My nine sisters and i: Breaking the viscous circle of poverty changed our status in the family.
Story by; Frederick H
In a family of fifteen children, ten girls and five boys, we were raised by four different mothers. I remember the humble homestead with several huts that looked less similar, except for one – the biggest of all. It was the main house of the homestead where our father’s visitors were hosted. Granaries all around filled with dry millet and sorghum, usually after a fruitful harvest. This was not always the case, the dry season had different issues that we grappled with as a family. In actual sense we had periods that stretched the home to the extent of breaking the entire household into different factions, but we kept going regardless. My name is Jamila Lanyero and I wish to share a brief life story that has taught me so much going forward. I hope it teaches you one or two things. Our mothers taught most of us all the work we did at home, and out in the gardens. We were always together, the ten girls. I was the youngest of the girls, everyone expected me to be obedient to the elders regardless of whether they were right or wrong. For me, life and what I had to learn was already spelt out. The opportunities and resources available to girls in the family were clearly defined, in terms of marriage – as long as there was a potential husband. The boys took care of the cattle and or animals in the homestead, while we did most of the chores in the home. We were also tasked with caregiving for the children, elderly and sick. All these were predetermined by customs.
“From year to year, I watched my sisters being married off, some at the age of sixteen, others at the age of eighteen. Many never made it past primary seven, our elders considered it a waste of resources.”
My sisters lived in a viscous circle of lack of proper education, lack of employment opportunities and resources. So in actual sense we depended on our father, brothers and the married – their husbands. Every time any of our mothers sold millet, they had to hand over all the profits to our father, who used them as he wished. In actual sense he prioritized our brothers in most aspects. Every brother of mine that turned sixteen, was allocated land to either start a home or carry out a commercial venture. On the other hand, we were told, that according to customs and culture, girls were not allowed to own land, they could not inherit land, the best they could do was, utilizing their brothers’ or father’s land, and that was my reality growing up. With such circumstances and resources available to males in our family, the rate of dropping out of school was so high. In fact, no one had ever made it past ‘senior three’. Some of my sisters were forced to leave their marital homes – overwhelmed by domestic violence. Their only option was returning home, to share the small resources that were never enough for the big homestead.
When I joined secondary school, I was the only child still in school, all the others had dropped out for one reason or another. My sister Nusra had just gotten married, after her third term of senior two. Her dream to exploit all the available opportunities in school died in one night, she was a girl. Little did we know, that this was the real turning point, one that could change the tides of growth and development in the entire family. I spent most of my holidays at her home, here we shared ideas and plans, and here we gave birth to what was never available to us in the ‘homestead’. Whereas we grew different vegetables on her husband’s land, he gave her the liberty to utilize the proceeds and take care of their home with a kind of independence that I never saw with our mothers. One day, we took three sacks of pumpkins to the main market and within three hours, all were empty. All had been bought. We were overjoyed, this was something new, a thing of discovery. Then Nusra touched my shoulder, she looked straight into my eyes and said… ‘Jamila, you will never drop out of school like I did, promise me you will go all the way, remember your success in this journey is my success too, so do not disappoint me no matter what happens.’ I knew the kind person she was, she had a dream of becoming a doctor, but it never materialized, she persistently worked to have the viscous circle of poverty, lack of proper education and scarcity of resources in the family broken.
On several occasions, I was sent home from school, for unpaid school fees, my parents and brothers always responded with a negative attitude. They always said, school was never meant for me, but I did not listen to them. I had made a pact with my sister and I was not ready to disappoint her. Trust me, every time Nusra heard that I was home while my schoolmates were still in school, she made it a point to pay all that was asked for, and I continued with school. During the holidays I visited her, helping her with her vegetable business. Her home was very different from the others, there was an x factor with her. She had resources available for her to take care of the family and her attitude towards giving opportunities to her little daughters was very positive. In reality she paid all my school dues, and oversaw my graduation. I remember my first Job interview, she escorted me, and waited for me, making sure I felt comfortable doing what I had to do. I was now a certified accountant, the first graduate in the family. This came as a challenge to my family in the long run. Yes at least there was an example to the young generation in the family, with Nusra’s help, I had completed my studies, I was employed and I was economically independent. Going forward, I had Nusra and her family in my mind. I wanted the same for her children, I wanted them to break all those negative circles because my status in the family had drastically changed. There were opportunities available for me, there were resources that I could utilize for growth and development, which was a fairytale amongst girls in our family. My experience had taught me well and in the long run, my parents always involved me and the rest of the girls when it came to decision making in the family. The mentality amongst the males in the home changed, the young generation shared resources without discrimination, within six years after my graduation, there were several family members achieving similar goals in different fields.
We had learnt well, denying girls opportunities and resources was keeping the family in abject poverty. Once the dark veil was lifted by Nusra’s persistent efforts, life came into the family like never before, there was a sense of redemption. I urge all of you to look at the realities of poverty and unemployment. In areas where the rates are high, the cases of gender inequality are high. So what can we do, how far can we go? I want to tell you, we can go all the way by doing away with exclusion when it comes to employment or resource distribution. In that way, we will foster gender equality and thus social justice for growth and development.