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Raising self-worth

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Sister with children
Seeking to forge relationships with and among widows and widowers in Bugembe parish, Sisters of the Holy Cross started a support group to help them share their grief and rediscover their talents and value as individuals. Of the 80-plus participants, 25 members have taken up farming pigs and chickens as a source of food an income.

Widows/widowers find encouragement in new trades

Farming pigs, poultry or cows guarantees food for the table. But among widows and widowers in Bugembe Parish, Jinja, Uganda, livestock keeping has led to livelihoods that also feed self-respect.

In her ministry, Sister Nancy Rose Njeri Njoroge, CSC, provides pastoral care and conducts social service work with overlooked members of Ugandan society, among them orphans, individuals with disabilities, and widows and widowers. As a matter of cultural norm, she explains, those who suffer the loss of a spouse—specifically women—also lose their belongings, rights and dignity.

Commonly, the death of a husband is seen as suspicious, explains Sister Nancy, so those left behind are stigmatized and often segregated from their community. “It is very difficult for them to fit into a society that regards them as incomplete,” she says. The women “hardly come out, imagining how society is looking at them,” and often live in fear.

That fear is not unfounded. The elders of the deceased husband’s clan soon swoop in and seize all property and possessions, evicting the wife and children.  In most cases, Sister Nancy says, the women accept this as ‘normal’ and are often forced to rent living quarters or return to their maternal homes. 

Widows and widowers attended a workshop
During a workshop led by an area attorney, widows and widowers learned of their legal right to retain their land and possessions after the death of a spouse.

Monthly support group

Hoping to help the bereaved express and process their grief over their personal losses, Sister Nancy and other local sisters started a support group where widows and widowers can meet monthly to share their life stories and ways they are coping. At first, says Sister Nancy, “it was hard to even bring them together because none of them wanted to be called a widow or a widower.” However, with much encouragement, 20 women and one man courageously attended the first gathering. 

After talking and praying with them, and learning about their specific needs, Sister Nancy launched a livestock project—funded through donations to the Ministry With the Poor Fund—to help the group’s members develop skills and trades to generate incomes. Among the group, that now numbers 80-plus, more than 25 members have embraced livestock keeping, while others have taken up tailoring and baking. “Through their meetings and interactions and group reflections together, they have become more aware of their potential, and they are tapping into it,” Sister Nancy says.

She also organized a workshop for the group, bringing in a lawyer who addressed law versus culture and informed them of their legal rights. From there follow dreams of securing legal counsel to represent the women, and ideas for disseminating this information throughout the country.

While these efforts may be slow to materialize, Sister Nancy has found immense joy and hope in her new relationships and in the progress that has already been achieved. “We have witnessed a great change … from dejected faces to smiling faces, from sadness to joy, and from being isolated to being accepted. Once more, they anticipate life and are able to recognize and express their worth.”

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