Posted on March 20, 2020
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“I remembered I used to watch my grandmother on the loom… I always wanted to be able to do the same” [Collette Ilboudou]
Chaos and instability are concepts that we are all familiar with to some degree or another, whether it is the flight that was cancelled or the passing of a loved one. Obviously, these are two extremes, but the loss and disruption to our normal way of life is a relatable context for the majority of people. Normally we carry on after a length of time and find our feet again with the help of friends, family and those around us. We aren’t usually faced with a real question of survival, threat and deep anxiety over the safety of our children.
For the widow’s that ACT is helping across Africa the reality of losing their partner is the latter — the chaos and instability — product of their husband’s death, can put the livelihood of the entire family at risk. At ACT, women and children are at the centre of our charitable work. This blog looks at how we empower widows in Africa who are in need and how our project can drastically change a family’s future prospects.
So, what exactly is the ACT Widows project, and how has this changed the lives of widows in rural African society? To answer these questions, it is best to provide an overview of the Widows project, and then to look at an example of a beneficiary.
The Widow’s project aims to empower needy widows in rural African society, who having lost their husband, normally the breadwinner, find themselves in a spiral to poverty, unable to sustain their families or educate their children. We provide the women with training to help build their confidence. Our first step is to bring them together to form a group so that they are not isolated, feeling that they are alone. This first stage of the programme helps to address the group’s shared loss in the knowledge that they are experiencing similar economic and emotional challenges. Counselling is offered to those who have been very adversely affected by their experience. This crucial stage aims to build the feelings of strength and encourages them to see there is a collective hope not only for them but their families also. The next stage is helping them to recognise individually that they each have a gift or ability – they are not useless, as some of them tend to think. We help them to tease out their strengths and use this as the basis of forming project ideas that they may want to pursue. The third stage is a course tailored to teaching them the principles of business, how to make a sustainable profit. The training does not promise the widows a loan but allows them to pursue a business idea using their own initiative with the microloan only acting to fulfil this business idea. If the participants manage to pay back their loan, this is then reinvested back into supporting other widows.
Collette’s story is the kind of story that deeply impacts our volunteers at ACT and gives those who work on the Widows Project pure so much joy.
Collette was one of the first women to take part in the Widows Project in Burkina Faso in 2004. Her husband had tragically passed away from malaria in 1995 and Collette’s ability to carry on supporting her 7 children as well as looking after her own mental and physical well-being was tested to the furthest limit. Traumatised and unable to cope with looking after her children she attempted suicide a number of times. She came to the attention of ACT and we were able to support 2 of her 7 children, Jeanette and Jerome.
In Collette’s own words the first few days of the project were focussed on opening the wounds and sharing emotions which ‘surprised me [as to how] open everybody was,’ with volunteers acting as facilitators and counsellors. ‘A lot of pain was released,’ as the group moved onto Day 3 whereby the widows rediscovered old talents and forgotten passions, whilst starting to think how their God-given gifts could be monetised. Collette, ‘remember(s) how my grandmother used to use the loom, and how I used to wish I could do it with her.’ So, Collette was able to invest with the help of ACT, and some money from her sister, in a loom.
To this day, Collette’s story of self-empowerment and determination to overcome adversity is inspiring. She has managed to expand her business and now has more ‘ladies come to join [her] in the compound,’ to work 12 looms. Her daughter Jeanette, through ACT’s sponsorship was able to begin a career in clothes design- employing her mother’s talents to help with the production of materials for her designs.
‘Teach them to fish and you will feed them forever’
The inter-connectivity of ACT’s projects and support proves how our work in Africa is leaving a lasting impact on the communities where we operate. It shows the incredible effort of those we work with to break the cycle of poverty. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. The options for Collette after the death of her husband were grim. Through ACT Collette was able to find a way to drastically improve the situation for her children, and even watch her daughter make her own way in the world.
We can only continue to support women and children in the most remote of African regions with your kind support and the amazing dedication of our community volunteers. Click here to donate today.