“When I set my mind to something, I can go wherever I want and achieve my goals.”
Hadijah may be soft spoken, but when this 45-year-old mother of five speaks, she speaks powerfully.
The main road in Hadijah’s town in rural Uganda is lined with small grocery shops and snack stalls selling chapati and mandazi. Across the road and just opposite Hadijah’s house is a school recreation field where she’s a regular netball player and coach. “Once I’m done with my home chores, I just cross the road and play with the women and girls teams.”
Using the ball as a symbol, Hadijah says hitting a bouncing ball very much signifies her life. “When I set my mind to something, I can go wherever I want and achieve my goals.” Hadijah says when she even uses kickball as way to connect with both her own children and girls in her community. “I create rapport by playing football with them in our small compound. As we argue about the game, I use that as an opportunity to talk to them about life and its challenges.”
“Many young girls have turned into mothers during these two years of lockdown and many don’t think going back to school is crucial. I use the netball game to encourage them not to give up, to know that the power to develop and grow themselves is in their hands.”
Nearly 811 million people live every day without enough food — and 60% of them are women and girls. When there is a reliable source of food, girls are still often fed last and least. The best way to break this cycle of malnourishment is to invest in the women with the greatest influence on the next generation: Moms.
The lasting value of education.
Like many girls in her village, Hadijah did not get the opportunity to go to high school, which she still laments. “Imagine if I had gone to school, I would be far ahead compared to where I am. Because of my low qualifications, I can only represent either the sub county or the district, yet I would have loved to be in Parliament.”
She has used this as motivation to educate her children and support women within and outside of her village and all five of her children have been able to attain an education. “It makes me happy that all my children are educated. I need my children to help their younger siblings who are still in school. I believe in helping others grow, that’s why I focus on women.”
Hadijah credits the trainings and support she gets from The Hunger Project for her own development — specifically income-generating and agricultural workshops. Through profits from her farming, she has saved enough money to not only buy her own land, but to build a house for her family.
“I’m most proud of the house I’ve built.”
Not only has she built a house for herself and her family, she leverages it as an additional income-generating opportunity. “I have tenants who pay me money, so I’m very proud of that. Because it helps me pay bills and get things I want and need.” And her dream is to own more land and expand. “I want to set up a skills training center for young people who are not able to afford tuition to complete their education and women to help them. In fact, I recently bought land on the upper side and started a little construction project.”
“In our village, men have always held those positions and it awes them when a woman is in charge. Women will always think about how to improve their livelihoods, their children and the community…”
Building the confidence of women leaders.
Chairperson of the village women council, Hadijah has both taken and now leads women’s empowerment trainings with The Hunger Project. She is disturbed by the lack of confidence among many women in her village. “Most times, women are not confident, so I try to boost their confidence. Many have the belief that it’s only the man who should take care of the child, cloth them…but a woman can ably do that too.”
She is a strong believer in women’s ability to change lives when they hold leadership positions. “In our village, men have always held those positions and it awes them when a woman is in charge. Women will always think about how to improve their livelihoods, their children and the community at large compared to men who mainly focus on getting more wives with their money.”
Hadijah herself is a former board member in The Hunger Project’s microfinance program and served as chairperson at the epicenter for four years.
The success and challenges of being a smallholder farmer.
In her backyard, Hadijah maintains a neat green compound. It is partitioned to allow growing of vegetables such as spinach, egg plants, maize, sugar cane and banana plants. “Most of what I’ve planted is food and if we have some excess, we sell it.”
But being a smallholder farmer makes Hadijah vulnerable to seismic shifts in the economy and environment. Lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic, for example, halted her ability to work and sell her goods.
Weather changes have been a particular challenge. “See, this home garden? I would harvest big juicy bunches of matooke, but I can’t now. First there was a lot of sunshine, then we received very heavy rainfalls and many of my banana plantations fell down. With these weather changes you realize, you have nothing, it’s all destroyed.”
With the continuous unpredictable weather, Hadijah plans to set up a silo so she can store food. “If you have enough food, then it’s easy to save money for other use.” During the rainy season, Hadijah aims to cultivate her land to grow more food.
Hadijah has big plans for her future, setting herself and her family up for success. She’d like to own cattle, a large poultry farm and ensure all her children graduate. Plus she plans on expanding her house and adding more rental apartments.
- Hunger exists at a nexus of issues. Learn about our holistic approach to ending hunger.
- One of the greatest challenges expectant mothers face is reliable health care. Read this first-person exploration of birth rights by our colleague Anna Slattery.