Mary’s Recipe For Social Equality
‘’Hard work and excellence are essential for every success story. Always strive for the top and you would make it. Your race and your gender can only be limiting factors if you are mediocre,’’ I over heard Mary Ngwena telling a group of teenage girls, as I approached her kitchen. With no celebrity status, she is a perfect example of what I describe as a woman of purpose, an inspiring grassroots leader. One who has affected the lives of hundreds of women in her community.
An educationist and president of the Christian Women’s Fellowship group of the Presbyterian Church in her locality, Mary is determined not to let any woman remain with the belief she is meant just for the backyard. I never had the opportunity to go to secondary school and university, but I fought my way through and got my education through correspondence in my marital home while bearing children. I made this certificate between the labor room and the examination hall,’’ she explains, brandishing a London College of Preceptors certificate. ‘’The exams were written on the same day I had my last baby. She was born at 4am and I sat for the exams at 9am.’’. Putting down the piece of paper, she rolls up her sleeves and continues whisking eggs while answering my questions. Her leadership in the women’s group has transformed the lives of many women who thought they were too old to succeed.
Heading a church group of over six hundred women from all walks of life, her goal has been to empower the jobless by granting them loans to indulge in income generating activities of their choice and to encourage those who are intelligent and enthusiastic about studies to further their education. Thanks to her influence, more than thirty of these women have been transformed from full time housewives to teachers, nurses and secretaries and journalists while a good number are running lucrative businesses. Besides her teaching job, she does sewing, knitting, hairdressing and large scale farming. ‘’An ideal Christian woman should be like the virtuous woman in the Book of Proverbs 31 in the Bible. One who makes her husband and community proud by being industrious. If he prevents you from working out of home, dig deep where you are and bring out the precious stones. He will marvel at your capabilities,’’ Mary declares with a tone of certainty while looking at me intently. In her opinion it is only when women would prove their worth to men that they shall be emancipated. She calls on women to seek to be collaborative with men and not competitive. Nagging, crying, and complaining without attempting solutions to challenges will instead aggravate the problem of gender inequality, but working hard to swell bank accounts and increase knowledge is an automatic solution. She is currently drafting a proposal to forward to the Ministry of Basic Education, introducing Gender Studies at the primary school level, to propagate the idea that men and women are born equal. “This would help curb any form of chauvinism in children at their tender ages and enable the girls to see themselves as normal human beings capable of delving into any field in life.” Mary says she is not comfortable with text books that assign particular professions to men only and others to women only. ‘’That explains why we have just one female pilot in Cameroon,’’ she laments. Three of the female orphans she is sponsoring including her last daughter, are studying physics at university level. She says her dream is to see one of them get into piloting.
At age 55, Mary Ngwena has brought up 13 orphans under her roof alongside six biological children and three grand children. I met her teaching a group of teenage girls how to bake banana cakes, at the same time giving them pieces of advice.
She prefers impacting society from her home and church than creating an organization. She says she feels more motherly to orphans when they are raised under her roof than putting them in an orphanage. She prefers taking a few at a time and giving them quality home training. She expresses gratitude to her husband who has always played the role of a good father to the orphans and given her the chance to evolve from a primary school graduate to what she is today. “We supplement and complement each other. That is the secret of our success.” Mary says a good and stable home is the best gift parents can offer their children, so part of her advice to the women she meets constantly is for them to do their utmost best in making their homes peaceful and stable. ‘’A woman’s first assignment is to take proper care of her husband and children. Any other thing is secondary,” Mary states with her index finger raised .She encourages the kind of leadership that succeeds at home then extends to the community. She thinks a woman who succeeds as a good mother would definitely make a good leader.
Mary, a role model of an African woman is as busy in her kitchen as she is in her classroom, office and church . From a problem to a problem solver, Mary leaves an indelible impression in the minds of all who come her way. Tapping my back, she made a powerful statement which concluded my ten minutes interview with her and moved towards her oven to check on the cakes she was baking. ‘‘We were each created to be a solution to a problem, so brighten the corner where you are by solving any problem you can solve.’’
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.