly moderator talked about this tension in the philanthropy landscape between meeting immediate material needs of communities and the broader issues that we need to consider. That there seems to be a gap of sorts between what some consider to be urgent to the survival of African people, and the long-term work required to make the changes that would eliminate these barriers to survival. I’m of the mind that the shaping and reshaping of narratives can be a great conduit to exploring both these ideas and having them converge into parallel work.



The dominant narratives and stories told about Africa and Africans are still largely dictated by what we know to be formal media. It’s fair to say that for the most part, formal media still runs on archaic ideas of what is considered important news. According to research conducted by Africa No Filter (2021)majority of news stories in the media still take one of two forms; either they perpetuate a victim mindset that the continent is nothing but a well of poverty and suffering, or that politics and socio-political crises are crux of the African experience. The research also confirms that is the case when it comes to news both written by Western media houses, as well as African journalists on the continent- that the dominant narratives circulated domestically read similarly to those that we often criticise the West for.


When we can agree that the African experience is far more expansive than formal media gives it credit for, who are we saying said formal media is for? As the gap between the narratives portrayed, and those we know to be true widens, who benefits? And who loses out? What voices get to be heard and whose are silenced? And perhaps most importantly, what are the material implications of this dynamic?


Frankly, there seems to me a clear need to take the matter of shaping and (re)shaping these dominant narratives into our own hands. It does not seem like we can afford to let formal media dictate the dominant narrative any longer. When we talk about shifting the power (and really, we might consider taking the power), the way we represent ourselves is an imperative one.


I want to clarify that I’m not advocating for the replacement of “bad” stories with “good” ones- to frame the continent as a hub of never-ending joy would also be mis presentative. I believe the stories we tell about ourselves can either catalyse change or they can keep us stagnant. If we’re not telling ourselves the actual truth, good bad and ugly, the celebrations as well as criticisms, we won’t give ourselves a fair chance at tackling a lot of the development challenges that were discussed in the three day-long APN Assembly in Entebbe Uganda.


Consider the story we heard from Theo Sowa during her opening keynote about women on the ground during the crisis in Liberia not getting their dues and the necessary funding to continue their work. There are undoubtedly a lot of other systematic issues that hinder groups like women from getting necessarily funding, but one of them is certainly that their efforts are not well documented. We compromise our chances of handling these crises effectively enough when there is no adequate documentation of who has the know- how. It’s not simply about accurate representation, but how that accuracy can in turn result into necessary action.


There are many examples of this. APN and Urgent Action Fund-Africa for instance, recently collaborated on a project that highlighted feminist responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a compilation of reflections by feminist organisations that worked tirelessly (with the support of feminist grant makers) to mitigate the community challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. The stories shared in the chapbook offer an insight into what might happen when there is clear identification of those doing the ground work are given support to do said work. Documenting this process offers blueprints of some sort into how we might approach similar crises in the future; what strategies have worked, and what we ought to leave behind. And in this way, the storytelling is able to be both a means for immediate action, and a roadmap for sustainable change.




Storytelling is important work. It is work that can help identify what our needs are in real time and it is work that can help us imagine what our futures could look like. When we talk about philanthropy as a means to solve the broader issues on the continent, it is imperative that we centre storytelling via imagination.


And of course, this can take on many forms. African cultures have always been expansive in their storytelling. Oral traditions, theatre, art, music, literature, in their traditional as well as more modern forms, are great ways to (re)shape these narratives that we speak of. It is up to us to be innovative in the mediums that we choose to tell our stories so that they might be as accurate and impactful as possible. For youth, this is where we might look to the past. How have our elders shared their stories in the past- the documenting that we have benefited from until today? How might we learn from them? And how might we tweak to fit what works for our current landscape?

It is important to think carefully about what stories we have the right to tell. Put simply, not every story is ours to tell. We all have many converging identities that shape who we are and how we experience the world. All of these identities and experiences- our gender, our class, our sexuality, where we grew up, how we received education- equip us with intimate knowledge to tell some stories better than we can others. If I tried to tell a story I do not know well about, or people I am not in community with, I might find myself committing the same crime that the West is charged when they talk for us or decide what our experiences and needs are for us.




It need not be the job of a few people to carry the mantle of narrative making for the whole continent. We all ought to be keener about integrating storytelling into our philanthropic processes for more authentic representation, celebration and critique of our community development. Lest we let outdated and inaccurate ideas of ourselves run rampant.


By Karen Chalamilla, Gender and Media Consultant



Gender-based violence (GBV) has reached at the crisis level in Tanzania, adversely affecting women and girls. According to the 2019 Ministry of Health Study on Gender, 40.1 per cent of women experienced physical violence, while 13.8 per cent experienced sexual violence in adult life and only 27 percent arrived at health facilities within 72 hours. “Incidents such as wife-beating, men insulting women, grabbing their land, throwing things at them, are also on the rise in our communities,” noted a gender expert, Michael Thoshiba in an exclusive interview.

However, through legal aid and paralegal (a person who is not a lawyer but trained on basic legal issues to assist community members in resolving disrupts or to refer complicated issues to proper authorities) services which are widely available in almost all the districts of Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, victims of GVB incidents are assisted to secure their rights.

