A growing family is generally something we say congratulations for. Sometimes for us, the growing of a family is a moment to be sad, though. One of our dear widows, Brenda, has a growing family with the addition of a new baby. The blessing is mixed because the reason of the baby's coming is a sad one, the death of her mother.
In Zambia, grandmothers carry a heavy load. They bear children, take care of husbands, and then here is Zambia, the bury husbands, bury children and then raise and care for the grandchildren, the nieces, the nephews, and more.
For Brenda, she has been mourning her sister, while welcoming this new little one into her large family. One day, Linda came in and had baby formula for Brenda and Maureen (both caring for infants) and they danced, and danced with grateful laughter. So we see that even while we're sad, we can smile, we can have joy, we can see the blessing in the mix.
Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project looks for better solutions in helping our grandmothers. Every month we reach out to 23 courageous women who care for their grandchildren left to them after their own children died. As part of Chikumbuso’s mission statement “to remember to do for others” we have incorporated grandmothers in our support program hoping to lighten their load. Twice a month the grandmothers are visited by a caregiver and given a 25 kg. bag of mealiemeal, oil, candles, soap, salt and charcoal.
Each of these grandmothers has their own story of struggle to share. Eneless Mwanza’s husband died in 2004 of polio and since then her life has been a struggle. Her husband worked as a day guard guarding the homes of others. When she could Eneless would do “piecework” in the compound to help supplement the income. This piece work means that she would go from house to house asking if there was any extra work that needed to be done; washing up dishes, doing laundry, etc. Together this couple had ten children but today only two are alive. Eneless can no longer do piece work. She is too old to walk around looking for work. Her two children live far away but they have “given” her three grandchildren to care for her and help her around the house. Her home is a two room place with out electricity. She owns her house, which is a relief because she does not have to pay a rent. Her neighbors give her some vegetables when they can, but otherwise no one but Chikumbuso is there for her. In an effort to be environmentally friendly Chikumbuso would like to eliminate this donation of charcoal (our Zambian forest) and give each of our grandmothers a “rocket stove”. These stoves are part of Zambia’s National Forestry Service to educate the population on the need to get away from charcoal and find more fuel efficient alternatives. It uses for each meal only a handful of kindling. Each stove costs $200. A stove for Eneless Mwanza would mean that she would not have to struggle to find charcoal, she could cook once a day and keep the rest for the evening in the stove “warmer”. Her grandchildren could collect the small amount of kindling needed around the neighborhood. This stove would also keep them warm on these cool rainy days. If you would like to help with this grandmother project you would not only be helping a family but also keeping the forests of Zambia!
Our Grandmothers still need stoves…
Ellie was sitting out on the ground in front of her door. She is one of our sponsored grandmothers which means that every month one of the Chikumbuso widows goes to check on how she is doing and brings her a 25 kg. bag of mealie meal, oil, laundry soap, salt, sugar and charcoal. Today it was my turn to go and see her.
This offering is meant to lighten her load not completely supply all her needs. Today when I asked if in fact her load was lighter she commented on how the amount of charcoal we gave her was not enough. She gets a 25kg bag full. So we talked about the fuel efficient stoves, the ones that only use a few sticks for the entire day. What a difference it would make in Zambia if the trees were spared the fate of becoming charcoal briquettes! We also explained to her how these new stoves were equipped with warmers that kept the noon meal warm all the way into the evening! There would be no need to cook at night!
Ellie had not heard of the stoves but her young grandsons voice, just inside the doorway, shouted, “I know! I know all about them, my friend has one at his house! It also can keep your water warm all day long and you don’t need charcoal, just sticks!”
Ellie smiled, “That would be perfect, my grandson here could collect the sticks for me.. there would be no need for charcoal then!”
Please help us to raise money for these stoves... all 23 of our grandmother's loads would be lightened!
This year I have been thinking about how communities function. What keeps them ticking? What glue holds them together?
In Ng’ombe where I work I am constantly amazed/bewildered by what goes on around me. There are about 120,000 people living in poverty in a three mile area. Many have never been to school, many are unemployed, many are left to fend for themselves, many are even robbed by their own neighbors. It seems that living in such close proximity can cause chaos rather than unity. Chikumbuso would like to help more to build a community where neighbors can hold each other up, count each other "in".
A large part of our women have lived in Ng’ombe for 20 years or more. At one point in their lives they were an integral part of the community and then all of a sudden with the death of their husband they are cast “out”.
To me it appears cold and unkind but to those in the community it could mean survival.
Accepted then Rejected.
Growing up in America we, and our children, spend quite a bit of time trying to find the underlying formula used by communities to decide who will be in and who will be out. As children our acceptance may be something as simple as what we wear one day to school, and as adults it maybe whether or not we have a degree, a great pay check or lots of kids. Here in the States we also have the luxury, if rejected by one community, of searching for another that will accept us.
This luxury exists in some part for those in the slum (they can find a church to worship in, or a market buddy to sit next to) but the reality is that there is nowhere to hide from the stigma of rejection.
Widowhood brings with it an abandonment by community. AIDS brings avoidance. Many widows/grandmothers are rejected from their community. Severe poverty and a helplessness overwhelms these women as they struggle to feed their family. From one day to the next they find themselves “out”. Out of the family they knew, out of their circle of friends, out of the lives they once lived.
Sylvia is 98 years old. She has lived to be more than twice the average age in Zambia. As part of the community selling beer was her family business. You can imagine how many friends she had! Then as family members died and moved away people viewed her as that lonely old “witch” that no one cared about and who had no family. They said she was crazy. They secretly and openly wished that she would die, after all she was messing up the compound with her begging and unkempt presence. Her life was lonely and miserable. She lives in a community where reaching out to help others in need is a stretch in finances that could cause them to snap. Sylvia was fortunately found by a Chikumbuso widow and is now receiving the help that she needs. Chikumbuso is giving her that little bit of help and hope that has brought her to be recognized in the community as a woman to be loved and respected. The neighbors are happy to see her as she buys and sells to those very people who used to curse her!
These fuel efficient stoves will help these grandmothers as they continue to care for their grandchildren. They will make their lives just a bit lighter and brighter.
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