Women for Women International

Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.
Jul 11, 2012

Mary Lith's Story

Mary Lith is 36 years old and has been in the groundnut business since July 2010. She joined WfWI's program in February 2009 where she learned agricultural and business skills through CIFI training. Prior to the training, Mary produced groundnuts as a source of food for her family because her "husband did not provide for them." After starting her business, Mary is now not only able to provide a basic living for her family, she is able to invest in her business and help it grow. 

As Mary's business grew, she saw an opportunity to invest in cattle. She first bought an inexpensive older cow for approximately $200 which she slaughtered for meat to sell. Mary then invested those profits in a lactating cow that produces 4 to 6 liters of milk a day in the wet season. Mary keeps some milk for her children and sells the rest. Cow's milk is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, providing great nutritional benefit for growing children and pregnant women. Mary does all the milking and tends to the cow's veterinary care. Soon she will breed this cow and sell its calf to invest in more cows.

When asked about running her small business, Mary said: "Learning skills is a gift. I have been given a precious gift from Women for Women that has helped me earn an income and provide nutrition for my family. This is the best gift I have ever received."

Jun 11, 2012

Why We Work in South Sudan

Women for Women International began its work in South Sudan several years ago. Read the trip report from the planning committee who first worked to expand our services there about why it was an important place for WfWI to go next.

Women for Women International is launching operations in southern Sudan, an area almost entirely without basic infrastructure, such as roads, health facilities or schools. It is expected that more than two million displaced Sudanese people will return to southern Sudan in the coming months. The media and international community have focused much of their attention on Darfur. However, that region is only one piece of a complex puzzle and it appears that much of the world has very little understanding of the devastating reality beyond Darfur. Women for Women International sent an assessment team to Sudan in July 2005 to evaluate the feasibility of helping the country's socially excluded women rebuild their lives, families and communities after conflict. What began as a two-week trip has turned into a long-term commitment to working in southern Sudan. We witnessed Sudan's harsh realities firsthand. We found a vast country with a tangled and complex history of conflictÑa history that you can see on the faces of the Sudanese people.

We conducted extensive interviews with women at the grassroots level and met with representatives from the government and community based organizations (CBOs). We confirmed reports that women are bearing the brunt of the horror, suffering through unthinkable acts of gender-based violence and sexual slavery, trying to manage survival for them and their families in what were often subhuman living conditions. Amid the horror stories, we also found hope. We discovered a strong civil society and an organized women’s movement with clear optimism for the future of Sudan and keen insight into what is needed to make those hopes a reality. If the international community plans to assist with the country’s reconstruction in any meaningful way, it must seek the wisdom and counsel of Sudanese women.

History of Conflict

Sudan gained its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1956. It has spent most of the years since then embroiled in what has been called “one of Africa’s longest running civil wars.” A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005, which achieved a fragile peace between rebel forces in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum, but the protracted violence and insecurity have devastated Sudan’s infrastructure and the country currently ranks near the bottom of nearly all development indices. What makes the situation in Sudan so complex is that there are currently three separate, highly volatile situations in different parts of the country. While there are hopes that the CPA will help to stabilize the country as a whole, it only directly addresses the situation in the South. Sudan’s Darfur region is in the western part of the country, near the border with Chad. In 2004, the United States government issued a statement saying that violence in Darfur had risen to the level of genocide.4 The United Nations is expected to dispatch a contingent of peacekeepers to the Darfur region to supplement existing forces from the African Union. While the international community focuses on Darfur, Sudanese people in other parts of the country are trying to maintain the fragile peace as they begin rebuilding their country.

Issues and Needs Identified by Sudanese Women

The following issues are those most frequently mentioned by the women we interviewed as being critical to the country’s future: income generation and employment opportunities for women; girls’ education and illiteracy among women; access to resources, including water, electricity, housing and jobs; customary and family laws regarding early marriage, wife inheritance, ghost marriage and criminal ramifications of adultery, polygamy and divorce rights; gender-based violence; and women’s health, including HIV/AIDS, female genital cutting, reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

We spoke with Sudanese women’s organizations that are deeply committed to these issues. These organizations are also in dire need of resources and support to build and sustain their organizational capacities. They identified the following primary needs: expand the reach and resources of

CBOs through international partnerships; train women leaders in advocacy, coalition-building strategies and negotiation skills; launch a national advocacy program about the importance of including women in reconstruction and transitional development agendas at the local, regional and national levels; promote organizational and staff development with tools and financial resources that improve institutional capacity.

A Window of Opportunity

A critical window of opportunity exists for women’s participation in the development and reconstruction of Sudan. During our assessment, we uncovered both a great need and a great desire for our services and resources, particularly in southern Sudan. Not only has the protracted civil war destroyed any semblance of infrastructure, but the area has some of the highest female illiteracy and malnutrition rates in the world. Over the last several months, internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees have begun to return to southern Sudan. It is expected that more than a third of Sudan’s two million IDPs will ultimately return to this region. Economic opportunities for women are vital in making sure that women are fully involved at all levels of society. Despite the devastation wrought by protracted conflict, the population, especially women, is eager and hopeful for change. Women for Women International aims to use our expertise with women and post-conflict societies to help integrate socially excluded women and women’s organizations in Sudan’s reconstruction and development.

Mar 27, 2012

Yar's Story

Yar's Story

20-year old Hellena Yar Maguen has been with Women for Women International- South Sudan since 2007. She earns enough to support herself and her family, all despite paralysis in her right hand. She is one of WfWI-Sudan’s best success stories, and living proof that one’s abilities are not only skin-deep.

According to Western standards she would be considered just a young girl, but at age 20 Hellena Yar Maguen is already the mother of a 4-month baby boy, Makur, and the sole bread-winner for her family of three. Yar has never known life outside her grass thatched, mud-walled house in her father’s homestead, two kilometers from Pacong town in South Sudan. She laughs when she says she’s never been farther than the two-kilometer walk necessary to fetch water.

When she was two years old, Yar contracted polio leaving her right hand paralyzed. Only her left hand is functional. Yet Yar works daily on Women for Women International-Sudan’s communal farm, maintaining six plots of land and earning $175 each month. She dazzles all who meet her with her light and jovial attitude and has earned the utmost respect from her fellow participants in the Women for Women International-South Sudan (WfWI-South Sudan).

Yar joined WfWI-Sudan in 2007 and excelled as one of the program’s top students. She began working on the farm when it opened in 2008, cultivating kale, cowpeas, and okra. Not only has Yar earned the respect of her fellow women, but also that of her husband, Majok, who seems to be an anomaly in this community where women are traditionally treated as property by their husbands. Yar is Majok’s only wife, which is unusual in her Dinka community where most men take many wives. They have a very happy marriage. When Yar is unable to attend to her plots, Majok is always at hand to help. And when she must go to  work, Majok will take on the responsibility of caring for their 4-month old son.

Yar is one of the many success storiesWfWI- South Sudan, but hers is perhaps most remarkable given her physical disability. But Yar is living proof that her disability is not an inability. With the money she earns, Yar is able to provide for her family as well as put some away into a bank account. She hopes to secure a small loan to start her own business in the future and to see Makur receive a good education. She has dreams of building a permanent home for herself, Majok and baby Makur away from her father’s settlement.  Yar’s hard work and determination, and the support from her family and community, will make these dreams come true. 

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