Transformative Empowerment: A Tale of Resilience and Progress 

This piece delves into the poignant narrative of a community grappling with the multifaceted impact of poverty on its women. It unfolds the pressing need for empowerment, as the women yearned for opportunities that would break the shackles of financial deprivation and dismantle the barriers restricting their potential. In the face of these challenges, the community found an unexpected ally in South Saharan Social Development Organization, SSDO, an organization that became a beacon of hope, introducing the transformative Sister Guardian Initiative and Economic Empowerment. This is a tale of dreams taking flight, a community transcending adversity, and the remarkable journey toward empowerment that has forever altered the landscape of the community.

In the heart of Umuode community, Nkanu East where the echoes of hardship reverberated through every humble dwelling, the story of resilience and triumph unfolded. For the women of this close-knit community, poverty cast a long shadow, and the societal roots of gender-based discrimination deepened their struggle. As the oppressive forces of economic hardship and unequal opportunities took their toll, a collective call for change emerged from the hearts of the women in Umuode. 

In the not-so-distant past, the Chizaram Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Umuode, nestled in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, grappled with the harsh realities of poverty. Mrs. Ani Faithful, a member of the cooperative, vividly recounts the challenging times when meager livelihoods were sustained through small businesses, mere tables, and kiosks acting as the stage for their economic pursuits. 

“Many of us struggled to raise funds to grow our businesses. We knew what we wanted and where we saw ourselves but the limiting factor was money. Rather than stay idle, I started by selling provisions in a small kiosk, hoping to raise enough money to go into rice farming.” 

Adding to their struggles was a deeply ingrained societal bias that denied women access to land, exacerbating the cycle of poverty and inequality. 

“In our community, women are not given land to farm like the men. This was a huge challenge to my goal of becoming a rice farmer. And this worsened an already dire situation.” 

Women’s Empowerment, The Way Forward

Recognizing the dire need for change, the call for women’s empowerment resonated profoundly within the cooperative. The oppressive grip of poverty, coupled with gender-based discrimination, spurred a collective desire for transformation. It was against this backdrop that SSDO, a beacon of hope for marginalized communities, stepped in with the Sister Guardian Initiative and Economic Empowerment through Jacob’s Well project.

In 2020, SSDO, through its Jacob’s Well Officer, Stella Ani, and Gender Protective Lead, Blessing Uchendu, introduced the initiatives to Chizaram Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Umuode. The initiative aimed to address both the immediate economic challenges faced by the women and the underlying societal issues perpetuating gender inequality. 

Women working on their rice plantation

Advocacy for Women’s Rights

Stella Ani and Blessing Uchendu became catalysts for change, utilizing advocacy as a powerful tool to dismantle barriers. They engaged with key stakeholders, including the Igwe and his Cabinet, the President General, and other influential figures, and sought to challenge the status quo. They advocated passionately for women’s right to land and their rightful place in decision-making bodies, igniting a spark of change in the community’s consciousness.

“We understand that for any community to fully thrive, there’s must be a deliberate effort to liberate and empower the women to not just be backbenchers but active contributors to the economy. This was our focus with our initiatives,” Blessing shared. 

Now the community is more inclusive and a more adequate representation of what a thriving society should be — one with ample opportunities for women.  

Stella Ani paying a supervisory visit to the rice plantation

Dream Becomes Reality

Having addressed flaws in ideologies, norms, and beliefs, it was time to empower the women with capital to achieve their goals of becoming rice farmers. SSDO further supported the cooperative with over 2 million naira to help the female farmers purchase equipment, cultivate, and grow rice. SSDO’s involvement also helped the cooperative secure a partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. This helped them secure farm inputs and cassava processing plant that has drastically improved their productivity and yield.

Woman standing next to the processing plant provided by IFAD. 

Here are some of the wins of the Sister Guardian and Jacob’s Well endeavors in the community: :

  •  Land Allocation:

   The community responded to the call for equality by allocating 15 acres of land to the women, unlocking a realm of possibilities for farming and economic ventures.

  • Inclusion in Leadership:

   The once marginalized women now hold esteemed positions, with three members of the Sister Guardian Initiative serving in the Igwe’s Cabinet and two contributing actively to the Town Union.

  •  Respect and Recognition:

   The societal shift is palpable, with women no longer relegated to the shadows; they bask in newfound respect and recognition, transforming not only their individual lives but also the community’s perception of gender roles.

  • Business Evolution:

   Breaking free from the constraints of table and kiosk businesses, the women have evolved into successful rice farmers, marking a tangible shift from subsistence to sustainable entrepreneurship.

  • Business Literacy:

   The initiative instilled essential business literacy skills, equipping the women with the knowledge to manage and grow their enterprises. Business record-keeping has become second nature, empowering them to make informed decisions for sustained growth.

  • Familial Harmony:

   As the women prosper, the positive ripple effect extends to familial harmony, creating an environment conducive to personal and collective growth.

Female Farmers of Chizaram Multipurpose Cooperative during harvesting season

The Power of Social Development Initiative 

The journey from adversity to achievement in Chizaram Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative and for women at large in Umuode showcases the transformative impact of strategic social development initiatives. South Saharan’s unwavering commitment to women’s empowerment has not only broken the shackles of poverty and gender-based discrimination but has also sown the seeds of lasting change within the fabric of the community. As the women stand tall, proud, and empowered, their success story resonates as a beacon of hope for other marginalized communities yearning for transformation. 

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