Ifendu, the Light of Life

Ifendu: The Light of Life 

IFENDU WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT PROJECTS IN NIGERIA           Posted January 2018

 By Sister Rose Uchem, MSHR

‘Ifendu,’ in Igbo language, means ‘the light of life;’ the light that comes from increased social awareness, often experienced as an ‘eye-opener.’ IFENDU envisions a new world order in which women and men, girls and boys, see each other, and relate to each other as equals; having equal opportunities for social and other kinds of advancement. 

In the beginning, IFENDU concentrated on gender advocacy mainly through publications, lectures and gender awareness training workshops for religious women and men, priests as well as laity. These activities, no doubt over the years, have contributed immensely to creating a much needed awareness of gender dynamics and increasingly creating a more positive climate for girls and women in families and institutions across Nigeria and the world. As time went on, IFENDU providentially became involved with rural women in three communities: 1) Uhunowerre, Igboeze-South Local Government Area (LGA), Aji-Enugu-Ezike, Igboeze North LGA of Enugu State, and Orsu LGA of Imo State.

    The problems addressed: Poverty and gender-based violence against women and girls are the major problems IFENDU addresses in these project communities. Analysis of discussions at stakeholder meetings, confirmed by participant observations in these areas, have revealed that the high level of poverty is caused by non-payment and irregular payment of staff salaries, unemployment and under-employment; due in turn to lack of skills, ignorance, illiteracy, and a non-functional education system that produces myriads of graduates lacking employable skills and entrepreneurial drive. Other causes of poverty are scarcity of arable land in some places, soil infertility in others, and lack or inadequacy of agricultural inputs. Yet other causes are bad access roads for transporting of agricultural produce to points of sale and lack of storage facilities for harvested crops.

     The incidence of poverty among women especially is further complicated by traditional/cultural norms and practices against women which are found throughout the south-east. This is surprising, considering that the south east is largely Christian. Regardless the religion in question, the secondary status of women in relation to men is seldom, if ever, challenged. Rather it is reinforced and legitimized by the written and unwritten cultural (sic) sacred texts of the religions of the people. For the Christians it is the Bible, for Muslims the Koran; but for most average Nigerians whether Christian, Muslim, or traditional worshipper, the ultimate guide for judgment and conduct regarding women is the African traditional/cultural norms and practices which often times discriminate against women. Examples include: “harmful widowhood rites, denial of inheritance rights, land tenure system, female circumcision, son-preference, domestic violence, voicelessness and vulnerability to HIV and AIDS” (National Gender Policy, 2007, p.4).  

                                                                                                                 Intervention approach: IFENDU addresses the problem of poverty and gender based violence in the project communities through a three-pronged empowerment intervention which consists of literacy training, skills training and microcredit/micro-project.

    The main goal of the project is: To improve participants’ standard of living through increased income resulting from gainful self-employment following comprehensive trainings and supports as well as enhanced sense of self-esteem and ability to resist gender-based oppression.

The Activities include:

  • Advocacy to community leaders and elders
  • Training of community-based facilitators
  • Literacy classes and skills needs assessment
  • Skills training in business education, animal husbandry (piggery, poultry, fishery), cosmetology, etc.
  • Provision of start-up grants for micro-projects
  • Accompaniment, continuous monitoring and mentoring of participants
  • Evaluations/impact assessments and re-planning

    Our development partners: Nächstenliebe Weltweit (NLW), Mission Cara and some private individuals including family, community, some MSHR, and friends have made these activities possible.

Results so far: In one location, the standard of living of 98 participants has improved due to increased income as a result of gainful self-employment following provision of skills training (especially business education) and microcredit. These participants are now able to speak, read and write simple sentences, calculate, and record their business transactions; all these, as a result of the literacy and numeracy training. They are now able to read sign boards and communicate with customers from non-Igbo speaking areas. Their economic and social opportunities have been widened. Going for omugwo in Benin or Lagos is no longer the dreaded challenge it used to be. Their sense of self-esteem has also been enhanced as a result of increased knowledge of gender and other social issues acquired through gender and human rights awareness training embedded in the literacy classes. An additional two hundred (200) women are currently undergoing literacy and skills training in two other locations.

Conclusion

    The benefits of the Ifendu women empowerment projects extend way beyond the immediate experiences of the direct beneficiaries. The teachers who underwent the initial training to become facilitators, the facilitators who were selected and continue to anchor the programme, and the whole communities concerned have recorded instances of unplanned outcomes. Facilitators reported how they have gained personally. They have transferred their newly acquired literacy facilitating skills to their regular school work. In Uhunowerre, facilitators also reported gaining increased social standing in their communities and increased self-confidence. Juliana stepped forward to contest in the LGA chair elections. Evelyn  was made secretary of her (Iheaka) parish council and families have been engaging her for home tutoring, bringing her extra income. Ngozi  from Orsu LGA narrated how it was that even as teachers, formerly, they could not speak in public even in Igbo language. “But the programme has helped us to lose that shyness. Now we can stand anywhere before anybody and speak,” she said. In Aji,  Uguwanyi reported that she used to run away from situations that required her to speak or write in English but now she has stepped forward and become the secretary of her kinship group. Cecilia can now write her name and for her, it is nothing less than a miracle. For Perpetua, Faith, and others in Aji, the project is God’s unexpected intervention in their lives. God will bless the sisters who brought this change to their lives, they continually pray. “Aji will never forget the sisters,” they declared.

    The recent visit of Fr Noel O’Meara CSSp, founder of NLW, was hailed as “ubochi anyi launchiri ihe Sister wetara anyi – “the day we launched what Sister brought to us.” It underlined their reception of the project as God’s affirmation of their existence and their dignity as women. It is very gratifying to hear them and see them radiating the joy of “God remembering” them. Witnessing God’s transmission of new life to the people in this way gives one an advance taste of heaven.