Health is wealth. Without good health, women cannot live meaningful lives. They would not be able to cater effectively for their homes and children. Without good health, women's economic status would continue to remain poor, as they would be spending money on medication. Most times they even have to spend more because they patronize quacks who run Chemist shops and sell their drugs according to the amount of money a patient can afford. This is the situation at the Boki hard-to-reach information-poor and impoverished communities, where there are no doctors. The people live in ignorance and resort to self-medication, causing more health problems to themselves. Drug abuse is the order of the day, as the quacks are just after making their money and not concerned about the dangerous side-effects of under dose or abuse of drugs. Thus, the patronage is high, to the detriment of the people's health.
This is one of the serious concerns that informed my decision to design "Nutrition Baskets" to be donated to the poorest and most vulnerable women in the communities of Boki in Cross River State, Nigeria.
I reason that poverty and disease have a twin relationship and so to tackle poverty at its roots, we must first fight common environmental diseases that are preventable. Though there are common diseases like Malaria, cholera, diahorrae and typhoid, I am looking at improving nutrition and Hygiene, with the sole aim of significantly increasing empowered households in the communities of Boki. I want the women to be healthy, with their families. That is the easiest way they can comfortably embrace change.
For those who have been following my stories, you know why I embarked on this project that kicked of two years ago, using International Women's Day Celebration as an entry point, to reach out to help women in distressed conditions. The project, " My Empowerment Walk:One Woman, One Girl-At-A-Time, seeks to identify poor women who are in real need of encouragement, support, financial, resources and otherwise. I equally was born and bred in the same rural areas and I suffered violence in marriage and still experience discrimination in my parent's house and of course, the workplace. So I know and feel the pains of the women in the communities. I am always current about their situations because I still live with them by way of coordinating life enhancing programmes that see me going to the villages, two times in a month. Then programmes are thriving and gaining more acceptance by the day.
When I look back in retrospect and take close look at my past and present, I see mistakes that I now use as my lessons learned that give me strength and the push to press harder to realise the dream of a better life for all. Sad that a lot of women, nay, grassroots women do not have the opportunities and tools that can help them get out of the long-standing plight they have been in, through out their lives. They are still largely marginalized. They need my support and encouragement to get out of abject poverty. That still live in ignorance. Their over-burdened workload and burden, couple with high level of illiteracy have made them unaware of the circumstances surrounding their very existence. It is for these kind of women that I write my story for other people to be encouraged to take action to change the long-standing plight of the women in the communities. I have also been in their shoes though the difference is that I was fortunate to be given an education. I write for the impoverished women themselves to know that they are not alone. I am Walking with them and very soon, many others would join us. I mingle with them always because I want them to understand that they too, can step out of a sorry sight, into a new life that offers them dignity and hope. I still experience ugly situations now and then, but I am not wavering. I am courageous and standing strong, holding my head high and determined to succeed in bringing real change the society can believe in. I walked out of a marriage that could offer me nothing but misery, because I was determined to live my life, my own way. I am glad today, that it is all over. At a point the whole world seemed against me. Even nature was unkind to me when I began to bury my children. The whole of my family stood against and it is still so today, even though we pretend that everything is alright. Interestingly, that does not bother me any more. I am created to be a Winner and I must win on the right against poverty. I had so much burdens, with no one to turn to. But I have a burning passion to turn things around for the good of women. This desire saw me searching the internet to see if there were organizations and good-hearted individuals willing to change the plight of women for real. Then, I found it-the World Pulse online community standing strong for women across the globe.
Compared to these women who do not have access to the Internet and opportunities and tools that abound for their counterparts in the metropolis, I am most fortunate. Unlike the rural women, I have an education. I am open to criticisms and welcome new ideas. I am not unaware of the circumstances surrounding my very existence, but they are. Therefore, they need to be helped to step out of this pathetic state that does not seem to be changing. Sadly, they have resigned their fate to a life of hopelessness. I can access numerous opportunities and tools that can offer me a better life but they cannot.
The women in rural Nigeria got close to attaining a better life when the wife of a one-time Head of State, late Maryiam Babangida initiated and championed "Better Life For Rural Women" programme. As laudable as the program was, it did not see the light of day, as it died off after her husband, General Ibrahim Babangida was out of power. This was how the rural women lost the golden opportunity of having their lives changed for the better. This was a big blow to those of us who wished that life got trully better for the poorest women.
