By Shauna Thomas, VWB intern and OVC veterinary student.
Feddy Nambooze, widowed at 32 years old without even a high school degree and five children to look after. For any woman across the globe this sounds like a terrible situation, made worse in countries where widows are stigmatized and out casted from society as failures. The unfortunate reality in Uganda is that this situation is far from the exception to the rule; one could go so far as to say it is normal. In our time here in Isingrio district, Uganda, we have met countless widows who have worked unfathomably hard to provide for their family, and fight against the stigma so unjustly cast upon them. From the moment we met Feddy, we could tell she was something special and every encounter since then has only grown our respect and adoration for her. Fortunate for us, she invited us to her home one Friday night to talk and spend the night as her guests. A captivating women, humble by spirit and hardworking by nature, this is her story……
Although modern day Ugandan society is still highly oppressive to women, it has made moves in a positive direction. Thirty years ago, however, Feddy, a 14 year old girl having just completed grade seven, was coming home to the reality that she would no longer attend school no matter her drive or desire to learn. A family of 9 children, five girls and four boys, her father (as most men at the time) felt that it was a waste of money to educate girls and only the boys would complete high school. At the age of 20, Feddy was married with one child on the way. After 12 short years and five daughters, her husband passed away leaving her widowed and the sole provider for her children. At the time, her family was living in a town called Ibumbo in a house built the local way. Made out of mud, sticks and grasses, her two room house would leak and wash away when it rained. When asked about her mindset at the time she admitted it was hard to feel anything positive, saying it was “the worst time of her life”. Thankfully, she persevered and was able to move herself and her children to her current location in a village named Kyabutoto.
All too happy to move on from talking about that time in her life, Feddy described to us in detail the steps she took to get from a bare, hilly plot of land to the concrete, decorated house she has now. To begin, she innovatively decided to dig up the hills to use the clay for bricks and to flatten the land at the same time. At this time her family had built another temporary local grass house until they could afford anything more. As an early member of the women’s group in Kyabutoto, she was one of the first people to be a recipient of the goat pass on project (2006). She explained how she sold the initial goats to pay for her daughters’ school fees, as many of our beneficiaries do. What has separated her from many others in the project is her forward-thinking. Using her group’s revolving fund (microfinance scheme), she invested in four more goats, selling and buying as needed after this. Although many people in Canada may interpret this investment strategy as the obvious/logical next step; it is not often the first choice made by women in rural Uganda. For people who live so day-to-day due to extremely limited funds and resources, the idea of taking out loans and investing in something long-term like goatherds is a challenging concept. This initiative allowed her to have enough money (although nothing extra), to support all five of her daughters through high school and then each into a trade (tailoring, salon etc). The way she spoke about putting her daughters through school was very matter-of-fact; for her, education was not a question, it was fundamental to a successful life.
By this point in the conversation I had already lost count of the number of times she spoke of and emphasized how thankful she was to have been a goat recipient from the VWB pass on project. From the start of her goat rearing time she had one goal: to have a home with electricity. She explained how room-by-room from 2006 to today she built the beautiful three-room concrete home we were sitting in. We were fortunate to get to take this walk down memory lane with Feddy, seeing her facial expressions and tone of voice change as she recounted her successes as well as her shortcomings. Especially notable was the look of pride she emitted when she pointed us to the light bulb in the ceiling and said all her hard work had paid off.
As a humble person by nature, it was harder than expected to get Feddy to talk about all of her training and current positions. The key to that box was when she pulled out a notebook and we started asking specific questions about the notes she has written and instructions in the book. The secret to it was that she clearly didn’t want to talk about herself, but if asked about what she did for other people or the work a group she led was doing, she had endless things to say. A great leader is someone who is confident in themselves but focused on the greater good of a group. A list of the leadership position Feddy holds follows: Kyabutoto chairperson and Paravet, Nyamuanga secondary school board member, Parish co-ordinator, PTA representative, Village health team worker, Kakona health center nutrition facilitator, social worker trained in child protection and most recently a councellor for Kaberebere Town Council. All of these responsibilities she has on top of being the sole provider for herself and Rosette, the grandchild she looks after. It took me a few moments to pick my jaw off the floor after hearing just how many roles of responsibility she holds. Prior to this, I just believed she was a hardworking woman with some serious drive and a good head on her shoulders; when really she is the female version of Superman! Maybe a tad dramatic but when you see first hand how someone has worked so hard from the ground up all the way up to the top, you can’t help but be heavily inspired.
Flipping through her training books, we stumbled across a chart with traits listed and a scale of 1(best) to 5 (worst) beside them. Feddy explained how every night she sits down and rates herself on each of the traits. She reflected that, “You can’t be 100% at everything, but you can certainly try.” We were shocked to see how low she had ranked herself in many categories such as empathy, confidence and availability. Thinking about it now, It has became clear that this is part of the key to her successes; never being completely satisfied forces her to seek education when possible, seize every opportunity given and continually expand her horizons. Alternatively, she says her key to success is always putting into practice what you learn, for many of us this is easier said than done. This 60-year old woman, without so much as a high school degree, is my definition of a life-long learner. Throughout the entire conversation with Feddy, I was searching for her to slip some word or phrase that would capture her personality and move any reader the way she has inspired me. In reality, this wasn’t possible. To try to capture someone; their struggles, their triumphs, their complexities, in a few words strung together would only take away from their story. As we were wrapping up to leave Feddy’s, her youngest daughter (a 20-year-old named Claire), piped in that the only role model she ever needs is her mother. It struck me then that someone dosen’t have to be well known to accomplish great things, something as simple as being a single person’s role model is one of the greatest legacies you can leave. So many strong women across the world are examples of these everyday unsung leaders. A simple conversation on a Friday evening allowed me to meet one of these very special women, and her name happens to be Feddy.