Who is Channa and why does she fascinate me?
An article in PBS last week, on the plight of unwed, single mothers in muslim communities caught my attention and that is where I first learnt of Channa. Another article in BBC, compelled me further.
Aïcha Ech Channa is founder and president of Association (Association Solidarite Feminine), providing services in Casablanca, Morocco, to help unmarried women with children gain the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure their own livelihoods.
(Here is a picture of the chldren at the centre (who are cared for by the mid-wives) while thier mothers learn the necessary skills at the centre).
Why did she embark on this mission?
A muslim herself she found the strength in her faith and religion to boldly stand up against the unjust, very very wrong, social prejudice against young, unwed mothers in moroccan muslim communities.
During the 1980s, Ech Channa worked in the Moroccan Ministry of Social Affairs, where she was confronted by the ordeals these women and children faced on a daily basis.
“I had just come off of maternity leave,” she says. “This young girl (a single mother) was in an office near mine breast feeding her baby. The social worker came in, gave her a piece of paper to sign and pulled the baby away (to be placed in an orphanage or up for adoption). I remember the time: 5:30 p.m. I couldn’t sleep that night when I got home. I said, ‘This has got to stop.’ I could feel her pain.”
In 1985, Ech Channa established Solidarité Féminine to assist mothers in similar situations. The goal was to allow single women to keep their babies and to promote the rights of mother and child. The association opened a modest canteen where women could work, learn skills, make money and take literacy classes. Programs expanded to teach skills such as cooking, baking, accounting and hairdressing. The mothers also have access to medical services, psychological counseling, legal assistance and day care for their children.
“We have hundreds of success stories,” she says. They are “women who are working, studying, raising their children – a productive part of our society”.
The Arabic News, reports that Ech Channa has been pleading for the cause of women for more than three decades and has won several international awards of recognition.
Her lonely voice, the voice of a commoner, not only reached the King of Morocco, King Mohammed VI who along with his wife Princess Salma visited Ich Channa’s organization, but also rang across international waters. She has been honoured with several awards and is now one of the finalist for the 2009 Opus Prize.
So what is the Opus Prize and why does it matter?
The Opus Prize is a $1 million faith-based humanitarian award and two $100,000 awards given annually to recognize unsung heroes of any faith, tradition, anywhere in the world, solving today’s most persistent social problems. It is the world’s largest faith-based, humanitarian award for social innovation.
Opus Prize winners combine an entrepreneurial spirit with an abiding faith to combat seemingly intractable global issues like poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and injustice. Opus Prize winners demonstrate that change is possible, empowering and inspiring all of us.
The results are expected on November 4, 2009 at a ceremony in Minneapolis. TDPP will be rooting for you, Channa on that day and whatever the results we know for sure that YOU ARE A WINNER!!!!!