“I feel very happy and hopeful because many community members know me, trust me, and they always come up to me to ask me for advice, especially about their children’s health.” - Annonciate
At FH Canada, we often say poverty is not primarily about a lack of material goods. It’s deeper than just “not having stuff”. More all-encompassing. It’s a mindset, an emotional state, a social position, a self-perception.
As a 34-year-old widow in rural Burundi with three children to care for, Annonciate knows all about this idea of emotional poverty. She’s had her share of struggles, but not having enough “stuff” isn’t her main concern. “Before FH, I was living as an isolated person, recognized by only household members [as someone] who has to do home and garden tasks,” she shares.
“Socially, my husband [while he was alive] was esteemed in the community, but I myself was not known or recognized as a valued person.” It stung Annonciate to be overlooked, for her value in the community to be measured solely by her ability to do house and garden work. “Spiritually, I was participating in church, but I had no role given.” While she attended church, Annonciate didn’t know where she belonged and wasn’t seen as a person who could contribute. This lack of being valued by her community fed into how she saw and valued herself.
Interestingly, Annonciate goes on to describe her family’s emotional poverty in the physical terms of food security: “Emotionally, we were always thinking that our land is sterile and less productive and so we were every time experiencing food insecurity while we had a big land.” The poverty she felt ran deeper than the hunger pains in her stomach—it was an ache of shame. While she and her husband owned a large enough plot of land to theoretically feed their whole family, in reality, they just couldn’t make it produce. As a result, their children went hungry while their parents were powerless to do anything about it.
But in 2015, life began to change. Annonciate was chosen by her peers for a position of leadership in a Cascade health group. At last, she was being recognized for her potential! As a Cascade leader, her main responsibility was to teach her neighbours about family health. These improvements included new hygiene practices like using and keeping a clean latrine, regular handwashing, installing a kitchen shelf to keep dishes clean, cooking for a balanced diet, growing a kitchen garden, using mosquito nets, and more.
“I am now a model community member because I applied most of what I was taught [by FH],” Annonciate says proudly.
Annonciate’s joy in being equipped to serve her community is evident: “Since being involved in FH, I started to improve children’s health and the health of every household member, especially with a nutritionally balanced diet. And so, the family members have become healthy. Diseases like diarrhea, worms, malaria, etc., have diminished.”
While many of us who enjoy material wealth struggle to see our poverty, Annonciate clearly recognizes the seamless integration of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. She describes how her new role in the community has not only helped others live a healthier life, but has also addressed her own poverty: “Emotionally and socially, I improved my self-esteem because of the responsibility I got in my Cascade group, and I became hopeful to be able to use modern farming to produce more. Spiritually also, I got some improvement. [Before] I was not referring to God’s assistance in everything. For instance, I was sowing seeds without praying for them.”
Annonciate knows a person’s emotional and social needs cannot be met simply by “giving them stuff.” She needed to be empowered to provide for herself and her children. She needed her peers to see her potential. She needed to contribute to the betterment of her community. In short, she needed to be given the opportunity to overcome her poverty for herself.
“From FH, I got the basic knowledge that will help me even after its departure in health and nutrition, in food security, and family income management,” she says.
As a result of thoughtful women and men like Annonciate living out the new ideas they gained in FH workshops, their small village of Rukere in Kabore is growing into a flourishing community. “Since being involved with FH, my community changed much. Before FH, community hygiene and food production, diversity, and preparation were poor. They have improved much thanks to FH Cascade group messages and demonstrations.”
In addition to an improvement in physical health, Annonciate describes a growing reconciliation within families. “Family conflicts among husbands and their wives diminished thanks to savings groups that increased many mothers’ decision making in the family. Before, they had to depend on their husband even for the cheapest family expense.”
Annonciate has done so well leading her Cascade group that she was asked by community members to help mothers with children who have moderate malnutrition. “I started in December and I participated in a training for helping malnourished children who can be treated within the community,” she explains. “I started to demonstrate how to prepare food for those children. It is a continuous activity in which I am a volunteer. All people are telling me that I do it correctly and courageously. For me, I realize that this community reputation resulted from the fact that I was first and foremost involved with FH to become able to serve our community.”
Help mothers like Annonciate grow enough food to feed their children and overcome their shame.