A Woman of Substance

Chemka (left) running her new small business in Kenya. Photo Credit: Captain Beatrice Ayabagabo, Empowerment Coordinator, The Salvation Army, Kenya West Territorial Headquarters.

Hope is a powerful virtue.  Opportunity to engender hope in the lives of others is transformational.  A Kenyan woman named Chemka, from the village of Sabatia Gurugwa, is the definition of hope.  I recently read her story in a field update from a women’s empowerment project that The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) has been supporting in Kenya to teach literacy and record-keeping skills to underprivileged women.  Chemka joined other women in the program to make effective use of these skills by forming a savings and lending group to give members the opportunity to start small income-generating businesses.

A single mother, 46-years-old and struggling, Chemka happily recounted that after joining her local empowerment group and buying shares, she was able to secure a small loan to start a business selling fruit, onions and tomatoes.  She proudly reports that her enterprise is doing well, and from it, she is able to save money and provide food for her child. She is also now feeling a powerful confidence in her ability to one day expand her business, and open a shop.

What jumped out at me most of Chemka’s account is her new view of herself:  “Surely now, I can be called a woman of substance.”

And I was reminded that with just a mustard seed of encouragement and training, we can change lives, we can engender hope…not only in a financial sense, but in a sense of personal accomplishment.  And once that journey has begun, for many we help, there is momentum – the impetus to continue reaching beyond perceived limitations.

We know of many, like Chemka, who rejoice in their newfound ability to provide healthier meals to their children, to finally send children to school, and to share in the financial responsibility for their families.  These fundamental abilities are often taken for granted in America, but not for women like Chemka.

We have heard from women, like Everlyne Gibendi, who said, “I had nothing to do, but wait for my husband to buy and cater for the family.  I thought I was not important in the family.” Everlyne has since parlayed a small business selling vegetables and fish into enough money to buy a motorcycle that she and her husband rent for additional income.

Stories of empowerment like these are told in SAWSO’s Annual Report, available at http://sawso.org/SAWSO2012AnnualReport.pdf. The report celebrates people everywhere who are taking the opportunities that God presents to lift up their spirits and change their lives.  One of the gifts of serving God in SAWSO is helping a woman like Chemka come to realize that God always intended for her to be and see, that she is truly a woman of substance.

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Lieutenant Colonel Joan Canning is the Executive Director of The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO). SAWSO’s vision is to “create a world where people live in safe and sustainable communities in which differences are respected, basic needs are met, and all enjoy opportunities to learn, work, and worship in freedom.” Learn more at www.SAWSO.org