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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