In Conversation With: Junayna Al Sheiban from Tanzania Feminist Collective

In Feminism Is For Everybody bell hooks talks about consciousness-raising groups, where women would organise to meet and discuss matters of sexism and patriarchy. These would often be someone’s house, a café, anywhere that could safely host a group. The idea was that in order to fight the patriarchy, one would need to learn how it worked and affected them. In the last few decades, these sites have become more expansive, finding homes on various corners of internet and inviting larger groups of women to learn from each other. One such site is the recently founded Tanzania Feminist Collective, which consists of women and non-binary people, with the “goal of wanting to provide education on rape culture, misogyny, women’s rights, and the nuances surrounding bigotry and how this is harmful to the fabric of Tanzanian society.”


National responses for the COVID-19 pandemic have not focused on those on the margins of society; among which are girls and women. Given this fact, creating space to express the gendered impacts of the pandemic felt necessary. Moreover, sharing some of the strategies that have been adopted by grant-making organizations that center to mitigate these impacts are imperative.

The fact of the matter is that information on the pandemic as well as data on those affected pandemic has not been readily available, which makes gender specific information on disproportional impacts on girls and women even more limited. This is not only concerning as it gets is the way of current mitigation, but also poses a challenge for post-pandemic community building efforts. The panelists all seemed to echo the matter of fact that when we speak of protecting girls and women, there needs to be a deliberate focus on them if we are to ensure they do not go unnoticed during and after the pandemic.

Current responses such as lockdowns and other movement restrictions like curfews, although deemed necessary have proven to have adverse effects on women. The stay-at-home mandate as well as the closing of schools has seen most girls at a greater risk of domestic violence as well as sexual assault in their homes. Ruth Meena from Women Fund Tanzania Trust reported 100 and 194 schoolgirl pregnancies in the regions of Tunduru and Shinyanga respectively. Also, 703 Gender Based Violence (GBV) have been so far reported across the country.

Tariro Tandi of Urgent Action Fund-Africa reminds us for most women, access to reproductive health services has become limited, thus making it harder for them to mitigate any of the violence- sexual or otherwise- they might be subjected to. According to UN women it is also important to remember that 89% of women’s employment across sub-Saharan Africa is informal (vendors, domestic work, sex work) and requires mobility as well as social interaction, which has been hindered by responses restricting movement. The gendered expectation for girls to help with house chores have also rendered them as fulltime caretakers and homemakers, with little time to focus on their studies and other self-growth engagements.

The increase in surveillance in order to enforce the lockdown restrictions has made some women more vulnerable by policing their movement. Human rights activists, women who rely on fleeing for protection against violence of any kind have now been put at greater risk. This is not exhaustive of the impacts that girls and women have been and will continue to go through, but it does begin to give us an idea of the disproportion.

Perhaps the most important takeaways from the discussion for me were the approaches to coming up with mitigation strategies. Firstly, the idea that even within the margins there reside women who are further marginalized via intersecting identities. That any strategy that claims to prioritize women needs to be inclusive of women in rural areas, gender non-conforming women, disabled women, LGBTQIA+ women. Secondly, that mitigating strategies need to go beyond material needs if they are to be truly impactful.

Tariro Tandi talks about the need to consider healing through ensuring psychosocial support services that address the emotional and mental trauma that many women will have endured through the pandemic are available and accessible. Also, guaranteeing that girls and women’s voices are genuinely heard so that their needs and demands are highlighted. And that they may have agency in the kinds of mitigation strategies that work best for them, so that we do not end up alienating the very people we claim to serve.

As Abigail Burgesson from Africa Women’s Fund reminded us, many of the issues that are set to be tackled during and in the post-pandemic period are not necessarily new. The gendered socio-economic effects mean that the struggle with resources mobilizing that many women organizations are currently going through are enduring concerns. Now more than ever, as we talk about how to best serve other women and each other, we have to be self-reliant. We are being reminded to look inward for resources. This makes conversations such as this one, with the sharing of crucial knowledge, tools and strategies particularly important.

Here is the link to the full audio from the webinar.


The Ashake Foundation was founded in 2013 with the aim to offer support to a forgotten population group in Nigeria: widows. They have since made an impact in a myriad of ways to about 2200 people in 14 different communities in Abuja. We sat down with the founder, Mayowa Adegbile for an insight into the day-to-day running of the Foundation, what she envisions for the future as well as the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had.

Why did you start the Ashake foundation?

The decision was based on data. There are about 3.5 million widows in Nigeria. With the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the horrible health care, it is estimated that we have about 500 men dying at least every week. When most charities hear about widows, its normal to visit them and give them food and do a photo-op, but its usually meager food that cannot last even more than 2 days. And these women usually do not have stable businesses and sometimes their children are not in school. I’ve had experience with a widow whose husband had died about 16years earlier and she had an 18year old and 15year old, both had never been to school and one had a health issue. When we heard about her, we took a food hamper, paid for the children’s school fees and helped her to start a new business. So for us the data, and the things we’ve read spurred us to try and create a change around this issue.