Rescued

She came from Niger, a place notorious for child marriage.

Her name is Abayomi which means “she brings me joy”.

She was only 14 when her parents insisted that she got married

Abayomi was filled with horror.  She had heard stories of  girls

as young as seven years  old being sold into marriage.

She didn’t want to get married–yet.  And when she did she

wanted it to be her decision.  She wanted to go to school and

study to be a doctor.   Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

 

A year passed and she was set to marry a man twice her age.

She had a wedding dress and the dreaded day was approaching.

There seemed to be no hope.  She thought of running away but where

could she go?  She couldn’t stay here.   She  thought of the horrible stories

she heard of young girls losing their lives when their parents married  them

of because they were having children when they were too young.  She didn’t

want to end up like them.  She didn’t want to die in childbirth.

 

No.  I’m going to fight this, she resolved.  She continued to refuse the

arranged marriage until her father cancelled it.  And to her surprise,

he encouraged her to join UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls programme.

When Abayomi went to the programme, she met other girls who had left

school to marry and some were even pregnant.  She was happy that she had

escaped the same fate.  She had her father to thank  for that.  What had made

him  change his mind after he had been so adamant?

 

She learned that he had met a Christian who told him about Jesus.   Curious, she

asked him what he knew about Jesus.  He explained that Jesus would not have

wanted him to force her into doing something against her will.  Then, he gave

the Gospel of John booklet the man had given him.  After everyone else had

gone to bed, she read stayed up to read the Gospel.

 

As Abayomi read how Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery from

being stoned to death, she realized that she too had been rescued from a

terrible fate.  She felt the tears spill down her cheeks and sliding off the

bed , she knelt on the floor.  “Thank You, Jesus,” she prayed.  She decided right

there and then to give her heart to One who had seen her plight and had come

to her aid.

 

Abayomi continued with her education and is currently in medical school.  She

is also encouraging other girls to say no to child marriage.  And her parents have

changed their views of forced marriage.  They believe that she should have the

right to choose her own husband and to marry when she is ready.

 

Nigerian Girl

Sources:  UNFPA; The Telegraph; BBC

Asha’s Story

Imagine you are a child and your daily routine is to get up early every morning to go and pick through trash with your mother.  You and your family are “untouchables” in your society which means you are treated as outcasts, undesirables.   You don’t have many options when it comes to jobs so in order to survive, you have to pick through garbage to find plastic bottles to sell. This was Asha’s reality.

Her world was tough, bleak.  She spent her days trudging through streets and alleyways strewn with garbage, hungry because she left home without having any breakfast.  The stench of the heaps of trash and filth assailed her nostrils as she searched for plastic items that could be sold.  She sorted, graded and sold whatever she could find.

When it was time for Asha to go to school she dreaded it because she feared the rejection of her teachers and classmates.  None of the children wanted to sit next to her or play with her.  She alone with no friends.  Asha knew why the others didn’t want to be around her.  It was because she picked trash for a living.  She had no choice.  She was trapped in the cycle of poverty and the door to better future was barred to her.  Asha wanted to learn but she was afraid to go to school.

For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope – Jeremiah 29:11

When Asha’s father heard about a Gospel for Asia supported Bridge of Hope center, he encouraged her to go.  He knew that Bridge of Hope offered help to people in need, especially to those whom society considered to be the lowest of people and he knew that the Bridge of Hope Center would care for her and provide her with the things he couldn’t.

Asha showed up at the Bridge of Hope carrying a plastic bag full of school books, dressed in tattered and smelly clothes, her face dirty and unwashed.  Unlike the reception she normally received at school, Asha was welcomed by the staff.  They loved and cared for her.  They took the time to help her to keep neat and clean.  She was given a backpack to replace her makeshift book bag and then school supplies and other useful gifts.

Within a year, Asha’s life was completely transformed.  She was fast learner and developed strongly in her studies.  She no longer went hungry as every school day she enjoyed a meal at the center.   Thanks to the staff, Asha has learned how to keep herself clean and she participates in all the activities at the center.  Her Dad couldn’t be happier,  “My daughter is getting her daily needs met through the Bridge of Hope center.  Now she is having good food, and she is healthy now.  We are very happy to see her growth.  She feared to go to school, but now she is never absent from school.”

Asha no longer has to pick up trash or feel alone and rejected by teachers and other students.  Instead she thrives under the love and attention she receives at the Bridge of Hope center and is excelling at school.  The door that society had barred her from because of her background, God cleared through Bridge of Hope.   Hope for a better future was now in her grasp.   No more trading plastic bottles.  No more rummaging through garbage to maintain the family because her father was paralyzed and couldn’t provide for them.

