Growing up in the village of Semphetenyane has always been magical to me, those years even today still colour my mind with happiness.
Semphetenyane is a small village in the outskirts of Maseru city in Lesotho, surrounded by rivers, valleys, meadows, and beautiful mountains. During rainy season one can see the rainbow touch the mountains. I have since lived with my father in his early years. He was a very strong hard working man. In his early forties, he always put on his khaki trousers and matching shirts made of very strong material. To complement his attire, he usually put on his black boots and big straw hat to protect himself from the sun while working in the fields. I always thought he looked like an 18th-century kind of man and always wondered why he loved his khaki clothing so much. We had lots of cattle, sheep, and chickens in our yard.
Our source of income was mainly on sheep rearing, selling eggs, and milk. My father had so many rules, but there were two that were most important among them, that he wanted me to abide and live by. I was not allowed to arrive home after the sunset, and most importantly, to never tell a lie. Should I break any of the rules, I knew that he would make me sweep the whole big yard that was dirtied by animals. Even though I only had two rules to follow, to me as a child following only those two rules felt like he was challenging me – it was almost like saying I should fill the jars with honey and not lick my fingers. Though I always knew what my punishment would be should I break any of the rules, to me it felt like it was worth it after all the fun I would have with my friends.
When I arrived late he would say, “Leah, where is the sun? Come inside the house when you can show me the sun.” Then he would make me draw a picture of the sun. I would sit by the door sulking and sad, drawing. Eventually he would let me in, but I would still pay for it.
I remember one Friday afternoon when I was about 16-years-old and on my way back from school, my three friends and I decided to go for a swim in the river. We swam and played until the sunset. On our way back, I told my friends about my father’s rules.
They laughed at me and somehow it made me a bit uneasy, because I wondered if their parents ever set any rules for them. They advised me to lie and say I had gone to see my grandmother in a nearby village, though I didn’t like the idea, I went ahead with it anyways. When I got home, my father was very furious, but before he could ask, I told him about my visit to grandma’s house. He was not so convinced, a bit reluctant to believe me, but he let it go.
I felt a relief seeing that he bought my story.
This became a habit for me to go to the river with my friends for a few Fridays after school, and then I would lie to him. One time, I was not aware that my grandmother was coming to visit us that day for the weekend. As usual, I lied to him, only to wake up in the morning to find my grandmother sitting at our coffee table making breakfast. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I started shaking with fear and shame, remembering what I had just told my father the previous night.
My father was disappointed and I could see it in his eyes. As punishment, he made me sweep our yard and our neighbour’s yard for the next 10 days, because I had lied to him. Even today, he still has pictures that he would make me draw each time I arrived home late.
All these memories built me to be the woman I am today. Though he doesn’t make me draw anymore, whenever I arrive home late, he still reminds me that if I wasn’t an adult, he would make me draw.
As UNESCO showed in 2009, Somalia is a country where the literacy rate of female adults is 25.8%; cultural issues and some other factors lead to a low level of female education. Mostly, the parents of Somalis, particularly those who live in the rural areas, prefer to get family assistance from girls instead of sending them to education centers. In rural and some urban areas, the girls are busy with the work in the house, including laundry, cooking, etc.
Yusuf Aybakar Shador is a father who was one of the engineering students of Somali National University, before the destruction of the country in 1991. At that time, he was at junior stage (third year) of the university, but unfortunately he was not able to finish the year because of civil wars broke out in the country. It was a surprise that he rejoined the Somali National University when it reopened in 2014. Once he was asked the reason that he didn’t enroll in another university. He answered that the other universities were mostly of lower quality. Now he is a student of the faculty of Law, and he is in his third year of the university.
Not only him, his four other daughters are also attending the same university. Fatima Yusuf is a student in the faculty of Medicine, and she is in her third year. Naima is a student in the faculty of Engineering, and similarly to Fatima, she is in her third year of the university. Muno, who studies Economics, and Iman who studies Education, are in their first year of the university.
In the last weeks, in interviews he gave to the international media, including BBC, VOA, and Al-Jazeera, he told about how he is happy to be student of Somali National University with his four daughters. He also gave interviews to other local and international media outlets, and many articles about his interesting story were published.
Following this event, we can learn many things from it, including:
Educating girls is something very important.
There are in Africa, especially Somalia, fathers who preferr to educate their girls instead of keeping them uneducated.
There is no excuse for being uneducated, weather it is age, the need for girls to help at home, etc.
