Saturday, February 16, 2008

Women Matter

Women Matter

Women matter at Kafakumba. It’s as simple as that. There is a strong belief here that empowering women inevitably empowers families, communities, and the whole broader culture. Taken to its logical conclusion, empowering women eventually empowers the entire human family.

You can experience this philosophy in a number of ways here. I have already written about banana marketing and the very intentional focus on providing bananas at lower cost for ordinary women to market in local communities. These women are considered just as much banana partners as are the growers. The same thing happens with fish. Fish that are raised in Kafakumba fish ponds make their way into the women’s baskets as quickly as they can be harvested. As further agricultural projects are developed, I suspect that one won’t have to look very far to find the hands of women involved.

Another area critically important to the mission is the inclusion of spouses (generally wives) and children when pastors come for their annual two months of training at Pastor’s School. Staff work to have regular programming, lessons in many topics—both in Bible and in practical skills-- and fellowship for the women. Elunga Munza, a Congolese pastor’s widow, provides programming for the women of the School.

Right outside our door a Women’s Center is being built while we are here. John and Kendra have shared their dream for a sewing center, complete with professional equipment that will not only allow for lessons during Pastor’s School, but also provide a place for local women to come and sew throughout the year. The dream is for local women and the international pastor’s wives to learn and interact at the Center during the annual School. However, local women could also use the Center as a launching pad for entrepreneurial ventures in sewing year round—such as making school uniforms, clothing, knitting, handcrafts, etc…. It could also become the center of any number of kinds of training and classes for local women. Already a small group of worker’s wives are meeting for English lessons and practical skill training in a number of topics. This kind of programming could be greatly expanded at Kafakumba with good local leadership and a place dedicated for their use.

Even before the Women’s Center is completed, though, I have observed a number of women’s groups meeting at the larger Kafakumba Center building or in smaller classrooms around the facility. United Methodist Women are thriving in the African context and they busily plan and carry out any number of meetings and events throughout the year. Each country’s United Methodist Women wear a little different uniform; here it is a yellow headscarf and green patterned dress. The other day when I was in Ndola I noticed a group of women from another denomination wearing their look-alike uniforms of maroon dresses with large white collars and matching head scarves. The women wear these uniforms with a great deal of pride; to be part of a women’s group requires vows and a certain maturity and is a coveted position.

Another project in the works is the use of circular irrigation systems that would allow women to farm beneath their life-giving spray. Not only could food be raised for themselves and their families, but the irrigation system would allow them to expand into marketable produce. The circular system can be sustained without electricity, using a diesel-powered pump. For remote tracts of land or those without access to power, this could be very successful.

I have heard it said that one critical measure of a family’s well-being is the mother’s education level. A mother’s literacy level corresponds to her children’s success in school and vocation, their social adaptations, and to her own and her family’s resilience. Unfortunately, there are too many places where young girls don’t get an education, where their presence is required at home, where they may be caring for an extended family of AIDS orphans, where they are preyed upon even by their own family members, where their own dreams just don’t matter. The sad cycle continues as many girls are married by 14 or 15 in local villages. Because of AIDS, many, many women will be widowed-perhaps very young-and left to care for children alone. More sadly, they may fall prey to the virus themselves and leave their children orphaned.
But the sound of construction on the Women’s Center moves me toward optimism. At least here, at least now, at least for the women of Baluba and Fisenge, and the pastor’s wives, there is hope. At Kafakumba, women matter.

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