"I am happy; we no longer suffer. There are now more possibilities in life"
The Widows of Jirapa
Story told by Bryony Spooner
It’s a warm day in Jirapa, Upper West Ghana and as we drive out of the small town there are circular mud buildings with thatched rooves that become more sparsely dotted the further we travel. After 20 minutes of driving we stop at one of these small compounds.
This is the home of Bayou Hyemosoa, a 43-year-old widow. As we chat in the shade of a large tree, the opportunities handed to us over the last 40 years could not be more different.
Bayou tells me she has five children. I ask how old they are, she says she’s not sure. She points to a nearby child hanging around watching us and says she thinks the youngest is ‘about that age’. I’d guess at seven.
She was married 18 years ago – she knows this, she says, by the age of the oldest child.
Her husband died six year ago, he was sick only for a short time, he had a fever, sickness, it could have been malaria, maybe yellow fever, it’s hard to say.
With her husband gone Bayou was left to support her mother-in-law and five children. There was much suffering in the family and providing food for them was always a problem for her. The children often went to bed with empty tummies, and the two older children had to drop out of school as she couldn’t afford the cost of school uniforms. Every day was struggle.
Bayou had land, but couldn’t farm it successfully without labour, seed or fertiliser. Her dreams were simple: ‘I prayed for a good harvest, where I could sell part of it and use the rest to feed my children.’
Bayou isn’t the only widow in the village. Premature death is a regular occurrence in this part of rural Ghana.
We are joined under the tree by two of Bayou’s friends, Cornelia and Magdalin.
Cornelia Doomuoh, 40, is also a widow, ‘he died at the start of the rainy season’ she recalls, ‘we were married for ten years and had six children, I miss him, he supported us.’
‘Here the men do the labour, the woman do the sowing’ says Magdalin Nyamasoa, whose husband died two years ago. ‘I had four children to support, but no means to cultivate my land. The children were often sick.’
Then Bayou and the other widows heard about the Deki loan scheme through IDE, one of Deki’s partner organisations. IDE train small holder farmers in techniques to improve their crop productivity. Once their loan is approved IDE provide entrepreneurs with three months training prior to receiving their loans.
Bayou, Cynthia and Magdalin heard they might be eligible to apply for a group loan with other members of the village, so they formed ‘The Naayiri Nuori-Yene farming group’. With 18 members, each applied for a small loan of between £40 and £280 to help improve their food security.
‘When we found out we had the loan accepted we were so happy, we were dancing and singing… there was so much happiness and love in our hearts, we finally had ‘cushioning’ in our lives’ says Bayou proudly.
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The first thing the widows did was employ labourers to cultivate their land. Back breaking work that had taken them over two weeks previously was done in two days. The group also planted bambara beans, millet, peppers and other vegetables. With the right fertiliser and techniques, the crops grew strong and tall and they were able to sell any extra at the market.
That was two years ago and the group have fully repaid their loans. They are now applying for new loans in order to further diversify their crops. The children’s nutrition is better, they get sick less and the younger children are back in school. Bayou’s oldest daughter now has a young child too.
“I am happy; we no longer suffer. I can care for my mother-in-law and children. There are now more possibilities in life’.
Bayou is all smiles, as she shows me the new building they have built since their Deki loan. It has a zinc roof so in the rainy season it won’t collapse and fall in. They will move into the new building next month.
As I leave Bayou I realise one thing, although our lives couldn’t have been more different over the last 40 years, we still have one very big thing in common, we want to make a difference. Bayou’s difference will come from the opportunity to have another loan. Mine will come by helping to provide it.
This year Bayou and her Naayiri Nuori-Yene farming group will apply for another loan to further improve their lives. They along with countless other hard working villages in their district that are just asking for a hand up.
Every single loan you make is life changing. And remember, it truly is a loan, so when you get a repayment you can lend again to help yet more communities to grow and prosper.
for Taking Pictures, Changing Lives C.I.C. www.tpcl.co
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