by Susan Mwape
According to a Zimbabwean Proverb, even the smallest bird can sing from the tallest tree.
Zambian Irene Banda, a 25 year old social activist, scooped up the Sheila McKechnie 2007 International Campaigner Award. Irene first got involved in campaign work in 2002, when her organization conducted research on how government funds to all constituencies in the country were being used. This fund is called the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and, as the name suggests, it is supposed to be used for developing the local constituencies’ social setup. From their research in selected communities of Zambia, it was found out that some of the local citizens were not even aware that such a fund existed, must less what it was actually used for. After the research was performed, Irene’s role was to go round talking to people in focus group discussions, in an effort to find out if people had access to these funds, if they knew the funds existed and how the funds should be used to develop their communities. This took a lot of work on the ground and gave Irene her first experience in campaigning for social justice.
In 2003, Irene joined the Big Noise campaign spearheaded by Oxfam International, working alongside 300 other volunteers to collect over a million signatures. It was during this campaign that she was able to meet key political and traditional leaders in selected areas of the country that she felt were influential to further spread the message of the trade justice campaign.
In 2005, Irene joined the Oxfam International Youth Parliament (now Oxfam International Youth Partnerships) and through the OIYP, she was able to attend the 6th WTO ministerial in Hong Kong as an official representative of a civil society organization. There she was given the opportunity to share with other young people her experience as a campaigner in her country. Irene found this to be one of the most meaningful experiences she had been exposed to because she was able to see what other social justice activists were doing around the world.
With such a dedication to the advancement of social justice, it’s no wonder she scooped up the International Campaigner Award. Although the award has no money attached to it, Irene will be getting training on the skills needed to upgrade campaigns and thus improve her standards. The award will connect her to a coach or Mentor who will advise her on her area of campaign.
“I think my experience as a young person and probably my persistence [helped]…When I started campaigning under OIYP, I stuck to my objectives and [tried] to achieve something out of my campaign work,” said Irene.
When asked what winning the award means, she says she hopes it will open doors for her as a campaigner and social activist. “It isn’t easy to get an award from an international organization. I hope it will open doors for me to learn more and grow as a campaigner and also make connections to the right people. This could just be a start.”
“When I started campaigning I used to ask myself—who am I? I learned to never look at my inadequacies, but rather build on them, because they turned out to be my strengths."
"So as young people, we should think positive,” was Irene’s advise to other young campaigners.
Irene received her award in London on April 18th, 2007.