Saratu and her husband were left struggling to rebuild their lives after Boko Haram extremists burned down their home and destroyed their livelihoods – a traumatic experience which she shared with us early last year.
Since joining our program in November 2019, Saratu’s life has drastically changed. Despite the hardship caused by COVID-19 – Saratu described how business dried up and her savings “vanished before her eyes” during April’s lockdown – as she prepares to graduate, Saratu’s future looks bright.
I am now in the final month of my training with Women for Women International. So far, it has been a beautiful and successful journey; a promise fulfilled.
Life has almost returned to normal after the complete lockdown during COVID-19, and activities are gradually picking up. People still wear facemasks and maintain physical distancing, especially when we meet for our Women for Women International training sessions.
My husband’s training under the Men’s Engagement Program (MEP) came to an end recently and he learnt a lot too, just like me. On the first day of his MEP class, which involved interactions with lawyers on the topic of ‘Rights’, he said,
I never knew that both men and women have equal rights. I thought we (men) have rights which we give to our wives after marriage, but I am learning that women are equal humans, and we need to start treating them as such.
Sometimes, I share what I have learnt on rights with him and he will confirm that they were taught the same. He told me that we need to plan together for our future, as it is one thing that keeps families together. He discusses his plans with me, and we decide how to spend money together.
I just concluded my training on trading - my chosen vocational track. I have learnt different methods of trading, ways to sustain my business and improve my goal-setting ability for long term growth. I have explored new markets for my business after the financial challenges of the COVID 19 lockdown, and this is working well for me. When I was able to resume my business selling steamed bean paste, I found a new market where men gather to watch football matches. I am always properly armed with my facemask and ensure proper physical distancing from the crowd. I also sell my bean paste on my Women for Women International training days to my ‘sisters’ in the program, who have now become another ‘new market’. To make this work, I ensure I arrive at our training venue as early as 8.30am. Though my training sessions do not start until 1:30pm, women who are running late for classes without having the opportunity to eat breakfast can buy from me. I make good sales before training starts!
In August, we had training on Health and Rights. Health workers and lawyers came to talk to us about the topics we were learning about, giving us the chance to speak with experts about our legal and health issues. During the health training, I had my eyes and blood pressure checked. My blood pressure was normal, but I was given a prescription for eyedrops which I have used as advised and feel better. Since I had never checked my blood pressure, the doctors advised me to check it once a month as it is free of charge in some pharmacies. I listened attentively to the lawyers during legal sessions and I asked questions too. I felt like a University student throughout my year-long period in the program.
After completing the first cycle of the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) training, my ‘sisters’ and I have agreed on a second cycle once we graduate from the program. We took it as our responsibility to train other women in our community who are not in the Women for Women International program, to help them save and plan for their future, just as we have been taught to do. During the first cycle of nine months of being a VSLA member, I was able to save N10,000.00 and made a profit of N1,400.00, making it a total of N 11,400.00. I have decided to reinvest the money in farming, so that I can sell the produce to raise more money for a small grocery shop.
I have decided to teach my daughter all I learnt, even though she is still quite young – just 7 years old. I have taught her to appreciate being a girl and to work hard at school to excel in her studies. Irrespective of her age, I have begun to reinforce the importance of completing her education before marriage. I also talk to her about sex education and to understand that everyone has the right to live a life free from violence. I have taught her to scream when anyone touches her inappropriately and warned her not to be enticed with gifts, especially from men who lure little children to abuse them.
I wish I could continue as a participant in Women for Women International’s program, but I want other women to have the chance to enroll and have benefits I received. I have really enjoyed participating in the program, and I look forward to enjoying moral support from the organization in the future. I was eagerly looking forward to my graduation; my sisters and I had planned how we would organize traditional dances, debates, and present dramas for the ceremony, but because of the COVID 19 pandemic, it couldn’t take place. I hope the next cohort of graduates after us will be able to experience a proper graduation and I will have the opportunity to witness the fanfare!
All the promises made by our trainers before I was enrolled into the program were fulfilled. We were matched with sponsors and received monthly financial support. We were given back our confidence through the training on rights. We were taught business and vocational skills to start and manage a profitable business -- at the beginning of the program I had no means of earning an income. We learned how to form effective support networks. We all have individual bank accounts; this is one thing I would never have thought of while living my old life.
In addition to all of this, we received packages of health and food items twice — in June and September — to cushion the effect of the challenges we experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I look forward to our graduation day when I will be presented with a certificate of completing the Women for Women International program. I thank you for the privilege and honor to have been a part of this great program that has helped us change our lives for the better.”
Saratu is one of 3,600 women from conflict-affected communities in Bauchi state, who is in our training program as part of a transformative three-year project funded by UK aid from the UK government.