November 16, 2016

Inside Mama Cash

This week: Tamara Pels Idrobo from Ecuador, programme associate for Latin America and the Caribbean: “What I do is a dream job that came true.”

Who are the people behind Mama Cash? What makes our organisation tick? As a new member of the team, I decided to go out and explore. Read about the people and what they do at Mama Cash in these regular peeks behind the scenes.

Why did you want to work for Mama Cash?

“I work here for two reasons: my work supports the feminist cause, and I am working for a feminist organisation. Ironically, these two things don’t always go hand in hand. Mama Cash addresses issues that other foundations don’t always address. What I do is a dream job that came true.”

How was your feminism cultivated?

“My mother has been the basis of my feminism. My mom raised me and my older brother by herself.” Tamara explains how she can now put small incidents from her childhood into a bigger perspective: “I was once doing the laundry and wanted to hang my jeans, but I couldn’t reach the line because it was too high. My response was to call for my brother – he was taller than me – but this solicited a really angry reaction from my mother. She taught me never to adopt a victim’s attitude, and solve my own problems whenever possible.”

Tamara’s commitment for her work increases with the realisation that the things she enjoys about her work and life in Amsterdam are not self-evident: “I work with people from my own region in my own language, and learn about their struggles. It’s a privilege for me – I live in Amsterdam, where I can safely walk and travel by myself at night, and enjoy labour rights that are just.”

Women’s, girls’ and trans* movements have the knowledge, and knowledge is power


What exactly do you do for Mama Cash?

“I see myself as the channel that connects Mama Cash to the realities and contexts of regions. I facilitate communication and bridge the space between organisations from my regions and Mama Cash.”

It is also really important to Tamara to acknowledge the inherent power relationship between grantee partners and Mama Cash. “It is always said that the party providing the money comes first in the hierarchy, but I am determined to see it the other way around. Women’s, girls’, and trans* movements are on top! They have the knowledge, and knowledge is power. We need to learn from them about their challenges and how the obstacles they are facing need to be addressed.Without their input, it is impossible for us to take informed decisions.”

What is the hardest part about your job?

I have to be creative about shortening the geographical distance to the groups in my regions, because I am physically far removed from the actual action and realities on the ground.

She emphasises that it is really hard to take decisions about which groups will receive funds. “We simply do not have enough funds to support all the groups that we want to support. This realisation makes me more conscious of my responsibilities.”

What is the best thing you were exposed to while working for Mama Cash?

“In 2014, together with a grantee partner (sex worker group Asociación de Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur from Peru) and with the support of two of our regional advisors, we organised a regional meeting for all our grantee partners. Sitting in my office in Amsterdam makes my work seem really abstract sometimes, but this meeting was a reality check. The grantee partners were really honest about both the good and the ugly stories. It was a moment to honour their work; and it simultaneously offered everyone involved some warming inspiration.”

What is so valuable about such meetings, apart from the inspiration that it offers? 

“It is really useful for grantee partners to learn from each other. They get the opportunity to exchange information about the struggles and difficulties they face, and the strategies they employ to deal with them.” Then, clearly animated: “It builds up a sense of community and alliance. The role of Mama Cash is to facilitate these spaces.”

This space, called ECOPLAC, also offered an opportunity to have open conversations with grantee partners about Mama Cash’s grantmaking processes. “This is important for Mama Cash because it facilitates transparency and accountability from our side as an organisation.”

My mother taught me never to adopt a victim’s attitude, and solve my own problems whenever possible


Then, finally, what is the change you’re hoping to contribute to as an individual?

“In essence, I want to contribute to achieving real and sustainable changes in the lives of women, girls and trans* people. So people can live their lives with more happiness and security. I believe this is possible. We need to be aware of the power that we have.” She concludes in the spirit of her upbringing: “I believe you should own your feminist power and exercise it.”

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