Emotions are universal and transcend culture. While sometimes expressed in different ways, feelings of faith, love, happiness, and hope are observed wherever you go. Fathers watch their children play with pride sparkling in their eyes whether strolling through a big city park or along a sandy village road. Children express delight and wonder when handed colorful balloons whether at a birthday party or on a crowded city bus. Mothers give eyes of warning that stop children in their tracks – everywhere in the world. There is a universal humanity in our shared emotions that connects people around the globe.
As members of global societies, grief is the turbulent partner of love. Grief over loss of loved ones is universally gut-wrenching. Ceremonies of grief and commemoration of loss vary in diverse societies, but the emotions of those left behind demonstrate a deep connection humans share. Pain, denial, anger…we have been here – or will be at some time – to face these hardest losses of our lives.
Now, imagine this! For widows in Malawi, the grief and deep loss suffered when losing you husband is overshadowed by broader items on the hierarchy of needs. In Malawi, a woman is viewed as belonging to her husband, along with his other assets and property. Regardless of how the money was earned, when a man dies, there is a system of “property grabbing” that allows the family of her husband to claim their house, items within the house, and all saved money. Often, in these darkest moments, Malawian widows are so desperate financially they have no choice but to drop their children at orphanages where their basic needs can be met.
Amess Nthala became a widow at the age of 26. Of small comfort for her, she was one of the 30% of Malawian women who did not lose everything during this time. But, while working at a local orphanage to make ends meet, she began encountering more of the 70% of women who did. Instead of judging their need to put kids in the orphanage, she investigated root causes of something that seemed so unthinkable. The bottom line for her was their lacking sense of empowerment and inability to use their skills to support themselves. They were broken, left without support, and could only anticipate a life of grief and helplessness.
Amess knew this had to change and has made it her life mission to empower widows – not by defining themselves as weak or needy – but by creating a network of shared support and entrepreneurship skills.
Hope for Widows is a powerhouse organization using innovative practices that create change. Here are just a few of the ways they meet widows where they are to empower independence and success…
*Widows meet each week for a time of fellowship and sharing. At each meeting, one widow’s business plan is supported by others who lend profits from their own businesses. As a treasurer takes a list of attendees, she notes the amount of money each person invests in the business owner of the week. When I attended, the circle of generosity traveled from person to person who shared funding to support a woman needing supplies for her charcoal business.
*Amess has created a workspace in her home for sewing, knitting, and jewelry-making. Women receive financial gains from the products sold and money is also shared with Hope for Widows to create sustainable development. Money is used to support current project including the watershed purchase of land where rental properties will be built to fund the business center of their dreams.
*The women use knitting machines to make sweaters for school uniforms. What is especially unique about this system is that their products are sold to the local orphanage in an agreement that benefits individual knitters, the organization, and the children at the orphanage.
*Amess is also committed to providing educational opportunities for this group. During my recent visit, a group of 30+ women met in a brick outlet of the local church where we spent time discussing grief, mental health, and the power of admitting when you are ‘not ok.” Women responded positively at the acknowledgement that grief is not a straight line of emotion where people “get over it” and that the impact reaches far and wide in their own lives. As they have already created systems of support, it is my hope they felt challenged to dig deeper into the power of conversations about mental health and related healing.
Sharing time with women from this group was powerful. Instead of talking and unfulfilled actions – this group readily committed to systems that support everyone. The labor of one person is to the benefit of many. While the topic was serious, we laughed, danced, and benefited from Amess’ fiery translation.
Property grabbing is an issue that doesn’t receive much attention. In fact, I have heard others say the plight of widows is often overlooked by the human rights and feminist communities.
There is something you can do to support Hope for Widows. Sometimes, the children of the women and other youth in their community are held back from attending school because they do not have the funds for a school uniform or annual fees. The costs of these items combined is $25 per year. $25 to keep a children in school for a year.
I have set up an easy way to get money to Hope for Widows for the specific purpose of paying for uniforms and school fees. If you would like to contribute to their cause, feel free to reach out.