I started feeling internal peace when I joined the international platform for peace building within my field of profession last year in August. When I got selected for the YaLa Young Leaders Citizen Journalism training program for peacebuilding, everything opened up in my soul.
Sometimes, a sprout is not recognized until it grows big to a point when people start picking fruits from it. It takes only the few to pay attention to it, for they know its fruitful destination. It took my passion for peaceful living and hope to participate in the YaLa program. I completed the YaLa program in December 2016 and was awarded a prestigious certificate that soon saw me flying to the headquarters of the Africa continent to represent my country on a peacebuilding mission.
It was early January 2017 when I felt that YaLa Young Leaders gave me the opportunity to go through peacebuilding and citizen journalism training first, before representing Malawi at the 1st African Union Intercontinental – Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDOVE) youth forum at African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Amid surfing on internet, looking for opportunities, I stumbled upon a call for youth participation in the AU Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism youth forum held at AU-Commission. The forum was calling for peace activist youth from Africa and Europe. For I had acquired international skills from YaLa and could not afford to let the opportunity to pass by me. I applied for the forum with reference to YaLa and related activism acquired while working with Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI), a local non-government organisation in Malawi.
On February 3, 2017 my just sprouting wings for peacebuilding grew stronger when I got an email that said I was selected to participate in the first Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove) Youth Forum organised by the African Union Commission (AUC), Gesellschaft Internationale Zusammenarbelt (GIZ) and Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS). In my disbelief, I repeated reading the email with a silent YaLa song; my heart was filled with joy that many felt.
The email was a dove with an answer to my desire to become an internationally-recognised peace activist. I considered myself privileged that I was among 40 young people selected from a pool of 4,000 applicants from Africa and Europe. As the young leaders entrusted from the two continents, at the forum we deliberated on issues pertaining to Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) through the soft power of religion. At the forum, we also produced contemporary recommendations and activities on how to prevent Violent Extremism.
More interesting at the forum, we went so far as to develop strategic directions for the iDove project based on principles and methods of interfaith dialogue on preventing extremism and de-radicalisation. We developed suitable concepts and applications for the iDove website, which was launched at the forum. As the champions for peace, we developed concepts and mechanisms to support small-scale, youth-run communications, virtual, and innovative community initiatives to be implemented in Africa and Europe within project objectives. For establishing and sustaining the iDove movement, we designed plans for a monitoring and evaluation system to monitor the implementation of the small-scale projects and for follow up mechanisms.
Back home. everyone was calling me ‘Dove’ because I flew for the first time in my life. The nick-name corresponded to ‘iDover’ – the name every one of us adopted at the forum. Now I am very proud of that name. With the experience I have acquired from YaLa and iDove, I have the confidence and support to advance in working to prevent violent extremism in Malawi and Africa. Currently, I am working to establish YaLa – iDove to peace making organisations and other stakeholders in Malawi such as Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
It was a sunny Wednesday in mid-February. Together my colleagues from the CONGOMA, Lilongwe office, I set off to appreciate what impact NGOs are making in the communities. Ten kilometers from the Mchinji District north of the Boma, we were greeted by a sign post, saying “Welcome to Home of Hope”. I wasn’t sure whether this was the place we were looking for, so my colleagues decided to ask some young girls coming out of the gate. They confirmed it was the right place and we were eager to get in.
When we entered through the gates which we thought was the main gate, we saw the school buildings and pupils lingering about, only to realize it was around 10:30 in the morning and thus break time. The first observation I made was the presence of pupils and children of all ages, meaning this place did not discriminate; they took everyone in regardless of where they came from and how they got there.
As we approached the classrooms to ask where we could meet the authorities at the place, we were welcomed by a cheerful albino lady who directed us to the administration building. While Malawi as a country has a record of discriminating against and abuse of the disabled, people with albinism and orphans, just to mention a few, we noted how all these people had been embraced by the school. They looked free and happy.
We proceeded to the administration building, passing by several other buildings, including hostels, houses, a church, an auditorium, a maize mill and a garden. As we approached the building, we were welcomed by a slender, light skinned lady who ushered us into the Executive Director’s office. After introducing ourselves, we explained the purpose of our visit and the director sent us to Rev. Dr. Chipeta, who is the overseer of the place. We found him at the Guest House, where he was waiting for representatives of the Ministry of Education. He then took us to the office and told us about the founding and the history of HOME OF HOPE:
“I was born in 1929 in the northern part of Malawi. I lost my parents at the age of 15, so I was raised by my sister. Growing up in a home inhabited by children only was by no means easy as everything, from food to care, was handled by my sister who was as much a child as I was. In order to sustain us, my sister had to get married. Traditionally, a brother is not supposed to join a sister at her new husband’s house. This meant I had to be taken care of by an uncle.”