Asha1

You can help other children like Asha to have a better life, a bright future by supporting the Bridge of Hope centre.  Bridge of Hope is reaching out to the hopeless and rejected “through education, daily meals,  character-building activities, lessons on good hygiene, and by setting positive examples of love and good morals.  There is a bridge for these children that gives them a chance to rise above the cycle of hopelessness they have always known.”

Help to give hope.  Sponsor a child today.

Asha2

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”
– B.B. King

 

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Borgen Project

Healing and Hope

I first heard of the Bridge of Hope program when I became a blogger for the Gospel of Asia Ministry.  I have read stories of children whose lives seemed hopeless until they were enrolled in this program where they were given a chance for a better future.  They were provided with daily meals, regular medical check-ups and a quality education so that one day they would be able to get good jobs and provide for themselves and their families.  And most importantly, they learned about Jesus.

One day an illiterate man went to the Bridge of Hope centre with a strange request. Would the staff there send the “medical doctor named Jesus” to help his sick wife? how did this man know that Jesus could heal the sick?  He learned this from a little boy named Nibun, a first-grader.  Nibun listened as his teachers talked about Jesus healing the sick, delivering people from evil spirits and feeding the hungry.  It was Nibun’s father who came with the strange request.  It was Nibun’s mother who was sick.

The family was poor.  They lived in a mud hut and couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.  Most of the doctors were miles away.  It was too long of a trek on a dirt path through the woods, especially for a sick person.  Nibun’s mother was very ill.  His father tried to do everything he could.  He cried out to his gods to help her but she got worse until she became critical.  It was then that Nibun told his father about Jesus, but the man thought that there was a doctor with that name working at the Bridge of Hope centre.

The staff at the centre responded to the father’s desperate request and went with him to his home.  They talked to the family about Jesus and His love, sacrifice and power to heal.  Then, they laid hands on the woman and prayed to God to heal her. And He did.  The news soon spread throughout the small village and several people came to know the Lord that week and the following week more families placed their faith in Jesus.  Families are attending a local church where they are growing in God’s grace and increasing their knowledge of Jesus.

Many lives were changed because of a little boy who learned about Jesus at the Bridge of Hope centre and believed that He could heal his mother.  This program not only brings hope to children like Nibun but it transforms communities.  It brings the light of God’s love and the hope found only in Jesus Christ to many people.

Take the Pledge

[T]he more I traveled and met with girls and learned from experts about this issue, the more I realized that the barrier to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard – First Lady Michelle Obama

Last night, I watched the CNN Documentary: We Will Rise with First Lady Michelle Obama and was inspired and moved when I heard the stories of the girls in Liberia and Morocco who were to meet her.  It made me think of how some of our children take education for granted.  These girls long to be in a classroom, learning but sadly, they are denied this because of child marriage, pregnancy and poverty.  If a family has a boy and a girl, the boy will go to school while the girl stays at home.  And there’s belief that girls belong at home not in schools.  Those who are fortunate to get an education have to walk a long way to school in areas that are not safe.

One girl lived with her uncle and aunt because her mother wanted her to have an education.  She worked hard, keeping the home, taking care of her cousins before going to school.  At night, from 9-11pm she studied her books using a flashlight to see in the dark room while everyone else was asleep.  Her education helped to save her uncle’s life.

When the Ebola broke out in Liberia, she recognized that her uncle had the symptoms of the disease.  At first he dismissed what she was saying because she was a girl but she insisted and he was quarantined and then nursed back to health.  She had learned the symptoms in her Biology class.  Her favorite subject is Science.  Perhaps, one day she will become a scientist.  Another girl dreamed of being a journalist while another wanted to be an engineer, a discipline that was predominantly male.  You can watch her story here.

In Morocco, girls were missing school for five days.  Meryl Streep discovered why.  Here’s the clip.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2016/10/09/we-will-rise-film-meryl-streep-morocco.cnn/video/playlists/cnn-films-we-will-rise/

Girls need to know that they are valued and that they deserve to have an education. Educating a girl will change not only her life but the lives of many.  Take action today and sign the petition for more girls to receive education.  Help their dreams to become reality. Education is key to success, quality life and opens the door to so many opportunities.  No one should be denied a basic right such as education.  Take the pledge and give a girl the opportunity to have an education.  TOGETHER, WE CAN LET GIRLS LEARN!