Today, we still have a chance to begin a new life. A life that everyone is equal and is able to fulfil their potentials without disadvantage. A life that bears hope and dignity for all, even the large marginalized. This unique opportunity is given to us my World Pulse. A safe space for all women of all classes, irrespective of religion, race and age, to work together on bring positive change everywhere. The determination to change my life and even the lives of others around me, drive me into searching the internet, where I found the World Pulse online community. I couldn't resist the place. I read stories that touched the heart. Some stories that sisters wrote as if they were writing about me. I was over joyed when I read about the love women shared-the ties that bind us in a flourishing Sisterhood promoting love, leave and unity in diversity. So why won't I be happy to be in the Sisterhood? True, change begins with a story. It is equally true that you cannot change what does not exist. You can only tell the story of what has been in existence. The long suffering of women in the communities have been in existence for years, so we will tell their stories and equally lead them to tell their stories by themselves. It is only can we know what ought to be changed.
The change process on my part, has begun with my voice. Great, so somewhere in life there are sisters willing to give me listening ears and the support I need? What a wonderful way if giving someone a good sense of belonging. So I am writing my story. I will make the community women to also write their stories. Reading us means that the world is hearing is voice out. I am motivated and most encouraged by the show of love being exhibited daily by World Pulse Sisters across the globe. That is why I am encouraged step-down knowledge and all the goodies that life can offer, to the rural women, as well. We cannot unite together and say we are authors of our destiny if we do not begin to tackle poverty at its roots. We must tackle ignorance and illiteracy and make sure that women in rural Boki are not cut off from information and resource sharing. Poor women can only listen to you or concentrate to do what you wish them do, when you churn out practical offer of assistance that raises their standard of living. The over-burdened workload and labour, including child care, and in some cases where some of them are Bread Winners in the homes cannot allow them to readily embrace new habits, which in the first place is alien to them.
For the above reasoning, behavior Change communication is key and very apt. I therefore, initiated the project, "My Empowerment Walk: One Woman, One Girl -At-A-Time, aims to give priority attention to the poorest women by concentrating first on one women before handling another woman in need. I put in fervent efforts to make the beneficiary feel at ease and willing to share her story. This way, friendship is established. Trust is built and then, we would be happy that we have registered an impressive feat. Then, I offer her my Nutrition Basket, packed full with numerous organic foods and sea products. I train her on-the-spot to realise that the Nutrition Basket is like a First Aid and every woman needs it in her kitchen. I also integrated Water, Sanitation And Hygiene (WASH) education/practice. The aim is to inculcate in the women, the need to keep clean, the basket, the kitchen to ensure tha the place is frequently cleaned.
They would further stay away from the doctor and save their money for other numerous needs. This way, we would, among other things be encouraging general good hygiene habits and a social-change communication among the women. We shall have tackled poverty at its roots by fighting disease and ignorance that hitherto, left them malnourished.
Today more than 50 women have been registered in a Cooperative Society, RURAL WOMEN ORGANIC FOODS AND SEA PRODUCTS that I registered for them. The women receive trainings on nutrition, clean environment and leadership. I train them to educate themselves to understand that they are the authors of their lives and as such, they need to work together to create their destiny by themselves. I show them photos and activities from the World Pulse, leading them to understand how they can also be bold to speak out for the world to hear them and what they want changed in their lives and communities.
It is expected that by the time all members of the Cooperative Society (50 in number) become beneficiaries of my "Empowerment Walk...", they would be Vocal Leaders at the grassroots, gearing up to speak out for the world to hear them.
I am consistent in making a story in which our dreams of change become reality. This year's International Women's Day (IWD), with the theme: "Balance for Better", I surprised another household. Mrs. Elizabeth Obi and her aged Mother In-Law, Mrs. Njo Obi. In the company of my Friend, Cecilia Ofum, I donated two Nutrition Baskets to them. Hoping that they would sell the locust beans to make some little money to start their small businesses, also.
So far, I have empowered five (5) women since I began the WALK two years ago. Though there are many other beneficiaries who have gained indirectly from the involvement in my trainings.
These and more actions I will lead the women of Boki to take, in order to ensure that they too, become as vocal as their counterparts in the outside world.