Creating Hope: FEMALE EMPOWERMENT
With the #metoo movement’s groundswell in the United States within the past 12 months and the resulting focus on female equality, fair treatment and empowerment it has brought to the forefront for discussion and change, we at The City of Hope feel compelled to share some insights on what female empowerment entails in our corner of the world in Ntagacha. The females of Tanzania have traditionally faced a multitude of challenges, injustices and inequalities not imposed on the males of the society. At City of Hope, we are working to offer a new quality of life for the girls of Tanzania encapsulating equal opportunity, rights and female empowerment.
Our Big Three: Harmful Practices, Lack of Financial Opportunity and Unequal Education
In Ntagacha and the surrounding community, the cultures have beliefs and practices we do not recognize in modern day society in the United States and other developed nations. Age-old traditions still remain strong in many tribal cultures in Tanzania, advocating child slavery (aka female prostitution), female genital mutilation around the beginning of menses, and child marriage to name a few horrific ones. Believe it or not, the practice of FGM is still alive and well in the community around City of Hope. The girls are often even deceived into believing they will not ever marry and will not be accepted without FGM in order to keep the practice going. And the threats of being ousted from the tribe, or worse, threatened for not participating in this practice is a real danger. At City of Hope, we have served as a safe and supportive refuge for girls escaping the practice of FGM. We are teaching against FGM in the schools and community and girls in our leadership program have begun to share the freedoms from FGM stories with their peers and students at surrounding schools. This does not come easily as there are often contentious traditionalists angered by the anti-FGM movement, but our strides have been strong and we push forward with saving more girls from this horrific practice which takes place every other year.
Lack of Financial Opportunity
The females of Ntagacha have historically had little to no hope for vocation and financial opportunity. Born as kept women, only to be married early as “property” to their betrothed on whom they must rely for provisions, they were not offered the education nor vocational training to allow them to provide for themselves.
At City of Hope, we have begun programs at the schools and within the community to open these opportunities to the women, so they can provide for themselves. In our growth at COH, we have hired women in our construction projects and on the grounds (and were commended by the government for doing so). As another example, we have classes on sewing in our “SEW” program which has allowed the ladies to join or open their own businesses - watching the transformation in self-confidence, a sense of freedom, and sense of accomplishment has been beautiful and we feel blessed to be a part of it. This is giving jobs to women in the community and for the first time ever, we have also endorsed these jobs being family-friendly, providing work-life balance so they do not have to choose between vocation or family responsibilities. The women of Ntagacha can work two weeks with the following two weeks off, so they can work in their fields and at home too and the entire family benefits from the mother’s vocation.
Inequalities in Education
In much of Africa, young men have priority for education over the women. The young men are encouraged to learn and further their education whereas the females typically are expected to help at home and forfeit education. Also, if a female becomes pregnant while in school, she is expelled and disallowed from furthering her education.
At City of Hope, we are committed to helping our young women achieve their dreams. We have programs allowing the girls access to the same programs as the boys and we encourage their leaderships skills and adoption of studious practices and thirst for learning and thriving. English skills are also opening doors for our students - one of our former students who is now married with child, is now teaching English to our nursery class students. This is an opportunity she would not have had without our English classes.
As we can all connect the dots together, female empowerment is fueled by important opportunity plus freedom from oppressive environments. All of the components are intertwined… education leads to financial empowerment, freedom from child slavery leads to education opportunities, and the cycles continue. At City of Hope, it is our goal to change these “big three” so that the girls and women of our school and community can eliminate the fear of harmful practices, have equal opportunity in education and the best potentials for financial freedoms. Our goal is to provide the platform that delivers this chance and hope of a better future.
Below we would like to share a brief success story of Vai, one of our students who now has a diploma in community nursing she achieved while at City of Hope.
Vailleth “Vai” David Hezron
Meet Vai (vye), an extraordinary young woman. Born the fifth child in a family of eight, Vai is an important team member at City of Hope with a special story.
Vai met COH’s founder, Dr. John Chacha, one day when she came to visit her father, who was doing some work for COH. That was during the time when she was enrolled in secondary school in Magoto (a neighboring village). She boarded at the school during the school week and came home each weekend. At the time, the Dr. John Chacha Secondary School had not yet been realized, so attendance there was not an option (and there was not secondary school in Ntagacha).
Vai’s father suffered an automobile accident and was in the hospital for some time. The family had bills and Vai lost hope of completing secondary school because of finances. Vai’s girlfriends counseled her to get a boyfriend to help pay expenses, but she realized that this was not the solution. Dr. Chacha offered to help her and he arranged for payment of her room in Magoto if she would agree to volunteer her help at COH. Vai completed her secondary education and returned to serve for three years at COH as a “big sister” to the girls, by teaching them good personal hygiene habits and teaching them to trust in God and to serve him.
Vai still had dreams of attending higher education and was elated to learn that Dr. Chacha had secured a sponsor in Virginia for her continued education. Vai decided to attend college in Migori, Kenya. She learned that she must first pass an English examination in order to be enrolled as a student. Although she spoke some English, it was difficult for her and she only scored a 17 out of 100 points. Dr. Chacha removed her from her duties with the children for one month and told her to concentrate on studying English. She devoted herself to this endeavor by rising each morning at 2:30 to start studying and only stopping when it was time to go to bed. Her program lasted three semesters and she was ultimately ranked number 1 out of 16.
Once she completed her certificate in Community Health and Development, Vai was led by God to return to COH but continued her schooling part time. This December she received her diploma in Community Health and Development and uses her knowledge and skills to help the children at COH and to educate the community. She wants ultimately become a pharmacist and currently is a matron at COH, which means that she looks after the girls in the dormitory and teaches them good personal hygiene and healthy practices. In addition, she works at the City of Hope’s Amani (Peace) Medical Center where sh cleans wounds, counsels young couples intending to marry about healthy practices, assists with births along with prenatal and postnatal care, cares for infants and tests for diseases. She also goes out into the surrounding villages and holds seminars to educate the people on health issues.The most important role she plays is being a shining example of Jesus love to all she meets. She holds nightly devotions for the girls of the dormitory and encourages them to keep their faith, their hope and their eyes on God.
Vai has faced many challenges in her life. Old traditions die hard, and it is unusual for a young woman to not be married by the time they are 20. Vai is now 23, has had many offers to marry, but has no intentions of marrying until and unless she meets the right Christian man. He must be a God-believing man who makes responsible decisions and he must respect her by including her in decisions about family and money. She has been very responsible with the wages she has earned and has managed to purchase a hotel (a place to eat in Tanzania) and helps her family. Vai’s plans for the future are to stay at the City of Hope, helping with the children and continuing her work in the medical center and the community. She thrives on the smiles and energy of the children and cannot imagine herself away from them. With tears in her eyes, Vai expresses her deep sense of gratitude to God, to a chance meeting with Dr. John Chacha, and to her newfound freedom and female empowerment.