Today is international widows’ day. It is not a day for celebration, but a rather a day of recognition and empowerment for a group of women struggling with a myriad of unimaginably difficult issues. While becoming a widow can be an emotional trauma that lasts a lifetime, for millions of the world’s widows it also means enduring a life of extreme poverty, sexual violence, loss of property and discrimination in law and custom. Malawi has more than its share of widows. In a country where over 10% of the adult population has HIV/AIDS it is sadly not uncommon for a wife to lose her husband and to be left as the sole provider for her children. Many of the widow’s in VIP’s catchment area have also lost adult children and are forced to become the sole providers for their orphaned grandchildren at just the age when, in the United States, they could expect to be entering retirement and would often rely on their children for support. Below are stories from two of the most vulnerable women in our partner villages. Both are widows, and while they face back breaking and heart wrenching poverty, what defines them are not the obstacles they face, but rather the determination and resolution that they face them with.
Sijaya Makawa and 3 of her 7 children stand in front of their house in Nkagula village. Sijaya lost her husband in 2010 and since then has had to try to provide for her children by herself. She also cares for her 82 year old incontinent uncle, who has other serious health issues, and is unable to help her support the children. Her small farm rarely produces enough food for her family to last the year, and she has to do ganyu, or day labor, to make ends meet during the hungry season. Last year, because of the drought, Sijaya didn’t harvest anything from her farm and got by through food aid and ganyu. Sijaya plans to join her village’s saving and loans association so that she can buy a new roof for her house, to replace the thatched roof that leaks heavily during the rainy season.
This is Bitya Maulidi of Mkwezaziya village. Bitya has 5 children and cares for her 6 orphaned grandchildren as well. Her husband passed away in 1999 and since then life has gone badly for her and her family. She is a subsistence farmer but gets very little from her small, depleted field. Because of the drought, she only harvested one bag of maize last year, and got through the hungry season with the help of relatives and by selling fruits and vegetables on the roadside. She doesn’t have enough money to send any of her children or grandchildren to school, but despite it all she is grateful for VIP and dreams of a better life for her children. “Before (VIP) there was no electricity. There was no water. The bridge was broken. We have seen many improvements (because of VIP).”
Widows and orphans are amongst the most vulnerable people that VIP partners with in the villages of Malawi, and we work very closely with them. Our new solar irrigation initiative will give first priority to widows and orphans to farm the irrigated land during the dry season. This will ensure that these often forgotten groups are able to provide for themselves and carve out a place for themselves in society and a future for their family.