WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR NIGERIAN POOR WOMEN AS WE CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY -I SELL LOCUST BEANS TO EMPOWER POOR WOMEN
By FLORENCE KEKONG
On how I celebrated the International Women's Day with poor widows in the localities of Boki local government in Cross River State, I begin this piece with words of Legendary Bob Marley; " How can you be sitting there, telling me that you care..? ", when all around, we see the people suffering?
Back to you and I. All of us, living in Nigeria. Let us not join them to say that we care when in reality we say so for our stomach sake. Take a close look around you and start taking actions now. Pick up a poor woman. Widow, single mother, a battered house wife or house help, an abused girl, pregnant teenage girl, or just any woman you know that cannot fend for herself and family.
Alright! Let us go. Let us share ideas. Ideas like viruses are contagious. I am sharing ideas on women and girls empowerment with different groups-World Pulse, Grassroots Media Women, Tosin Turns Trash To Treasure Transformation Centre and synergizing empowerment efforts with people in the rural communities.
My strategy is, one woman at a time. One girl at a time: I want you to join me but I wont wait for you, if you are not reading yet. Don't wait for anybody either, to join you, if you are kick-starting without delay. Others will join us when they see you getting it right. If you wait for people you may become like them- Talking Birds that cannot build their nests. Let your actions speak louder than words. We cannot go on living this way. We need to shift the paradigm from noisemaking to taking actions to help women and girls. I have started doing just that- one woman at a time. What about you? Well, I don't need an answer. I want to see you walk the streets, slums and impoverished communities, helping poor women and girls to live healthy lives. Helping menstruating girls stay back in school, knowing that menstruation can be managed hygienically with dignity.
I have begun my search and doing the Empowerment-Walk- helping one woman, at a time: One girl, at a time. I am not waiting for any government to do their own kind of empowerment. I don't understand their Empowerment style. If they do it in a positive manner that impacts positively on the lives of women and girls, I will synergize my empowerment efforts with theirs, by writing a good piece on that for the world to see that a good thing has been done for humanity.
I am also, not waiting for any Nigerian politician do empower the women and girls because I think it is their place to empower the people. No! their empowerment style is limited. They empower people according to their wards or local governments or State of origin. Of course, it is only possible for those who successfully get their names on their political lists to benefit from whatever plan they map out to excite and at a particular period. And your name may only be on their lists if you were seen running around them at the peak of the campaigns. Not only that, if you are still seen consistently hanging around them. And above all, if you can pay lip service and indulge in rumour mongering. Nigerian politicians dwell richly in gossips and rumours. So if you don't engage well in some of these acts, just count yourself out of their game.
I looked at all these and thought that while waiting for some probable sort of method to implement government policies ( that are largely dependent on the politicians as the case is today in Nigeria), for the empowerment of the underprivileged people, it is best to develop my own method to show the best way to empower people and make a real difference.
People are not poor because they choose to be so or they are lazy. The circumstances and the socio-political system of the Nigerian society is keeping them so. So it right to reason that we need a structural change, beginning with the shift in mindset. The value of a person is to be measured not by what she/he possesses materially, but what she/ he is as a human being. Everyone has some talents and abilities that must been developed for them to realize the rights to fulfil their potentials without disadvantage.
No one should live in poverty. That is why I am taking an Empowerment-Walk to empower the disadvantaged women in the rural communities. Empowerment of the disadvantaged women will significantly increase participation in the development cooperation/ progress. Thereby, ensuring peace and sustainable development.
To demonstrate my position that empowerment should be evenly distributed to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, I took my Empowerment Walk to the rural communities of Esom Achue in Irruan, Boki local government area, where I celebrated this year's International Women's Day, with the theme, "Press For Progress". I celebrated it with a poor widow, Madam Martina Eja, amidst her children and great grand children.
I had taken a stand to start an empowerment program for the rural women. I shared this idea with a colleague and friend who is a highly respected Global Citizen Journalist, Mrs. Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale. I explained to her that I was promoting protein-rich food and delicacies for empowered households. The goal is to reduce mortality and morbidity among mothers and children, by boosting nutrition in households, as well as raising the economic status of poor widows. I identified locust beans as being the most widely eaten in all homes of the central and northern people of Cross River State. I studied the nutritional properties of the locust beans and I began to process it to become what the Hausas call, "Dawadawa", Igbos, "Ogiri" and Yorubas, "Iru". The process is cumbersome but it is worth it. I sell the dawadawa and use the proceeds to empower poor women. You see, ideas, like viruses, are truly contagious. People are patronizing the dawadawa business so much that I am encouraged. Tosin bought a huge bulk of it and donated it to the widow I identified. The two (Olutosin and the widow) have never met one-on-one but something good has happened and it is a plus to humanity. Tosi's goodwill has given life to the women who said to me as we met her, " Life makes no meaning to me". Bit now she is smiling. Life makes so much meaning to her now, with Tosin and I, and lots of well meaning individuals to encourage her. She lost her first husband through food poision and the second in communal war between Irruan in Boki local government and Mbube in Ogoja local government of Cross River State. She had eight children. Only three serving now with great grand children. One of her grand daughters died after child birth, leaving the baby for her to nurse and cater for.
Madam Martina returned to her village after sojourning the other communities where she married. She said she didn't want to leave Katchuan Irruan, home of her second husband not when all her children started dying, she had no choice but to return to Esekwe, her father's home. She will sell her dawadawa ("Konnerre" as her Irruan people call it) and use the profits to feed her household. The fight for empowerment of the less privileged should not be left to politicians and the rich alone. All of us can empower those in need in our own little way. We should not synergize empowerment efforts, even if we are not waiting for others who are delaying in taking a stand to assist those truly in need because it is in much collaboration with individuals and organizations that we can achieve great and meaningful empowerment. Evidence is the World Pulse family, where sisters act as one, helping each other.