 

We’re in this together.  Because these girls are our girls.  They are us.  They each have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them just like our daughters – and our sons – and their fate is very much our responsibility – First Lady Michelle Obama

Source:  CNN.com; Girl Up

Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Rihanna Honored

Role model is not the title they like to give me… (but) I think I can inspire a lot of young women to be themselves and that is half the battle.” She added: “The minute you learn to love yourself, you would not want to be anyone else.

On Friday, April 1, singer Rihanna was honored at the BET Black Girls Rock 2016 show. As the camera panned on her, you could see the emotion on her face.  To the sound of thunderous clapping and cheers she made her way to the stage.  http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1” target=”_blank”>Watch her acceptance speech.

Photo:  Billboard

I learned a couple of things about Rihanna.  She created the Believe Foundation in 2006. The foundation helps and protects children with terminal and disadvantaged disease worldwide.   In 2012 she founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honor of her grandparents Clara and Lionel Braithwaite.  The foundation grants fund efforts promoting health, education, arts and culture globally.  Read more about her charitable work here.

And she recently made history as the first black woman to front a Dior campaign.

Notes to Women congratulate Rihanna on her much deserved Rock Star award.  She truly rocks because she is teaching young black girls to have a positive self-image, something that many girls struggle with. Wouldn’t it be great if one day several of those girls who were watching her as she gave her speech receive their own Black Girls Rock award? Nothing is impossible.  As Rihanna said, God put each of us here for a purpose.  When the time is right, He will reveal it to us.

 

Source:  Wikipedia

 

In the Spotlight

Notes to Women is thrilled to feature In The Spotlight, Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme.

NTW:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Julie:  My job involves briefing the media, raising the profile of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the issue of global hunger within Canada, creating and promoting educational material for universities and schools,producing fundraising, awareness and advertising campaigns, working with our Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, George Stroumboulopoulos and creating communications material for our private sector partners within Canada.

NTW:  How long have you been with World Food Programme?

Julie:  I have been working in a communications role with WFP for over 9 years.

NTW:  What made you become a part of the organization? 

Julie:  I knew of WFP’s outstanding reputation as the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and I really like the fact that their administrative costs are one of the lowest in the non-profit sector – 90% of donations go directly to WFP operations. 

NTW:  WFP covers a wide range of areas in its fight to combat hunger, is there an area of particular interest for you?

Julie:  I have to say I enjoy visiting WFP school meals programmes.  WFP supplies nutritious school meals to over 18 million children every year.  A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom, especially in regions where girls are not encouraged to attend school. Providing a daily nutritious meal and in some cases a take home ration to children helps to keep them in school giving them hope for a brighter future.  I have also seen how buying food locally, benefits local farmers and the whole community and really enhances the sustainability of our programmes.

Julie Marshall

Photo:  Julie at a WFP school meals operation in Honduras.

NTW:  WFP’s vision is a world where every man, woman and child always has access to food in order to have an active and healthy life.  What is your vision?

Julie:  A child’s future should start with zero hunger.  WFP is working to create a world where no one is hungry, freeing children from the effects of undernutrition and helping them achieve their true potential. Every day, thousands of kids die because of hunger. But they don’t have to, because the world produces enough food for everyone. 

NTW:  It is said that empowering women is the first step towards Zero Hunger.  In Ecuador, this seems to be a challenge.  Rural women are illiterate, they earn less than urban women, they work 23 hours more than men, they have suffered some form of gender violence.  The statistics when it comes to abuse among girls in Ecuador are very disturbing.  78 percent suffer from abuse at home, 42% from severe abuse and girls ages between 10 and 15 years have been victims of gender violence, especially sexual abuse. How would WFP help these women and girls who are battling not only hunger but illiteracy, low wages, disproportionate working hours and gender abuse?

Julie:   I visited WFP school meals operations in Ecuador in 2014 and quickly learnt how these meals helped get kids into school, but also helped to support many women in the community. 

I visited a school in the remote community of Pimampiro, where some children walk for hours to school.  When they arrive they are hungry and tired.  The nutritious breakfast of juice and a granola bar and a lunch of rice, vegetables and lentils help them learn and play.  Some of the vegetables are grown, with the help of WFP, in their school vegetable garden and the rest are purchased by WFP from the local small farmers associations, which are run and organized mostly by women.  These associations work closely with WFP and the local government to deliver fresh vegetables to the school every week.  WFP has helped establish farmer’s associations and community gardens  across the region in order to increase the financial and food security of small-holder farmers.

