Featured Storyteller

CAMEROON: How My Grandmother Set the Pace for Girls in Our Community

leila Kigha
Posted December 6, 2016 from Cameroon

A break with tradition to pursue education transformed three generations of women in Leila

Kigha's familyand an entire community.

“Change for women and girls is possible, and we are working toward it one woman, one community at a time.

Nsaigha Thecla, or Yah Thecla, as I fondly call her, is my maternal grandmother. From her name, Thecla, came both my English names—Theresa Claire. I always wondered how my mother managed to sail through all the traumas she had in marriage and raising her three children. As I grew up I discovered it was from this woman, her mother, that she drew strength.

My grandmother is almost in her 90s, but you would never believe it. She still stands strong, holding together her family of eight children and now 35 grandchildren. Having lost her husband over 20 years ago, she faced what every widow faces in a typical African society. Her property was seized, and she had one of two choices: remarry her husband’s brother in order to continue supporting her family or refuse and fend for herself. She chose not to remarry.

To understand the kind of person my grandmother is, you need to know my mother’s story.

My mother is the first daughter and first child of her family. Back then one would have expected my illiterate grandmotherto follow the norm and keep her daughter home to prepare her for marriage. This had been the case for my grandmother when she was growing up, after all. However, not only did she encourage my mother’s schooling, she sent her to boarding school for a better education. This was not common in the community, and it set the pace for every child in the family.

When my own father died, this same value of education guided my mother. She drew from her experiences growing up and gave her all so that her children could go to school in spite of the difficulties. My mother never gave up. She invested what she had, sold all she had, and borrowed all she could to send us to school.

My mother followed in my grandmother’s footsteps, and today my mother’s children are following in hers, continuing the ripple effect. In honor of the inspiring women who came before us, my siblings and I decided to give back to our community. We recently traveled to our grandmother's and mother's hometown of Kisenjamto see how we could make a difference in the lives of women there.

Kisenjam is one of the villages of the Jakiri subdivision in northwest Cameroon. In this community, women are the breadwinners and almost all of them are farmers. While their husbands converge every morning to tap and drink palm wine, the women take care of the children (some haveas many as nine), go to the farms, prepare food, and still see to the financial and physicalneeds of their husbands. Under these circumstances, I expected to meet frustrated and angry women, but instead, I met a group of vibrant, grateful, cheerful, and hard-working women who all have open hearts and are ready to move forward.

Gathered together with these women in my grandmother’s compound, I spent time getting to know them and the dreams they had. Specifically, they hoped for more financial autonomy. And they hoped for education and the chance to acquire skills.

Their tenacity and hope for the future, not only for themselves but for their children, brought tears to my eyes. Their gratitude for the little we gave—some food and financial support—made me cry more. Their strength and willingness to learn and grow humbled me.

I knew then and there why we had come back to them—because one woman in this community, my grandmother, broke with tradition and educated her first child, a girl. Because that girl, empowered by her illiterate mother, went on to educate many others.

This is where the ripple began that later brought my family the opportunities and empowerment we cherish today.

It is now our turn to empower our communities.

Change for women and girls is possible, and we are working toward it one woman, one community at a time.

My siblings and I designed the ShineALight Africa initiative, which brings together individual women to create a cooperative through which they can sell their farm produce as a group. Together they will be an influence in their community, and money made will help pay fees to keep children in schools andsupport the local community as well. We are also working to empower these women with other income-generating skills, and to that end are developing new projects, such as a poultry farm.

Today I honor and celebrate my grandmother Nsaigha Thecla, a woman who defied all odds to educate her daughter. The ripple effect of herinvestment in her girl child is still being feltand is waxing stronger today.

Comments 11

Log in or register to post comments
Corine Milano
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Thank you for sharing this story of three generations of powerful, strong women! What a lovely tribute to your grandmother and to your mother. 

leila Kigha
Dec 07, 2016
Dec 07, 2016

Thank you very much! We have received so much and it's time we gave back as well!

Elnah Naledi
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Wow so true, african woman have been through a lot and it has never stopped them from achieving their dreams. We need to keep up the spirit of hard work so that we can progress.

leila Kigha
Dec 07, 2016
Dec 07, 2016

So true my dear!  We cannot under estimate the strength of an African woman especially when it comes to bringing up her children. She is unstoppable!

Nakinti
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Oh dear! Leila, as I was reading your post, I was getting goose bumps. I was smiling and tearing at the same time. They were all tears of happiness and encouragement to an illiterate woman who thought of educating her daughter in an era when female education was not a norm. How wonderful. Right now, I honestly want to meet your grand mum and give her a tight long hug, I really want to. Oh wow!!!!!!!

You see, that is why I tell people that if you give a girl education, the in turn educate many other girls as generations roll in and out. If you grand mum failed in educating your mum, you probably would have been just another village girl married off to some coffee farmer mothering at least 6 children and counting. And the cycle of poverty will continue.

Leila, I am so proud of the fact that you have gone back to your grandmum's village to give back to women who toil day in day out trying to put one and two together. Please, when next you meet your grand mum, tell her Nakinti Besumbu Nofuru sends her respect and appreciation for guiding a generation of a educated woman.

May you and your siblings continue to seed change. May ShineALight Africa grow to empower more women and girls. May grand ma Nsaigha Thecla Live till she says "God I am ready to go now." Oh, I don't want to stop writing but I must stop.

Sending you, your mum, your siblings, and grand ma Thecla mad LOVE!

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 07, 2016
Dec 07, 2016

Dear Leila,

I love reading about our fore mothers who defied social expectations, rules and regulations to hold true to what they believed deep down was the way to go. As I read about your beloved grandmother Nsaigha Thecla and what she has managed to do, my jaw just dropped open and my heart sang as I read about her courage and determination, your mother's, your own and the work you and your siblings are doing, and then the strength and spirit of the women farmers in your village. I am glad too that you wrote about them farming. Most people don't realize that there are so many women farmers, tough, strong, skilled, capable, innovative women providing food to everyone. The work you are doing is such a fine example of the ripple of real change. The children of these women will be remembering you.

With love in sisterhood,

Tam

leila Kigha
Dec 09, 2016
Dec 09, 2016

Thank you very much for your warm words Tam!

they ring so deep and true! these women provide food for our tables everyday inspite of their circumstances and i believe it is our place to help them improve the quality of their services and give them more access to education and the using our platform will not only educate them but expose them and their children to a network of strong women like them!

PilarAlbisu
Dec 08, 2016
Dec 08, 2016

Hi Leila!

What a wonderful and inspiring story! You have shown us all the power of educating just one girl! I am so moved by your story. What an amazing thing to have seen firsthand the the ripple effect in your grandmother's community! You clearly have that same strength and tenacity shown by the women in the community. I congratulate you and your siblings on your ShineALight initiative, a great way to empower women in the ways that they wish to be empowered. Please keep us posted on how it continues!

Wishing you every success possible!

Pilar

leila Kigha
Dec 09, 2016
Dec 09, 2016

thank you for your warm words and encouragement Pilar

together we are making the difference in our communities one woman at a time!

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 14, 2016
Dec 14, 2016

More than ever, I believe strongly these words, 'To educate a man you educate an individual. To educate a woman, you educate a community'. hearts and hats off to your pacesetting grandmother.

Soumeya Lerari
Jan 12, 2017
Jan 12, 2017

Loved this story!