“Because I did not have the money to pay for school fees, I had to quit school in 1950. I could not pursue my studies as I had nowhere else to find the money. It broke my heart to drop out of school, yet the circumstances were beyond everyone’s control, so I accepted the situation, hoping for the best. In 1954, I moved to Mchinji, where I worked as a clerk at the Fort Manning Missionary. The godly environment at the missionary exposed me to several men of God who were an inspiration. Within due time, one Missionary guided me to Christ and I became a fully-fledged Christian by 1956. It was from this instant that I felt God’s calling to serve in His House and in 1957 I went to attend the Theological College in order to become a pastor in the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP), Nkhoma Synod.”
“As soon as I had finished my studies, I was ordained to serve as a pastor in Zimbabwe for 15 Years. When doors open, blessings start to overflow; I had come form being an orphan and now I was a pastor. In 1978 I was sent to the University of Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, where I was awarded a diploma in theology for being a talented student.”
“Being an orphan myself I realized how many orphans lack the opportunities I had. After getting married in 1955, I lost two of my children in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Together they left behind ten orphaned children. This was the starting point for my vision for Home of Hope. I decided to retire as a Reverend and came back to Malawi to take care of my orphaned grandchildren. I had no money and the situation was helpless, but I managed to take on another 10 orphaned children, having a total of 20 orphans that my wife and I started taking care of.”
“I had no money but I had faith in God, and I was inspired by a strong vision that God was calling me to build an orphanage. Knowing the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare’s requirements to set up an orphanage, I courageously decided on meeting them to share my vision. Not pursuing this vision was not an option. I shared the vision with Reverend Dr. Hara and Reverend Chiyenda and from that moment we started forming a board of trustees and applied for approval of an orphanage from the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare.”
“Going by the motto ‘God is the Father of the Fatherless and he will sustain the orphanage’. When they rejected my application, I gave the Ministry my own testimony, including the reason I wanted to start an orphanage. By the grace of God, although I didn’t have the money, the project was approved. In 1996 we received 100 Malawian Kwacha as a start-up fund and since then, God has provided us and is still providing us.”
“Children need a lot of care, hence in the early stages of setting up the orphanage, I had my own children come to volunteer. I then employed my first treasurer, who used to be a managing partner at Graham Carr, called Loudon. He asked me whether I knew the story of Jesus. The story says that if a man wants to build a tower, he must sit down, estimate the costs and check if he has enough money to complete it (Luke 14:28). I told him I agreed, but continued to tell him that God would provide. Soon after, a friend of ours donated 38,000 Malawian Kwacha. This donation became the first money that we used to build the nursery for the orphans. At the moment, Home of Hope has many friends, who all have been very helpful. We have 700 children, a nursery, a primary and secondary school, while we are building a Technical College. We have our own health clinic with a clinical officer and a nurse appointed by the Ministry of Health.”
“Home Of Hope has made many friends in Malawi and beyond. With our work we have supported many children who are now self-reliant. For example, some are doctors, others work in field of finance or communication. Although we have done much, we are still in need of 8 staff residences. I, Reverand Chipeta, due to my commendable work, have been awarded the 2000 Bob Pierce Award by the founder of World Vision, a Paul Hals fellowship, the Our People Our Pride Award, a Rotary Club fellowship and an award for 50 years as a pastor of the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP). Conclusion: always help the needy as you never know where they will be tomorrow.”
After this powerful plea, the Reverend took us around the area. We were shown a perfect home that every orphaned child would ask for, with a perfect view of the mountain. We walked by the houses, the hostels, the classrooms, a guest house, the technical college, the library and the path to the main gate we were supposed to enter from. First, we were shown the nursery, which was the first building built and named after the donor that supported its construction. As we entered, we met happy children varying between the ages of two weeks to three years old. They were all cheering and calling the Reverend ‘Agogo!!’ which means ‘grandfather’. We saw a two-week old baby and a three-month old baby, who both arrived a day after their birth. As their nannies came to greet us, the Reverend introduced them to us and told us of the tremendous work they do, taking care of the children. As we moved on, we saw different buildings named after their sponsors. We got to the girls’ hostel and we went to the Technical College, which is still under construction. As we walked on to the small gate facing the hill, there was a garden where different crops were grown. When we continued to see the view, one gentleman came to the Reverend and told him about the arrival of the visitors he had been waiting for.
