I went to spend the afternoon with one of Mercy Corps’ partners for the Women’s Empowerment Program in a slum area on the outskirts of Bangui. The group is called Terrespoir, which translates to Land and Hope. It is a women’s cooperative that focuses on agricultural projects to generate incomes for the women. They also work with unwed mothers in their community, trying to assist them and help them become self-sufficient.
In the Central African Republic there are many young, unwed mothers and they often have a very difficult life. In many cases, the family will disown their daughters and force them out of the house if they become pregnant and are not married. The girl is forced to stop school, if she is fortunate enough to be going in the first place, and she must find a way to fend for herself and her newborn child.
Mercy Corps is working with the Land and Hope group to help them start new projects and improve their overall functioning and effectiveness and better serve the women in the community.
When Denis Akino, Mercy Corps’ Program Facilitator, and I arrived at the community center, we were greeted by a group of women singing and clapping enthusiastically.
Women, let’s wake up
Women, stand up
Women, be strong
We are awake, we are awake
We struggle for peace
We, all together, have woken up!
And, as I soon found out, their lyrics were true!
While Denis was working with the group and conducting training, I met with Elodie Fetounon, a 19-year old unwed mother.
Elodie was just 17 and in school when she had her baby, Dominique. When her family learned she was pregnant, everything changed and many of her dreams she had been working hard to make reality came to a crashing halt. Her family threw her out of the house and wanted nothing to do with her. The father of her child denied he was the parent. Elodie was left all alone, penniless and pregnant.
The women of Land and Hope came to Elodie’s assistance. They helped her financially and spoke with her family about the situation and tried to help them resolve their differences. They also taught Elodie how to make jams and preserves so she could earn enough money to support herself and her baby.
Now, with the support of the group, Elodie and her family have reconciled. She was able to go back to school to get her diploma and her preserves business has given her financial independence. She plans to go onto college and so she can get a better job in the future.
And as for the women of Land and Hope, they are working with Mercy Corps to start a new project that will teach more young women, especially unwed mothers, vocational skills so they can support themselves and their children. These women have truly woken up and stood up for their futures!