UNBOWED: In Praise of African Women

Kilema girls’ Vocational school graduation party

“What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focussed on the solution, I don’t see danger. Because I don’t see danger, I don’t allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don’t foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”

“If we really carry the burden, we are driven to action. We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

Wangari Maaathai, “Unbowed: A Memoir”

To see photos of the Tanzanian women and colleagues who are “Unbowed” click here or go to: http://picasaweb.google.ca/crrfraser/Unbowed

Apologies to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai for appropriating her book title for the theme of this blog post, but the grace and power of both that word and concept are resonating with me after having raced through her inspiring autobiography this week. “Unbowed” is for me the amazing, often female, African life force which surrounds me: I have the good luck to gaze into its dark brown eyes many times each day here in Kilema.

I was only able to read “Unbowed” in Kilema due to the diligence and devotion of another inspiring woman: my amazing mother, Judy, who carried this book at my request halfway around the world (assisted by the largesse of the Vancouver Island regional library in loaning a copy to her for the duration of her visit!).

Anyone even remotely interested in Africa must read “Unbowed”, particularly for its inspiring testimony to the enduring power and wisdom of African women in their determined struggles for better lives. There can be no doubt that the 2004 Peace Prize was given both to a woman and movement – Maathai’s Green Belt Movement (www.greenbeltmovement.org) — of indispensable importance to the future of both Africa and the entire world. The only real question is why did it take so long for Wangari Maathai to get the prize? (Yes, female readers, that is a rhetorical question!)

Unbowed and life-sustaining is what I see in the women all around me each day at Kilema hospital. Whether here as workers or care providers on the hospital grounds or as family members caring for loved ones admitted to hospital, there seems to be no challenge which they are unwilling to face in their steady and humble yet quietly proud manner.

This is nowhere more evident than in the HIV Centre, where women continue to make up roughly two thirds of our clientele as well as motivating their children, brothers and husbands to attend with them. I am proud of these women and their care providers at the centre for the many successes they are achieving, remaining unbowed when many would fold and crumple, while HIV / AIDS continues to claim far too many of their family and community members.

The past six months at the Kilema Hospital HIV Centre has seen great progress, with 170 new patients registered for care and over 130 patients starting life sustaining antiretroviral (ART) therapy. Due to the excellent efforts of the Tanzanian staff I am partnered with and their strong linkages to community-based care workers, many are now starting their therapy before becoming unwell and admitted to hospital, avoiding the heavy toll HIV and ukimwi inevitably take when left unchecked.

“Unbowed we were born and that is how we plan to remain.”, the shining brown eyes tell me each day.

“Mambo vipi , dada (Right on, sister)”, I smile back.

Leave a Reply