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.
We believe in providing opportunities to enhance personal growth, autonomy and empowerment of girls and young women so that they can achieve fulfillment and maximize their potential.
DIGNITY: We affirm the dignity and self worth of each individual and honour and respect their rights.
LEARNING: We believe in and encourage continual learning and growth for ourselves and for young women and girls.
COURAGE: We affirm and value the courage and determination of young women to persevere and gain control over their own lives.
COMMITMENT & DEDICATION: We are focused on our strategic direction and achievement of positive outcomes for girls and young women.
RESPECT: We believe in everyone’s right to be respected regardless of differences.
INTEGRITY: We aim to exemplify integrity in our work.
UNITY: We strive to eliminate the barriers that divide us.
PARTNERSHIPS: We believe in collaboration and bringing people together to achieve a common goal.
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.
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.
We enhance positive development for girls and young women through:
- Workshops and education sessions.
- Forums and conferences, and mentorship.
- Organizing activities to promote self-esteem and team building.
We promote connectedness and belonging by:
- Enhancing girls and young women’s positive sense of being part of a school, family unit, support networks, and a larger community.
What we do
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. Please visit ‘Initiatives’ to see what programs and projects we are involved in to date.
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.
Gashanti Unity thanks our countless supporters and partners in helping us to develop our organization and grow our impact. Some of the organizations that we have worked with include:
The Youth Challenge Fund (YCF) has brought together government and privately-matched funds in a common purpose: to improve opportunities for Toronto’s young people, particularly in the city’s 13 priority neighbourhoods. YCF has played an integral role in the start up of Gashanti UNITY as an organization through continuous support and training in the areas of capacity building, as well as organizational development and governance. With it’s relationship with YCF, Gashanti UNITY has had the opportunity to take the lead on various groundbreaking initiatives around the city including the implementation of the Baymills Youth Hub and the Young Women’s Initiative. Through capacity building grants as well as connecting Gashanti to mentors, YCF has proven its commitment to the success of this organization by seeing through our long term vision as our main funder.
The Laidlaw Foundation promotes positive youth development through inclusive youth engagement in the arts, environment and in community. Laidlaw has allowed Gashanti to take our organization one step further and develop programming and initiatives that support the engagement and networking of girls and girl specific groups. They have lent their support by funding the “Igniting Young Minds” forum and have always been accessible and willing to hear out our new ideas and plans. Together we have promoted cultural connections across generations by supporting our mother-daughter event, “Inni Wa Hoyadeed” (A girl is her mother) and remain a strong partner for future endeavors.
Toronto Community Housing (TCH) is the largest social housing provider in Canada and the second largest in North America. Through our partnership with TCH , we have been able to conduct programming for girls in the Islington area. We have also partnered with TCH on two space initiatives including the Bay Mills Youth Hub and Creating Leaders in Chester (CLIC). TCH continues to offer their support and partnership in the development of these initiatives, at the same time solidifying our need for safe and accessible spaces for Somali girls and women.
Schools Without Borders (SWB) is a unique youth-led organization that makes education and learning more accessible for young people. As an intermediary organization, SWB is not only our main trustee, but has also acted as an administrative platform, supporting our day to day activities and providing templates and models on youth organizing and organizational development. As youth organizers themselves, they continue to lend their emotional support, advocate on our behalf, and offer guidance and reflection on the needs of young people like us who are making a difference by taking the lead in our communities. SWB inspired our love for film and photography and has helped us participate in programs that have helped us grow our artistic talents at the same time telling our stories through alternative mediums. SWB continues to lend their support, especially through our entrepreneur endeavors and goals.
SIFE George Brown mentors and advises youth grassroots organizations which create and improve opportunities for at-risk-youth in Toronto’s 13 priority neighbourhoods This program in partnership with Youth Challenge Fund, supported Gashanti in receiving mentorship and advice from the college and students through trusteeship and instructing Gashanti on how to execute their YCF funding objectives in an timely and ethical manner. Through this initiative, Gashanti was armed with the necessary tools in order to remain accountable and successful as a grassroots, youth led organization.
Tropicana Community Services, a Toronto-based multi-service organization, provides all youth, newcomers, people of Black and Caribbean heritage and others in need with opportunities and alternatives that lead to success and positive life choices. Tropicana has acted as a trustee for the Bay Mills Youth Hub and has gone above and beyond in their support through mentorship by their Executive Director to creating a platform for collaboration with other Tropicana Staff and working groups.
Grassroots Youth Collaborative (GYC) is committed to community development and local youth organizing in the City of Toronto. We provide opportunities to our members for networking, capacity building and advocacy. As a member of the GYC, Gashanti UNITY has had an opportunity to participate in community events and initiatives with other grassroots youth groups in the city of Toronto. Gashanti has been given the opportunity to put together community BBq’s, attend US President Barak Obama’s Inguration, and even organized the trip to the “Words, Beats, Life” Conference in Washinton, D.C. By connecting with other members of the GYC, Gashanti has been able to collaborate on projects such as “Each One Teach One” with the Lost Lyrics program and have been supported by GYC in putting together a needs assessment for the group.
Girls Action Foundation is a national charitable organization. Their stewardship and nurturing of over 200 partnering organizations celebrates and empowers girls and young women to create positive change in their communities. Through resources and training events through Girls Action, Gashanti has been able to gain valuable knowledge in regards to creating healthy spaces for girls, self-care as facilitators and funding opportunities that exist. Gashanti has also had the opportunity to network with and share ideas and experiences with other organizations and programmers through retreats, and mixers aimed at strengthening the work done around girls and young women across Canada.
Creating Leaders In Chester (CLIC)
Creating Leaders in Chester (CLIC) is a leadership program supported by the Youth Challenge Fund, that provides training and mentorship to youth who want to make a positive impact on the Chester Le community. As one of the first communities in Toronto where Gashanti UNITY started their work, it was a natural fit for the group to take a coordination role in the program. Through this CLIC, Gashanti has been involved in the renovations of a former Toronto Community Housing residence, turning it into a youth-designated space. CLIC shares this space with other community organizations that run women specific mentoring programs, as well as photography and film workshops such as the Blitz Film Camp run in partnership with Gashanti UNITY and Schools Without Borders.
Last, but not least….
Gashanti UNITY would like to thank our families, mothers and members of the Somaili community who have supported us by lending us their homes, feeding us, giving us rides, supporting us with wisdom and always advocating on our behalf. We could not have come this far without you and it is your perseverance and strength that has inspired this movement from day 1.