After the tour, Reverend Chipeta took us to the Guest House where we were offered refreshments. Immediately after the refreshments, the visitors from the Ministry of Education, who had also done a tour while awaiting the reverend, arrived to the Guest House. We exchanged greetings and when I looked at my watch, I realized it had been over 2 hours since we arrived.
As we left the Rev. Dr. Chipeta, who called himself a 88-year old young boy, we were all left inspired. If you are inspired as well after reading and you would like to support the Home of Hope, you can contact Rev. Chipeta via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit their website (www.homeofhopemalawi.org).
The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.
Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.
Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.
Several points are worth noting here.
First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.
Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…
Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/
Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.
Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.
And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.
The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.
Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.
It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.
This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.
This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.
That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.
In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.
As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.
The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.
As a fresh journalism graduate, I was enthusiastic about my future. I envisioned myself addressing thousands of crowds, hosting talk shows on national television and authoring bestselling books. This dream of mine was so real in my mind that I looked forward to seeing it in reality. Being the 5th child of 6 children and the only child who had successfully navigated through tertiary institution, it felt like heaven on earth. Ready to storm the media landscape, I was shocked at the news I received few months after completion from the citadel of communication – The Nigerian institute of journalism.
It was a sunny afternoon. I was on campus to check my name for national service postings as was the norm in Nigeria and surrounding African countries; National Service is a compulsory one year service to the nation upon completion of tertiary education. While I was seated in front of the Student Affairs officer, inquisitive about why my name was not on the board, I received distressing news that my name wasn’t inclusive since I’m a Ghanaian citizen. My heart sank like a ship sinking right in the middle of a deep sea. I had looked forward to serving in the northern part of Nigeria. I had planned to learn to speak Hausa – a northern language.
I couldn’t bear the pain of not experiencing the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) orientation camp. The three-week camp is aimed at preparing ‘corpers’, as they’re known, for the year-long scheme. Being a corper is a part of the Nigerian experience. It’s seen as the last stage of tertiary education, the final hurdle and the key to the world of employment. I took solace in an African Proverb from the Hausa Tribe which says that “However long the night, the dawn will break”. And just when the caterpillar thought life was over, it began to fly. All hope was not lost as I got the chance to serve in Ghana a year later in a foremost child rights organization. I served as a field support officer.
One cold morning at about 4:30. I set off with a team of field officers on a 14 hours journey to the popular lake Volta. Volta Lake is the largest reservoir in the world by surface area and a main destination for trafficking children; an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 child slaves work in the fishing industry.
After a 14 hours ride, we had to travel for another 2 hours on the Lake to Tomato Akura – the village where we hoped to rescue trafficked children. It was my first time travelling on water in a boat and I was the only female. Stephen, the field operation manager had made sure to coach me well about the mission prior to our take off so that I did just fine.
On arrival at Tomato Akura, everywhere was dark, no electricity. I had to use my phone light. There was no hotel to lodge. No internet connections. Our host family who lived in a tiny hut made from palm fronts willingly sacrificed their wooden bed for me. I was thrilled by the show of hospitality but I had to refuse since they had three children. I couldn’t let them lay on the bare floor while I lay on their bed. I spent the night at the lake side on the boat with the worst experience of discomfort I had ever been through. At dawn, I met Kwesi, a 6year old boy who had gotten up as early as 4am to start fishing. Kwesi, along with his master and other children, would toil the lake from 4am till 3pm. Kwesi was unclothed on that chilly lake where I, at 25 years old, struggled to sleep even with quilts and blankets. He ate garri and smoked fish once a day and the same meal every day of the week.
I had to refrain from crying. The look on his face, his skinny and malnourished body, his innocent and pure countenance, the cold and freezing mornings he worked all day and the silent cry I heard in his voice as I spoke to him were moments that turned my life around. Kwesi is one out of many children who had been trafficked to engage in hazardous child labor. His face particularly left a scar in my heart. Just then, I realized just how lucky I am even though I had always thought other kids who lived with their parents had better care and opportunities than me. Prior to my experience with Kwesi, I thought the worst thing that can happen to any child is to have his or her parents separated.
With indefinable resentment in my heart over my parent’s separation, my encounter with Kwesi thought me that no pain could compare with what a child slave had to go through without both his parents. Kwesi told me that his only dream was to go back home to his parents.