LOUD WHISPERS: #MySistersKeeper2016

One day, when I was still working at the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) in Ghana which I Co-Founded as Executive Director, one of my staff members from the Grants department, Ndey Jobarteh, brought me a newspaper article to read. It was a report in the Daily Graphic, one of the national newspapers, about a woman who had been selling roasted plantains in the center of Accra, for the past forty years. According to the story, she was happy selling the roasted plantains, but would like to have a large umbrella to protect her from the scorching sun. Ndey thought the story would be of particular interest to me because everyone in the office knew that I had odd eating habits. I only had coffee for breakfast and I did not eat lunch. The only time I ate lunch, it had to be roasted plantains and groundnuts. After reading the report, I agreed with Ndey that we needed to find out more about the woman, who I will refer to as Ama. We knew that an umbrella was not likely to be her only need. Ndey teamed up with Abigail Burgesson, another colleague from the Grants department to follow up on Ama’s story. It turned out that Ama had a number of challenges. She had an adult daughter with disabilities who she was caring for. She owed her landlord three months rent. And she owed her cooperative money she had loaned from them to buy plantains for her business.

AWDF is a grantmaking foundation. We do not fund individuals, only organizations, and they have to be formally constituted with management structures and processes in place. Our grants range from $5,000-$50,000. My staff team who met with Ama calculated all that would be needed to address her challenges. The total came to $1,500. I decided to support her using our discretionary Solidarity Fund. When I gave my report to board members at our next meeting, to my pleasant surprise, everyone was very excited about the one-off grant in support of a woman in need. So we took care of Ama’s problems and her life was transformed. We bought her a large fridge/freezer to start a cold drinks business for her daughter. We cleared her rent backlog and her debt to the cooperative. The day Ama came to our office to thank us, we all cried. I have never forgotten the way I felt about being able to help Ama. Of course I have supported many Amas before and after this. The grant we gave her was probably one of the least we had ever given. Yet it felt like we had given away a million dollars. The reason why I am telling this story is that sometimes we forget how easy it is to be our Sister’s Keeper. If we want to, we can do it. We do not have to have a lot of money or a grantmaking budget. All we need to have is enough empathy and concern for others.

In January this year, I had lunch with Dr Grace Ongile, UN Women Nigeria Country Representative. She asked me if there was anything we could do to celebrate March 8th, International Women’s Day differently this year. Every year we have the same seminars, rallies and speeches, rattling off the same demands to our governments and development partners, and listening to the same boring speeches promising the same things as the year before. We bus women in from rural areas and they sit patiently listening to all the rhetoric. And then another year rolls by. I told Grace that we could run a campaign that focuses on women being their sister’s keeper for one day. For one magical day, let us prove that abhorrent saying that ‘women are their own worst enemy’ wrong. On March 8th, let us reach out to all the visible and invisible Amas around us, and do something nice for them. Ideally, what we are asking women to do for other women (and men too) are things we should do every single day of the year.
You can give financial support to a sister in need. You can offer a shoulder to cry on. You can volunteer for a charity. You can help a woman who is fleeing from violence. If you are a Lawyer, Doctor, Accountant, Entertainer and so on, you can offer pro bono services. All of us can do something for another sister. I would like to thank all those who have joined the #My Sister’s Keeper Campaign 2016. Abovewhispers.com has run this online campaign in collaboration with UN Women Nigeria and WFM91.7, the only commercially run women’s radio station in Africa. All the Above Whispers guest columnists, and our social media influencer friends both male and female, have been wonderful. I would also like to sincerely thank all the corporate bodies and individuals who have contacted us with details of what they plan to do to support women on March 8th.
In November 2014, I went to the famous Balogun market in Lagos with a good friend of mine. She wanted to choose some fabrics for her daughter’s wedding and needed a second opinion. I had just emerged from a draining political experience, and my friend wanted to provide some distraction. She was being her sister’s keeper. As we stood at the side of the road waiting crying. As I walked away from the scene I thought about how I was feeling before I went to the market, and the peace I felt after helping the rice seller. I was there for a reason and a lesson. I went to the market because a sister cared enough about me to get me out of the house for aday. I ended up being there for another sister. I thought to myself, ‘Is this not what our purpose in life is? To be there for others, regardless of our own circumstances, even random strangers’?
Sometimes people might not be there for us in our own time of need. We have no control over that. What we do have control over is to be our Sister’s Keeper whenever and wherever we can. If we can make that a daily habit, and not just a March 8th event, we will find that others will be there for us too. Happy International Women’s Day.

 

 

 

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the founder of Above Whispers.com, an online platform for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com.

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3 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: #MySistersKeeper2016

  1. Tunde March 8, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Please, just keep being good and selfless and positively imparting on your generation as you have shown and proven with these stories ma…

    As the Holy Book says, we shall be duly rewarded of our labour of love if we do not give up… (Gal 6:9).

    SHALOM ma!

    Reply
  2. Fola Richie-Adewusi March 9, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I thank God for #MySistersKeeper2016. When I got the hashtag, I really didn’t know which sister or sisters to reach out to and in what way. On saturday morning I had called up my hairdresser Florence that I will be coming to retouch my Jerry Curls. I have known Florence since 2007 in Abuja. She is quite good in her forties. I went to the usual place, she was not there. I called her and she said she had moved and operating from her house. so I went there. While she was busy doing my hair, It just crossed my mind that I should be my sister’s keeper and ask some personal questions. I noticed she was unkempt, though she tied scarf on her head but one could see that the hair was not made, the hem of the skirt she wore had loosened on one side. So I asked about her family, husband and children. That was when I found out that she is not married and no children. Loneliness was written all over her. Well I tried to let her know that God is there for all of us and the fact that there is no husband is not a reason not to look after herself. She promised to do her hair and I left but since then I have been calling her to follow up and she is quite happy that I took interest in her. I am pleased with myself also. This 2016 IWD indeed made a personal difference.

    Reply
  3. Ometere March 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    And sometimes, even with the gorgeous outfit, sleek makeup, some of our sisters are dying inside. I’m other words, we can also stretch a little more care to that woman that looks like nothing is wrong. Later, you could discover some things that would surprise you, learn to be a solution though and keep it private too.

    Also, if she really is very okay, make her better…

    Reply

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