We have so many stories of courage, tenacity and survival to share. Today I will tell the story of one woman who is very close to us. Her name has been changed.
Rachel was sent from the family home to live with relatives at the age of 7. She was working as one of the house maids from this time, expected to undertake all of the usual housekeeping duties that we would expect of an adult. The man had 4 wives and each wife had 8 children, and there were other family members, totalling around 60-70 people in the entire compound. She was expected to eat leftovers as maids aren’t given the same level of privilege as others.
She never got the chance to go to school, never learnt to read, write or speak English. Behind the house she lived in was a school. She tells stories of sometimes sneaking over and sitting out front of the school waiting for the school day to end and she would walk back with the children, imagining that she too was a student.
She married young and had 6 children, and tragically one of her twin babies died when it slipped off the bed and drowned in a bowl of porridge. After some time she discovered her husband was cheating and he wanted to bring the second woman home to become wife number 2, she refused to accept the idea. Once she discovered he was cheating she started refusing to have sex with him. He began to force her, even going so far as tying her to the bed and becoming violent at times. She went to another woman for help, who took her to a radio station and she spoke bravely about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. Her husband’s family were outraged, who did she think she was to speak about such things? Her husband kicked her out with only the clothes on her back, she had to leave everything including her children behind, and they were sent to another country to live with their father’s parents. She returned to her mother’s home and was continuously ridiculed by her community and even her own mother. Comments like “who do you think you are?” “look at you, you can’t even keep a husband” were a daily taunt.
After some years of this ridicule and shame, she felt she had no choice but to marry again. She became third wife to a man in Nigeria and relocated there to marry him. This man, while having three wives, didn’t have enough money to support them all. Life was a daily struggle for her. She became pregnant several times and lost the baby each time, until finally she was able to deliver a baby girl. In desperation to have some income, she looked for and was offered work, but her husband refused to allow his wife to work outside the home. Some mornings she would be so hungry, she would call us crying as she had no food in the house. Once she was sick and had to sell the only thing she owned, her mobile phone, to get medical treatment. Eventually with our support and encouragement she left and returned to Ghana.
Again she was ridiculed for doing such an unthinkable thing as leaving her husband. Who does she think she is? What is she going to do with herself now? We assisted her by lending her some seed money to start a trading business and after some time establishing herself, she is now self employed and taking care of herself and her daughter. The only support we provide now is school fees for her daughter.
If there had been a shelter available for her when she left her first husband, she could have received education, training and support to make decisions for her own benefit, rather than succumbing to the unthinkable pressure she was under from family and community for daring to stand up for herself.