R & A: Women’s Empowerment on Rusinga Island by Joy Masseno, Facilitator of the Mothers of the Forest and Eunice Majuma, her Assistant. Part 2

Listen to this article.

In episode 9, we heard the first part of the article by Joy, facilitator of the Mothers of the Forest on Rusinga Island, situated on the edge of Lake Victoria and her assistant, Eunice.

In this article we continue with part 2

To catch up with any of the earlier articles from this series, just visit WordForest.org/news.

What We’re Growing

Thanks to Word Forest support, the Rusinga Island Mothers are now planting food crops that were new to them and others they knew well. In no particular order these include herbs, trees, fruits, nuts and vegetables, such as:

Ochuoga, pedo, ochol, moringa, aloe vera, arubaini and tee grass, thorn melon, pawpaw, passion fruits, lemon, water pear, avocado, mango, orange, guava, açaí palm, acacia, eucalyptus, pine, bamboo, oak, jacaranda, mast tree, tamarind, banana, croton megalocarpus, lucena, glacidia, fountain tree, ferna, tibician, waterpear, maize, kunde/cowpeas (black eyed peas), sukuma wiki (kale), cassava, beans (black, cannellini, mung, red, soya, pinto), susa (pumpkin), apoth (jute), saga (spider plant), kandhira (brassica), osuga (black nightshade), spinach, tomatoes, onions (round and leaves), sweet potatoes, arrowroot, sugar cane and napier grass croton

A Humble Start

When we started coming together as a group, it was from a humble beginning and with much hope. We did not know each other, most of us were meeting for the very first time. We did not have any real knowledge on farming other than what our families had handed to us, nor did we have any business skills. 

Most of us were just housewives or single/widowed women. We survived on one meal a day and we had the mentality that it was men who go to work and bring home the food for our families. 

We’ve come to learn that we women are perfectly able to do this, thanks to Word Forest projects and belief in our group. It has been a big eye-opener to us all and many positive actions have happened as we’ve embraced our movement towards more women’s empowerment. 

We are so thrilled, encouraged, motivated and our self-esteem has been boosted. Thanks to our collective learning, we are now able to enjoy the fruits of our labours and from time to time we do have a very healthy abundance of food.

Meeting Colleagues and Christmas Blessings

Since we met with Tracey, Simon, Eva (from our HQ in Garashi) and Phil in December 2022, we have been uplifted even more. The Mothers come to the meetings on time or even early, because their husbands have been made happy by the watches that they were gifted by Word Forest for Christmas. Our men are now always encouraging us to get to our meetings. This involvement of men in Word Forest projects has also managed to bring us more peace in our marriages. There is much less conflict and that is a blessing indeed.

At Christmas 2022, the Mothers were indeed grateful to receive gifts of the portable solar lamps. Each one has 4 separate light bulbs on long wires which we can put in different places in our homes. It also has a big portable torch which we can take outside when we hear animal noises in the night and it scares them away.

This lamp has improved our lives in a big way since the light acts as a security system for us, not only in our houses, but it also prevents wild animals from invading our plants. Some of the worst ones are the hippos, mongooses, rabbits and monkeys. Some of our houses were also being invaded with bats but right now because of light, the bats are not coming anymore and they cannot destroy our precious items. Bat’s urine is very poisonous and it has destroyed many properties around here. 

These wonderful lamps also give us lighting so our children are able to do their homework and studies comfortably once the sun has gone down at 6pm. We Mothers also enjoy the fact that we no longer have to buy kerosene to fill our lamps for the night. This has brought us big cost savings and made our homes safer. We were also very grateful to receive the lip salve cream for our dry lips and that is a blessing in these dry, hot conditions.

The formation of this group has done more for us all than you could ever imagine. We have become strong as women and more productive members of our community who are blessed to be better nourished with good food and broad education.

Through the permaculture teachings and knowledge from our tutors, our kitchen gardens have become much larger. We started small, as that is one of the key permaculture principles. We now understand how to grow a wide variety of fruit trees, vegetables and medicinal plants. This knowledge has also been of great help because our local environment is greener where we live and I’m glad to say we will soon be making a harvest once again.

The Challenges We Still Face

Life is much better in many ways, however we still face a lot of other difficulties. We must walk before we can run but we know that as time goes on and our projects expand, we will be able to overcome our problems. 

On our shambas, the most common issue is a lack of proper fencing around our kitchen gardens. We do try to improvise by making dead hedges with broken branches from thorny trees which we stack together, but it doesn’t always work and it’s messy.

Also, despite the fact that we are very close to Lake Victoria here on Rusinga Island, we are mainly up in the hills and we suffer from not being close to a water source. We ideally need small water tanks/butts. These will make our lives much easier during the hot months, and during the rainy season we’ll be able to capture free, fresh water from the skies above.

We would all benefit from having a few more simple farming hand tools, like jembes, slashers, pangas, a wheelbarrow would be wonderful too. This would help us improve the picture around our kitchen gardens and at our PTC.

We have been planning ahead and once funds do become available, we would like to start a few new projects. They all have a sustainability focus and they would help us raise income for our group too. These include:

  1. A sapling nursery
  2. Soap and mat making courses, like the ones the Mothers had in Garashi
  3. Tailoring and handicrafts training, so we can mend clothes and make items to sell

Conclusion and a Final Request

We want to appreciate all of our donors for the timely receipts of our salaries, our money for our food for our meetings, payment for the cook and the monthly stipend for the Mothers to plant more trees. 

We kindly request if possible to recruit more Mothers, since we have many more very vulnerable women in our community who would benefit from being part of our team. Our program would be of great help to them and us, since we would be able to plant more trees to help our planet.

God bless you all richly with good health and happiness.

Joy Masseno, Eunice Majuma and The Team

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