Nancy, a 25 year old, single mom is the president of the local small farmers association in Otavalo, who supply fresh vegetables to the local schools.  Nancy explained to me how WFP and the local government helped to formalize their association, diversified their crops, encouraged women to participate and how working together they now receive a fair market price for their produce.  These women now have a steady income and a standing in the community.

IMG_0368

Photo:  Nancy in vegetable garden

NTW:  Somalia has chronically high malnutrition rates, in fact, one in eight children under five is acutely malnourished.  Please tell us about the nutrition programmes WFP has set up to treat and prevent this problem which is prevalent among young women, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Julie:  WFP supports food assistance operations to the most vulnerable people, and at the same time is working to help build resilience in the country. We have development operations designed to help hungry people help themselves; emergency operations that provide food to prevent hunger and malnutrition and relief and recovery operations that assist in stabilizing food security and the rebuilding after emergencies. 

The Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) Programme in Somalia helps to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of 2 years. We focus on the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) because this is the window of opportunity for preventing irreversible damages to a child’s growth and mental development due to poor nutrition. Pregnant and nursing women are therefore also targeted to ensure a good start in life for their children. The women, irrespective of their nutritional status, receive daily supplements of fortified blended food to complement a generally poor diet. In Somalia, the programme is implemented through functional Maternal & Child Health clinics to ensure that women and children receive nutritional support as well as health interventions necessary for healthy growth: immunization, de-worming, treatment of diarrhea and other common illnesses, ante-natal and post-natal medical check-ups, etc. Pregnant or nursing women stay in the programme until delivery and/or when the child reaches 6 months, while children can remain in the programme until they reach 24 months of age.

NTW:  As we all know, education is one way to empower girls in countries where girls don’t have access to it for any number of reasons.  In Somalia, the enrollment rates for primary school-aged children are among the lowest where out of 42% of those who are in school, only 36% are girls..  Share with us what WFP is doing to boost the enrolment rates.

Julie:  WFP school meals encourage children, especially girls, to attend classes, enrollment goes up, attendance is consistently high and with a full tummy both girls and boys can concentrate on their work.  In Somaliland, Puntland and the Central regions, we encourage the attendance of older girls by providing them with a take-home family ration of vegetable oil when the girls attend school regularly.  Keeping them in school longer gives them a better and healthier start to life.

NTW:  In Somalia, unemployment among young people aged 14 to 29 years is one of the highest at 67%.  Tell us about WFP’s Food for Training programmes.

Julie:  Poverty-stricken communities hit by floods or droughts are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment.  WFP finds out why a community is hungry and works with the community to rebuild their infrastructure – so they no longer need outside help.  WFP provides food or in some cases cash, in exchange for work making it possible for the poor and hungry to take the first steps out of the hunger trap. 

In Somalia, WFP implemented Food-for-Assets activities for over 12,000 people in Luuq, Dolow and Belethawa.  Through this programme WFP provides food rations to support self-help initiatives, such as building water harvesting structures and canal irrigation. The programme helps meet the immediate food needs of hungry people, as well as preventing communities from resorting to harmful coping strategies, such as selling assets and livestock during an emergency.

NTW:  What changes do you hope to see by the end of this year?

Julie:  A number of our major operations are in conflict areas.  In these areas I hope to see open access to besieged and hard to reach areas in conflict situations, allowing WFP and the whole humanitarian community continued access to all people in need of humanitarian assistance.  Also, Sustainable and predictable funding is needed to ensure that WFP assistance continues, not just in major crisis like Syria, but in seemingly forgotten emergencies were people are still in need but not in the media.

NTW:  What has been your biggest challenge working at WFP?  What has been your biggest achievement?

Julie:  One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been to see the Canadian public becoming more and more engaged in the issue of global hunger and the work of WFP over the years.  It can be challenging to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis that’s been going on for a number of years, like the Syrian conflict, but Canadians and the Canadian Government (who are consistently among our top 3 donors) continue to come through and support our work.

NTW:  Julie, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing through the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  I hope this interview will encourage people to get more involved in the fight against hunger.
Julie:  It was a pleasure talking with you.  Anyone can help WFP, just go to wfp.org to find out more about our work or download the#ShareTheMeal app on your smartphone, and .50 cents will provide Syrian children, their mothers and mums-to-be with vital nutrition with a simple tap on their phones.