Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wonderful Women

I am winding down. As a means of closing out this year, Thulasy and I were asked to research and write an evidence based assessment of the last 12 months of the sorghum project. We presented our findings and recommendations last week. Fortunately everyone on the team agreed with us that there is a lot of room for improvement, what followed was a very productive discussion with the whole sorghum team about how to improve the project for this coming (and final year). We finished the week long meeting by developing an operating plan for remainder of the project with the whole team. The plan incorporates the majority of the recommendations Thulasy and I identified in the assessment as well as the teams lessons learnt from the past 12 months. We hope this will lead to more success in year two!

An additional outcome of the meeting was a request for Thulasy and I again to team up, but this time to do a market research study. We have been asked to look at the sorghum market in Zambia, demand versus supply as well as more details to help identify the best output markets for the cooperatives we are working with. In order to do this research the two of us are stuck in the capital, Lusaka for a few weeks. Lusaka is not an inspiring place at the best of times, right now it is even less so because as the end of my year draws near I would prefer to be spending time with my friends, family, co-workers and the farmer cooperatives in Ndola.

However, just the other day, in the midst of doing some research for the market study, I met Africa’s Most Innovative Women 2008. Mrs Banda is inspiring. Meeting her made me think even more about all the wonderful women friends that I have made in the last 12 months. And since I am thinking about them I thought I would share a little bit about them with you.

Mrs Sylvia Banda

I met Mrs Banda at the Lusaka Agriculture Show pretty much by accident. She owns and runs a catering business that sources vegetables from small scale farmers. I learnt from her that she came top 6 in last year’s Africa Business Awards for Women in Business and has been crowned Africa’s Most Innovative Women this year. She told Thulasy and me that she grew up in a village, one of 7 girls in a family of 8 children. She learned at a young age that as a girl child she was less desirable than a boy child. But she believed that she could do and achieve whatever she wished and proceeded to capitalize on her amazing natural business abilities and pursue a very profitable and successful business.


Milimo is 12 years old. She grew up in a village in the South of Zambia with her mother, the second wife to her father. But when she was 9 her sister came to fetch her and bring her back to her father’s house in Ndola. Since the age of 9 she’s been living with her father and her sisters and brothers (from her father’s first wife) and me since January when I moved in. Already at the age of 12 she’s preparing most of the families meals and is responsible for other chores such as cleaning and washing her own clothes. It’s a far stretch from a North American child but pretty typical in Zambia. Compared with her, my childhood was a cake walk, despite the fact that I was convinced doing the dishes and occasionally vacuuming was equivalent to child exploitation.


I’ve already introduced many of you to Mary. I lived with her for my first 5 months in Zambia. She is an amazingly fun and easy going lady. We would have a beer or two together on a Friday evening and chat about life. She was widowed when her two children were still very little and has been supporting them and two nieces on her teaching salary ever since.


Chileshe is 9 years old and Mary’s daughter. She’s a spunky kid that has a ton of personality and is a lot of fun. I’d promised to take her swimming, so one Saturday we ended up (with Milimo, Chileshe’s brother Chisanga and her cousin Mukuka) at the Savoy hotel, swimming in the pool. None of the kids know how to swim but they had fun splashing around. When it was time to go Chileshe decided she wanted to see the hotel. So she marched up to the life guard and asked to be given a tour. He obliged and before we knew it we were all being ushered into the hotel’s elevator and shown around the roof of the hotel. None of the kids had ever been in an elevator before but Chileshe out of all of them seemed the most at ease. She never questioned whether, she a 9 year old from the compound outside Ndola was entitled to a tour of the fanciest hotel in Ndola. She’s got more confidence than the average Zambian and I think Mary has a lot to do with that. I love it!


Christine started off as my bemba teacher to begin with but we soon became good friends. She’s a year younger than me, married with a small boy. She and her husband live in a two room house with their son and her husband’s nephew. I go by her house a few times a week, sometimes she gets me to help with the cooking or teaches me a thing or two about being a mother or if we are really motivated we do some bemba lessons, mostly we just hang out and she feeds me. She has started working as a teacher and doing some small trade (purses, clothes, perfume) to help support her small family.


Beatrice is the mother of 9. She lives in a compound on the outskirts of Ndola and travels into the city center everyday to sell fruit in the market close to my office. She’s always ready for a chat and insists that every time I see her I take a seat for a few minutes to catch up. She likes to joke with everyone that I am her daughter. Despite working long hours at her fruit stall to make ends meet, she always sends me on my way with a few apples or a banana in my pocket.


Isobel is the first born child of the family I live with. Her mother died when she was going to university in the UK and so stopped her studies to return home and take care of her family. Her father married again and had an 11th child (Milimo) but that marriage didn’t last and Isobel took over the role of mother to the whole clan. As her brothers and sisters got older they started sharing the responsibility of looking after their younger siblings with her. Now that almost all the kids are grown up and moved out Iso has me and my parents (when they are visiting) not to mention a pretty constant flow of muzungu volunteers (other EWB folks) to look after!

Mrs Finka

Mrs Finka is a grandmother in one of the villages where I’ve been working on the sorghum project. She is the best farmer in this particular village with the most impressive sorghum harvest out of them all. She lives with her 5 or 6 grandchildren and farms to support herself and her many dependants. She is typical in that many grandmothers end up looking after some of their grandkids, she stands out because she does so with confidence and ability.


Abigail is 18 and a neighbour when I lived with Mary. She just graduated from grade 12 in December. Because Grade 12 results only become available in April or May students have to wait a year before they can apply for post secondary education. She wants to become a writer and is thinking of pursuing a journalism degree next year, if not journalism she is considering development studies.

So those are a few of the women/girls in my life right now. I’ve been thinking about how amazing they are and recognizing how fortunate I am to know them. There are amazing people everywhere and it's worth taking the time to appreciate them.