Heart of Her Homeland

Posted February 10, 2014 from Nigeria

KADUNA, Nigeria: In the wake of the recent deadly attacks by herdsmen in the Zilang and Mafang hills, located in the Attarkar community, which left several women and children dead and wounded, I felt eager and more convinced that I made the right choice to meet with Chief Mrs. Anna Avong (JP) the Sak-Kfuio-Takad (traditional title meaning ‘Heart-of-Attarkar People’); and advisor of the Takad Traditional Council on women affairs.

While traveling back to Kaduna from Lagos, all I could think about was the many past trips that I had made to Attarkar and the fulfilling times that I had spent in the company of Anna and her women’s group.

When thinking about these times, I recalled how when we walked in the community, people either curtsied or squatted to greet Anna. Migrant Fulani men could be spotted directing their grazing herds, just as I could routinely observe Fulani women adorned in their very lovely traditional attires, jewelries strung from colorful beads, and calabash containers on their heads; with which they hawked fresh milk and cheese. The natives who are mostly farmers mixed freely with the Fulanis and harmony appeared endemic.

However, the past four months have been very unsettling and engaging for Anna. Just as her wealth of experience speaks for her, she spoke audibly, clearly and loudly with her own unique voice!

According to her, “the recurring bloody attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen leave the community fearful, sad, devastated and pitiful; as women, children and men that cut across various ages were either killed or badly wounded. Churches, schools and homes have also been destroyed”. She told me a story about a newly delivered woman, her baby and aged mother in-law who were hacked down in cold blood.

A few days later, Anna solicited food, basic household items and clothing from friends, colleagues and well wishers. She also rented a commercial bus to bring the relief materials to the affected areas. She told me how “she met some of the victims, prayed with them and encouraged them to thank God for their survival.”

Thus her own long incubated initiative “Chatan” (this word was created by combining ‘chat’ which in Anna’s native language means love and the first two letters of her name ‘an’) was birthed. On the platform, of Chatan, she seeks to address all forms of social and cultural injustices against women, in particular. Plausibly, her commitment to improving the lives of women aligns with my motivation for advancing women’s active participation in natural resource use, control and stewardship.

Anna is using her wealth of experience to bring together women from the feuding ethnic groups, across her community, to chart a new course for the promotion of love, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. She believes that women can contribute extensively to protecting the environment and also preventing and or resolving tensions and conflicts resulting from competition over resources.

There are just too many remarkable sides to Anna’s life of devoutness and courage. “I got married at the young age of 19, however, I didn’t give up my educational pursuit”, she said. Sak-Kfuio-Takad narrated how her third pregnancy resulted in the delivery of a set of twins just two weeks after her National College of Education’s final examination in 1979. Not letting this get in her way, she won the honor of the best graduating Geography student that same year!

Her journey into widowhood began two years later when her husband died in a ghastly motor accident, leaving her with four little children to raise. She described this experience as “very painful, sad, unexpected and shocking but a reality she learned to accept.” At no point did she allow herself to be pitied, rather she was determined to tackle the challenge of- lack, stigmatization, opposition and blackmail that she faced as a widow.

Anna told me that "she knew that education was the only way out of her predicament.” In 1982, she was admitted to a graduate course in Language Arts, at the well regarded Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In order to attend, she and her children went to live with her parents for two years. She worked extra hard to make a living and sponsor her children’s education, while attending school. That monumental step, sacrifice and effort earned her a degree and also fast tracked her career development which she attributed to unshaken faith in God, perseverance and dedication to duty. Her children are also well educated, married and making their marks too!

Now, I became curious to know how she was able to rise through the ranks, from a classroom teacher to the level of a Director of Education before retiring into full time activism.

Taking a deep breath, she responded, “I believe strongly in modesty, selfless service, personal development and giving my best to whatever I commit to do.” Anna lives in a prejudicial society, where women are expected to be seen and not heard, but she never allowed herself to be deterred. She carried this mentality with her, as she challenged several social, cultural, and religious practices that are detrimental to women and girls. For example a traditional practice that disallows women from breaking or picking ‘Kola’ during festivities.

Anna is a grandmother who is retired but not tired! The current National President of the Attarkar Women Association of Nigeria (AWAN) has won several awards and she still volunteers her time to many organizations. She has been involved in membership and leadership capacities with the prestigious Young Men Christian Association and the National Council of Women Societies in Nigeria, among other local, national, and international bodies. “I find fulfillment in empowering women, youth and children, and they are at the center of everything I do!” she enthused.

In the spirit of comradeship and admiration for her commitment to humanity and Mother Earth, I celebrate Anna-‘A towering beacon of change whose ears remain sympathetic to the cries of the oppressed”

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