AGAINST THE ODDS
What do you do when you are widowed? Worse still, what do you do when you are widowed in Kibauni? In a region notorious for water shortage and a scarcity of income generating opportunities? What happens when your husband was your sole bread winner, and you now have to turn to the earth for your every need? To force the earth to yield enough produce for your family and a surplus to sell and raise money for your needs.
You suffer. Poverty becomes your friend and you embrace it. Every time you try to combat it, it wraps its hand around your neck, lifts you off the ground and deals you a devastating choke slam. Every time you plant a tree, start a nursery, a garden, all your crop dries up. Every rain season you till your farm, planting all the crops that your fathers and mothers planted before you. And every rain season you watch your crop wither and die before it can bear yield because the rains ceased too early. Every time you try to take a step away from poverty, it holds you and pulls you right back into the abyss, sometimes deeper than you were.
But do you despair? Do you accept your predicament and wallow gladly in abstract poverty; take life’s spiteful kicks lying low? Do you fall into self pity and just accept defeat?
No! You rise and you resist. You persevere and help persevere.
This is the story of Mbukilye Ngukilye Widows Self Help Group in Ikalaasa area of Kibauni Region, Machakos County. It consists of 24 women, widows who have refused to be life’s punching bag. They came together in 2011 to uplift each other and come to the aid of whoever seemed to be most pressed. They started a merry-go-round, where they would contribute money which would go to each member in turns.
Says Ms. Priscilla Theki the group secretary, “We always come to each other’s aid; nobody suffers unnecessarily when the group can help. We have helped members pay their children’s school fees time and again and have helped each other in many other aspects.”
When they heard of an organization that was helping groups construct sand dams and other water harvesting structures, they were eager to learn about it. They approached Africa Sand Dam Foundation with the sole intention of constructing sand dams and bringing water closer to their homes. This is because they have been walking for over three kilometres in the past just in search of water. This has taken up most of their time and energy and they find themselves unable to engage in other productive activities. The water scarcity has effectively grounded them over the years.
When they joined ASDF, however, they learned that their engagement was not limited to sand dam construction. They were surprised to learn that they were able to choose the kind of support they would like to receive and that this was not limited to water harvesting structures. The organization was keen on assisting them in self-empowerment projects that would eventually culminate in socio-economic independence. The opportunity they had prayed and waited for had finally presented itself and they would grab it and make the most of it.
They requested for and were supported with the construction of a sand dam and a school water tank for Ikalaasa Secondary School where most of their children go to school. The organization provided the materials and the technical know-how while they provided the labour. Construction work is not easy, especially sand dam construction. The group was tasked with providing the local materials that included sand, water and stones. They then worked with an artisan on site, digging the trench, mixing mortar, throwing rocks and mortar into the trench and lifting them up to the dam wall when its height rose; up to the last step of the construction process. All these are very physically tasking activities, preserves for men. For a group of widows to do the work was just amazing.
“We don’t feel like widows anymore, we feel like men!”Says Priscilla. “We feel equal to those who still have their husbands.”
She says that the perception that women are the weaker gender has been greatly challenged by their achievements. They are now treated as equals in the society as they have achieved on their own what many men have needed partners to achieve. They have run their families and provide for them without fail. They have educated their children with each other’s support.
And now, with support from ASDF, they are certain that their lives will change for the better. While the dam has not held water, it holds great hope for them of a brighter future. They intend to establish a vegetable garden, where they will plant vegetables and sell them at the nearby markets, thus earning income as a group. Indeed, what a man can do, a woman can do too!