THANKFUL THURSDAY: Heather Cammarata
This season of gratitude has offered an opportunity to reflect on moments in time that were special moments of connection, brought into high definition focus by the joy of the people, permanently inked in my emotional memory.
2010–We were touring the farm of Rosemary, a widow. She was responsible for her invalid mother, also a widow, her four children, four grandchildren, and two orphans. Her cow, which she had received a few months prior after preparing her farm, had just given birth, and our visit was joyous. Rosemary showed us her pineapple field, fearlessly navigating the dagger-sharp leaves to select a ripe pineapple as a gift for us, and her cow. As we were leaving, she knelt in front of Sister Toni and said, “I cannot thank you properly without getting on my knees. Do not just remember me, but please remember the other widows in this area who also have great need.”
2011–Sister Toni and I were walking with Ingrid Munro through Mathare with Jane Ngouri and Wilson Maina. We met another Jane, who was one of the fifty original street beggars whom Ingrid Munro credits with giving rise to Jamii Bora, MPA’s first microfinance partner. This Jane had been working on an income project for 20 years, and had risen in prosperity from begging in the streets to having a home in Mathare with sheet metal walls, roof, and door. She had two grown children who were now at university. Her home was a shack, with hijacked electricity. The ditch outside her door oozed with waste. And yet she thanked MPA and Mama Ingrid for her success.
2012–Back in Nairobi, in the slum of Kibera, Esther Wajiku introduced us to vendors who got their start, and their re-start after the post-election violence in 2007, from Jamii Bora. Esther herself had fled her family’s home to the promise of the big city. After becoming homeless, she joined Jamii Bora and successfully managed an income project, affording a 6×8 rental home of metal sheets in Kibera. Over time, she became one of the Tumaini (hope) social workers who encourage others to save first, and work toward taking a small loan. Esther had her children in primary and secondary school. When her sister died in a bus accident, she took in her nieces. Esther proudly relayed that it was her daughter who suggested that the nieces sleep in the family bed, since they had lost so much.
2013–We visited the home and farm of Consolatha Emmanual, a widow and grandmother who is one of the village coordinators for the Bukoba Womens Empowerment Organization (BUWEA) in Tanzania. About 50 women sat on scattered reeds and listed to Consolatha’s advice. She encouraged them to save, to help each other, and to work together to make each other’s income projects successful. Consolatha herself harvested trees from her farm to make boards for construction, and she had two local cows as well. We spoke with her young granddaughter, who was so proud of her “bibi”. One by one, the women spoke with us of their gratitude for joining BUWEA, which has given them hope, purpose, and a sense of worth, because they had income over which they had the say-so on how it would be spent.
2014–Our group split up on a day, and this memory is second hand but has stuck with me. Molly and Al Kertz visited a farm of a family featured in MPA’s film, “Living Loan.” Near the end of the film there are three young babies drinking milk at a cow-pass-on ceremony. These three are now in Primary One (first grade) and eagerly showing the visitors their successful farm. Mom and dad were showing the biofuel system, and the contraption they have made to form hay bales, to store grass for the dry season. They remain grateful to the Cow Project, saying that their triplets would not have survived infanthood without the cow milk. Their joy radiated through the retelling later that day.
2016–My husband, Mark, and I visited a different BUWEA group in Kemondo, Tanzania. These rural women had just started income projects that were primarily agricultural–selling potatoes, eggs, pineapples, mangoes at the market. They reported that before getting a small loan, they could only afford to buy a small sack, and when that sold at market, they spent time walking back and forth to buy another small sack. It was time consuming, and not very profitable. With the loan, they could buy a larger sack at a better price, and stay at the market all day. These women reported that they have gone from $0 income per day to $1 per day, by the six month mark after retiring their first loan. In their report to us, the women said, “We used to sit around and curse the world, but now we are too busy with our income projects.”
2017–We were visiting small self-help lending circles mentored by the CPS Partners. This particular group was in Poli Singisi, near Arusha, Tanzania. The self help group was made up of groundskeepers, drivers, cooks, and other workers employed by the sisters. They did have steady work, but their pay averaged $50/month. The sister confided that before the self-help groups, the employees would ask the sisters for advances on their pay to cover unexpected emergencies and the related expenses. Now, they don’t hear from their employees about this, because they take these requests to the self-help groups.
2019–It was a day of great joy and confusion. We were a two-hour drive from Masaka in a village to celebrate the handing over of pigs to post-fistula women. About six women were to receive pigs, but a group of about 30 had gathered. They had questions. What was this surgery? Did one have to be healed to get the pig? How did this work? Our “Sandals on the Ground” Frank and Diane met with each woman, answered their questions, took their information with the intent to follow up with them to encourage them to go to the Fistula Surgery Camp at Kitovu Hospital. One of the six receiving a pig had mobilized the area, spreading the word about the program and the women had come to learn more.
In Africa, when I am asked to speak as the representative of MPA, I follow Rosemary’s example. I kneel before the people, and I thank them, because they have changed me for the better. And then, I ask them to remember not only us who are visiting in person, but those who have invested in them, in their dignity, in their potential to be the ones lifting their families and their communities. I ask them to remember our donors who have not traveled to Africa and yet have great faith and hope that our connection makes a difference.
– Heather Cammarata