I am Deborah, a 38-year-old mother of two boys and two girls, aged 6 – 20 years. I was born into a large family of 15 in the Rim community of Barkin Ladi, the local government area of Plateau State. I am the last of the six surviving children out of 13 of my parents. My parents were subsistent farmers of maize, benniseed, rice, and millet; this was not enough to cater for 15 people. Three square meals and school fees, which was only N300 ($0.73c) at the time, were luxuries my parents could not afford. I dropped out at primary four and spent most of my time doing farm work.
In my community, it is common for 14-year-old girls to get married, and most times, it is to married men with one or two wives or sometimes to young boys who are yet to find their own feet.
These boys patronize illegal mining sites where they find tin minerals, and once they sell to make little money, they drop out of school. The aftermath is usually to get a girl pregnant and have her move into his father’s house. This can be attributed to the high poverty rate and lack of exposure. Many of us have never traveled out of this community, so we believe the world revolves around Rim community.
I fell into that trap! I needed basic necessities to take care of myself, which my parents could not provide. It was so easy to fall for the young Felix, who was 17 years old, just about a year older than me. I felt he had high prospects because he always bought stuff for me, which led to the belief that he would do a better job taking care of me than my parents. So, I got pregnant and moved into the one room provided to us at his father’s house.
His father had been killed in one of the crises that rocked the village, so we stayed with his mother and some of his nieces and nephews whose parents had gone to neighboring villages in search of greener pastures. His aged mother did not give me much trouble except for the occasional fights.
Like my mother, I kept losing babies mysteriously and it was emotionally draining. People speculated that our lineage had been cursed, which was the reason for the unexplainable deaths. It was depressing to go through pregnancy and childbirth then lose the baby in strange circumstances. I realize now that I have learned about sickle cell disease in the WfWi program; apparently, there is a history of sickle cell in my family and my husband’s family.
In 2017, my husband was gruesomely murdered alongside some men in the community on their way back from the market. I remember hearing gunshots from a distance while I was at home and wondered if the community was under attack again. Minutes later, I got a call from my husband, and his voice was so faint and inaudible, so I ended the call. I found out later that that would be the last time I would hear from him. His body and eight others were found on the roadside with the goods they had bought looted.
I cried my eyes out and could not sleep for days. I played a lot of scenarios in my head, imagining how my life would be. How will I take care of the children all by myself? How will I do all the farm work alone? How was I going to cope with all the other responsibilities? I became a shadow of myself, and life held no meaning for me anymore.
Things were really difficult for me as a widow. Feeding the children and my mother-in-law was a huge challenge because sometimes we only ate once a day or went to bed hungry. I could not provide them with essential needs most of the time.
On the other hand, my eldest daughter dropped out of school to get married due to my inability to pay the children’s school fees. I sent my second son to a group that helps the less privileged in Kaduna State so that he can continue his education. My in-laws never bothered to support me with taking care of the children, so I struggled alone.
To make ends meet, I had to other illegal tin miners in my community to scavenge for tin minerals. After two or three days’ work, I make N2000 ($4.87c), with which I purchase ingredients to cook for the family.
I was successful in my third attempt to be enrolled in the program. This is my 8th month in the program, and I have learned a lot. I now understand that despite my in-laws not supporting me; I can still live in harmony with them without holding grudges. This has improved my relationship with them as we now cohabit peacefully.
Before joining the program, I never saw the need to be part of any social group because I avoided situations that would cause confrontation or misunderstanding with other women. After learning the importance of building effective networks, I am now part of the women’s group in my church. I cooperate with other women in the community when there are meetings, which has helped improve my interactions with others. I now have the confidence to correct and advise other women.
In line with the knowledge I gained in the program, I now delegate house chores and farm work to the two children left with me. When all the work is done, we spend quality time together, sharing jokes and bonding. I consciously take time to rest, which helps me feel stronger and look better and healthier.
I have also learned about the importance of managing my finances, this has helped me budget before going to the market. The essential needs come first, this enables me to save at home and join a saving circle comprising 22 women in my group. I also store grains including 2 bags of finger millet and 3 bags of maize to sell when the grains are in high demand and buy fertilizer for the next farming season.
I learned how to take care of myself, my family, and my environment from the health and wellness module. We hardly fall sick, our health has improved as a result of practicing good hygiene, water hygiene, and environmental hygiene. We keep our drinking water in a clean container and cover it tightly. I also learned for the first time that human beings all have equal rights. I used to give my male children preferential treatment because I thought they were the heads of the house and therefore better than the female children. Since the class on human rights, I ensure that they are all treated equally and teach them to respect each other.
With my stipends, I was able to save some money to buy a goat and use the knowledge gotten from Vocational Training classes to care for it. I have also been consistent in paying my children’s school fees and they are no longer driven from school for lack of payment.
My greatest achievement in life will be to train my children to any level of education they want to reach since I didn’t get the opportunity to continue with my education.
A few months to the end of the program, I got additional help from a friend of Women for Women International. Four of us were selected when our ‘aunty’ told us that someone wanted to support four widows who had been affected by the crisis. Luckily for me, I was selected and got about 40 thousand naira. I used the money to set up a mini shop where I sell provisions and staple food items. Based on the knowledge gotten from the business training classes, I reinvest the profit, and this has helped me gradually expand the business.
I am super excited about the shop because it gives me a lot of confidence that I have something that belongs to me. Not something my husband died and left me but something that I am building all by myself. I am grateful to the founder of the WFWI program, and everyone involved in impacting the lives of women, may God bless you all and continue to give you the wisdom to keep up the good work.