Friday, May 10, 2013

A Son's Tribute to his Widowed Mother and her Sacrifice

by Peter Mirgichan, as told to Lyn Bishop

Sauti Moja is proud to have Mirgichan working as a program assistant in Logologo where he was raised and his mother lives.

Mirgichan and his widowed mother.
At a young age, my mother, a Rendille pastoralist, became the second wife to an old man, and gave birth to three daughters and me. After my father’s death and according to cultural practice, my mother, as second wife, inherited no livestock: all the livestock was shared among the first wife and her sons. For a pastoralist, livestock equals life, but even though my mother was left without even a goat, she was not bitter. She accepted her fate in her culture, but did not lose hope. In her struggle to provide for us, she committed herself to backbreaking work.

My mother began the laborious task of fetching water for other people. This paid only about Ksh500 (~$10) every month carrying five jerry cans of 20 litres (22 kg) each on a round-trip walk of 4 km. This activity was totally exhausting for a woman under five feet tall, but then, she would also fetch firewood for sale when time allowed. That was her hardest task, since she had to walk a longer distance and carry a heavier load. When she returned home from searching for firewood, it was late afternoon after which she would walk to town in the hopes of finding a buyer. Sometimes, a couple of days could go buy before a buyer was found, and time really matters when you are the sole provider. In addition to fetching water and firewood, she would also carry people’s luggage for a small fee. My sister, Ann, and I were upset to see her so exhausted with no time to rest, but our mother’s daily sacrifice for us did not go unnoticed. We were both committed to staying focused on our studies so that one day, we could relieve our mother’s load.

In 2004, my sister and I completed primary school. Having two children attending secondary school was the most challenging and difficult thing that my mother experienced. She asked for people in the community to contribute so that we could at least enter school, but community members were discouraging to her. They felt that Ann should not go to school but remain to help fetch water and firewood. The elders even approached my mother to release her daughter into a marriage in exchange for some valued livestock, but she remained firm that she wanted both her son and daughter to attend secondary school. Finally, through a combination of community support, support from local agencies, and a positive response from the school to reduce tuition, we both gained admittance into secondary school.

The challenge of education costs did not end, as every year, for four years, there was a new search for the next year’s fees. In our poverty, it was not easy to submit our school fees on time. One time, the headmaster announced, “Those who have outstanding school fees will not be allowed back next year. This is not an orphanage!”, and I knew he was speaking to me. In that moment, I was so ashamed and angry, and I felt that all eyes were upon me. I told my mother I would not go back to school, but she would not support my ‘proud heart’.  She told me that it was not what the headmaster said but what God saw in my heart that mattered.

Realising the benefits from a good education was far into the future, and sometimes, my mother’s needs were urgent. Schools for youth were far away from rural communities, and as such, we were unable to return home very often.  However, I remember once returning from school to find my mother’s home ready to fall over. I quickly organized my friends, and collected enough sticks to repair her small home.

Today, I have not only completed Form 4 but graduated from Mt. Kenya University. My sister found employment as an assistant with a local school, and I have been employed as a program assistant with Sauti Moja Marsabit. I am proud to be working for Sauti Moja, as my mother was first supported by Sauti Moja which provided her with 6 goats that have now become 13 and with family health training and food aid during drought. Now, my sister and I also contribute to my mother’s household, and she no longer needs to fetch water and firewood for others. We are coming through our struggles, together.

One very important thing I would like to point out about my mother is that she is a Christian, and one who prays all the time despite the difficulties that she passes through. My mother would give thanks to God, even if her meal was only tea. She has taught me that even a simple cup of tea can feel greater than a banquet, if one is truly thankful. My mother is and has always been a very rich woman. Today, I see my mother as a courageous Christian; I seek to be as rich in faith and as courageous in spirit, as she has been all her life.

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