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Sister Noel Mary tells of a journey she made with a group of women in Zambia.
Read more. Posted August 7th 2019
In 2005, a group of women came to me looking for help. They seemed to be women in great need, as the Parish Priest confirmed later. What kind of help do you want, I asked. We want to make sisal baskets like we see women doing in Mazabuka where you came from.
I arranged for a woman called Beauty to come from the Mazabuka group to show them how to weave the baskets. I didn’t think they could gain much from the baskets but you begin with people where they are.
Meanwhile, we began to do needs assessment with them. What do you need? To feed our families. To send the children to school. Good health. Our daughters walk 11 kilometers in the morning to fetch water for the family and then they are late for school. Because of being late they don’t do well; they drop out; some become pregnant because this is a higher social status than being a school dropout.
Water is necessary for health. The government has provided bore holes but they dry up as soon as the rains stop. So, water is not the problem. As long as it is raining there is plenty of water. The problem comes when the rains stop. Yes.
What you need is to put metal roofs on your houses so that you can harvest clean water from them; then you need underground tanks to store the water for use during the dry season.
The reaction was immediate.
SISTER! Women do not own houses here. It is not possible!
There were about 13 women in the group at the time, each woman representing a family. So, what can we do?
After this meeting, one of the women came to me and said, you know, it is hard to get women to work together in this part of the country, unlike the people from the Eastern and Northern parts. They won’t work with you for this, unless they see. What you need to do is to get a woman who would believe in what you are saying, and would work with you to roof her house with metal sheets and build an underground tank so that the others can see. I think that after that, they will all come along. So, we did that.
Roofing the house
We put down certain conditions for participation. The benefiting family would have to provide: The plot, with documentation to show that it is their plot from the appropriate authority, building sand and river sand, burnt bricks and crushed stones. The family would receive a loan from the club in the form of building materials: roofing sheets, cement, door and window frames, doors and windows, roofing nails, metal bars for decking the tank, iron sheets for guttering the water from the roof into the tank. The house will have two bedrooms and a sitting room. It must be of good standard and must be finished within a period of 12 months. No small thing!
The proposed house was estimated to cost Fifteen million of the local currency, in those days, about six thousand United States Dollars. As soon as it was finished, the family had five years to repay their loan in installments. They will only repay fifty per cent of the loan. The other fifty per cent would be for Family empowerment.
Josephine, the person eventually identified, was not a member of the club but I had been observing the women in the parish, and noted that she was more hardworking than most of them. Her husband had died less than one year before this. The house she was living in with the husband had also collapsed under the heavy rains that year. She was living with one of her granddaughters who was in her last grade of junior secondary schooling at the time. Josephine was reluctant at first. As she said, she did not even know how to make the rope used for the sisal baskets. But she was willing to learn. As soon as she ageed, we embarked on the building. We got the building department of the Zimba Rural and Youth Development Center to do the building. But still I had to be pushing. I would come to look at the progress twice a week and close my face: you have to try harder, much harder! What have you been doing, that there is not enough water for the builders? Truly, they could not have worked any harder! And we finished within 12 months, and the transformation in the community was contagious. As Josephine said at the blessing of the house and tank “I never believed I could be a home owner. I still don’t believe it!” All the other members who had been watching from the sides came for the blessing. Each wanted her own “family survival unit” as we named it.
More stories about the Women’s Club next post!
Sister Noel Mary Ajaero is a Nigerian Holy Rosary Sister working in Zambia for youth and family development.