By Ella Syl-MacFoy, Gender Programme Officer, Trócaire Sierra Leone
“I will just drop my kids off at a friend’s place, get some rat poison, lock myself in my room, just take the poison and end this misery”.
These words hit me like 1000 volts of electricity.
As I sat with this woman in the office of our partner Access to Justice Law Centre (AJLC) in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, it became apparent to me that she was not bluffing.
There she sat on the floor with a seriously ill child and another a year or two older clinging to her “lappa” (a piece of cloth tied around the waist that comes down to the ankle).
The woman herself did not look well either, she looked emaciated.
She had some medication in a small plastic bag. She explained to us that she had to sell some of her pans and some lappas to raise the money to take this child to the hospital. Her husband had abandoned her with three kids. Their relationship had been one dominated by violence and fear.
Through its work, AJLC had managed to locate him and hold him to account, and he had started paying a very minimal amount of child support. Unfortunately, he had disappeared again, and this time he could not be traced.
Looking into her eyes – I knew that something had to be done for women like this.
Caption: Ella Syl-MacFoy
Trócaire has just included a livelihoods component, in its gender programme in Sierra Leone.
This programme will support the most vulnerable survivors of gender based violence (GBV)―who will receive immediate livelihoods support to bring them back on their feet.
This could later be followed by some form of skills training. A total of 60 women in three districts in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone were targeted with support to engage them in small scale businesses and to train others in tie-dyeing, soap-making, catering and hairdressing.
In May this year, four months into the project, I went on a monitoring trip to see how these beneficiaries were faring and to get their feedback on the project.
In one household, I met a woman who sat behind a large table loaded with sugar, salt, tinned tomatoes, onions, boxes of matches, biscuits, soap and other goods.
Upon seeing us arrive the woman rushed towards us beaming. “Aunty Ella, good afternoon!” she said. I was a bit taken aback that she knew my name and apparently it showed because she asked, “Don’t you remember me?”
It suddenly dawned on me that this was the very same woman who had told me she was going to commit suicide only a few months earlier! The transformation was incredible; she was so full of life and looked so much younger and healthier.
She went on to explain the changes the project had brought to her life. She had moved from her parents' house into a two-roomed home that she continues to share with her younger sister.
She now takes care of her family. “I give my younger sister ‘chop money’ every day to cook”, she told me. Her eldest child, who was five, would be starting school that year.
“I’ve bought all his books, his uniforms and shoes. I’m just waiting for schools to reopen. He already has everything!” She went on to tell us she was now both ’Mama’ and ‘Papa’ to her kids and wasn’t ready to get into a new relationship any time soon.
She wanted to focus on growing the business and taking care of her family.
“My husband made me feel lower than a dog but today I am happy. I now have respect in my family and the community. I no longer have to beg from people, pawn or sell my property to take care of my kids. In fact, people now come to borrow money from me! Thank you, Trócaire!”
I was amazed at her attitude. This really was one confident woman.
This for me is one of the high points of my work with Trócaire. To see this woman rise from a position of hopelessness, rise from the ashes of a very dire situation to become a strong and independent woman.
We might not get up close and personal with every one of the people we work with, but as the change takes place in the lives of these women, we know it will continue to resonate within their families, onto their communities, and in their nations.