Inspiring women

One of the things that impressed me in Ogongora was the role that women have played in the PEP process. We’ve met several women whose lives have truly been transformed by the initiative, which is really encouraging as in rural areas, women often get even more of a raw deal than the rest of the population.

Woman & baby, Ogongora

Being a woman is tough. For a start, the cost of educating your brothers might be a higher priority than the cost of educating you and your sisters. If you do get to school, you might have to leave when your period starts owing to the shortage of toilets, embarrassment or lack of sanitary products. Your marriage might be a major source of income for your family, meaning that love may not be a significant factor in the choice of your husband. Domestic violence is common. Rates of HIV infection are high. Being widowed or abandoned can result in being left with many children to care for on little or no income. I could go on…

However, PEP is changing this. The increase in income and a growth in understanding of prospects that education provides has ensured that families aim to educate all their children, regardless of gender. Widows are finding ways of generating an income to provide for their families. Wives are supplementing their family’s income and becoming empowered because they know that they are an asset to their community.

Elizabeth & her food storeElizabeth and her granary.

On our first day in Ogongora, we met Elizabeth. [Who features on the Tearfund website and who Bex wrote about on Tuesday.] She is a true success story – once a widow who had to beg for food, she now possesses a grain store that’s full to overflowing (the overflow is stored in her hut). She has food to store for the famine season, to sell at the market, and to help those in the community who need it. When we asked her how PEP helped her, she replied that it had helped her realise that she had ‘the gift of time’. Once upon a time, she said she wasted hours chatting with other women. Then she realised that if she spent more time on her garden, she would (literally) reap the benefits. Her life is far from perfect – there are still issues with her husband’s family over land ownership – but it has significantly improved in just a couple of years.

Anna & NormaAnna and Norah in Ogongora church.

Yesterday, Bex and I met with Norah and Anna – two women who appear to be stalwarts of the Ogongora community. Norah has greeted us with cheers, dancing and a flag every morning and has been one of those who has prepared food for us to eat. She founded her own business through the PEP process and as a result earned enough money to ensure her daughter could qualify as a nurse (quite an achievement!) and is now totally debt free.

Anna is HIV+ and widowed, but her story is unlike many others you might hear of those in similar circumstances. She has always been open about her status, and has been on the receiving end of both positive and negative behaviour in return. At one point, people created rumours suggesting that she put her infected blood in the food she cooked at her ‘hotel’ (which usually refers to a cafe). But thanks to PEP she has found the money to put both her adopted son and her nephew through school. Health issues and their associated costs are constant concern, and her future is by no means certain, but she knows that the community are supporting her too.

Today, we participated in an act of worship in the village (Dave’s written about this in more detail, complete with a video of some fabulous singing). Being the feminist that I am, I was delighted that it was Anna who kicked off the service and took an active role throughout – and that the pastor’s wife led prayers. In fact, I discovered yesterday that not only does PAG have female pastors, they also have a female bishop! Odiira simply could not understand why female bishops was still an issue in the Church of England! (I know how she feels…)

At the end, there was a time of prayer ministry and a lady called Lucy came forward, who Katie and I interviewed afterwards. Lucy is not one of PEP’s glittering success stories. She is widowed, 60, and responsible for her 5 grandchildren. Ill health is preventing her from continuing with the business she began with PEP. The youngest boys had dysentry last week; she has been suffering from chest pains. She shared that they can only eat once a day – in the evenings – and even then it was probably only millet porridge. In this community she is old, yet has to deal with the demands most of the women only face when they are more than 30 years younger than she is. Before we left, Katie and I prayed with her – it was all we could do.

Lucy and familyLucy and her twin grandsons (in purple).

In Ogongora, inspiration and heartbreak live side by side. It’s always difficult to know how to deal with the latter.

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