In the Borena community, girls are expected to fetch and carry wood and water to provide for their family. Denied a good education and the respect of their community, women are trapped in a life of poverty. We hear how Christian Aid is working to give women the means to earn a decent living
‘‘This is something you need to see with your own eyes.’’ The blunt words of Kaye Steele on her return from Ethiopia.
Kaye, from Bushmills in Co Antrim, is an intern with Christian Aid. As part of her internship Kaye travelled to Ethiopia a few months ago to see for herself some of the overseas work carried out by Christian Aid and its partners.
Kaye and the other interns visited the Borena community. The Borena are pastoralists and they move their livestock around to find fresh pasture when necessary.
Kaye was particularly moved by one young mother she met called Loko.
‘‘Meeting Loko was an eye opening experience because Loko isn’t that much older than me and yet we couldn’t live any more completely different lives.’’
Loko was abandoned by her husband, leaving her to bring up six children by herself. When Kaye met her, Loko did not own anything.
As she told Kaye, ‘‘Now I have no resources and therefore no social status. In this community if you are poor, you have no voice.’’
To feed her children, Loko goes on long journeys on foot to the mountains in search of firewood to gather and sell. She has to walk for eight hours at a time in thin plastic shoes that cannot withstand the long vicious thorns of the African bush.
Loko earns only just enough money to feed her children one small meal a day.
Loko told Kaye, ‘‘I am just surviving, I am not living. Living is someone who doesn’t worry about tomorrow. I only know about today, I do not know about tomorrow.’’
Kaye says that she asked Loko what it was like to be a woman in the Borena community. Loko said: ‘‘It is very tough to be a woman.
‘‘Men in this community are always relaxing and do very little to help. I cannot blame God for being born a woman, but it’s very challenging. Even traditionally it is very difficult. When a girl is born, no one cares and there is no happiness.
‘‘However when a boy is born there is singing and a big celebration; this is where a man gains his power. It is tough to be a woman.’’
Loko dreads collecting firewood but has no choice.
‘‘If I don’t collect firewood, my children will starve. I pray to God as I walk, asking him to change my life and lead us out of this.
‘‘I hope to be able to send all of my children to school. If I get the resources, I could send them tomorrow. I want to send all of my children to school so that so that they graduate, get a job and help each other and help me.
‘‘I don’t want my children to grow up and have to collect firewood like me. I don’t want my life to continue like this.
‘‘My hope for the future and for my children rests in God. I work day and night and I pray to Him that my children will have good, successful lives.’’
As it so happens, a short time ago Kaye told Christian Aid’s office in Belfast, ‘I have good news - I have just been told that Loko has received a heifer and two goats!’
The livestock was given to Loko by a Christian Aid partner in Ethiopia called HUNDEE, a name which translates as Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative. The first calf the heifer gives birth to will be passed on to the next woman on the waiting list.
‘‘When we met Loko she told us that she was longing for a better life,’ said Kaye. ‘Now HUNDEE have given her these animals. This is very exciting news.’’
*This year’s Christian Aid Week, 10-16 May 2015, is asking the Northern Irish public to support women living in poverty around the world who are discriminated against from birth.
You can help to change the lives of women in places like Ethiopia by donating online at www.caweek.org, calling (028) 9592 2015 or texting ‘WEEK’ to 70040 to give £5.
*Adrian Horsman is head of Media & Communications, Christian Aid Ireland