Coming Down from the Mountain

Written by Leia Johnson, president and co-founder of Somebody's Mama

Picture courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

Picture courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

On March 8th of 2016, International Women’s Day, I summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as a member of the One Million Thumbprints (1MT) campaign. Our team climbed to bring awareness to issues affecting women in war zones and to raise money for peace-building and economic empowerment projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan.

    The climb was a great personal achievement and a rather extreme bonding experience for the 15 climbers, but it was so much more. Before climbing the mountain, we were able to visit with and learn from women in the DRC—including Esperance, the inspiration behind the 1MT campaign. During our time in the DRC, we were able to witness three particular life-saving programs in place: sexual-based violence support groups, Savings for Life groups, and village peace committees. Each of these groups is made up of people who care deeply about rewriting the story of their war-torn country. 

From left to right: Charlene (sexual-based violence group participant and leader), Dr. Esperance (serves patients dealing with HIV/AIDS and women undergoing fistula surgeries), Leia, and Alice (World Relief staff member).

From left to right: Charlene (sexual-based violence group participant and leader), Dr. Esperance (serves patients dealing with HIV/AIDS and women undergoing fistula surgeries), Leia, and Alice (World Relief staff member).

    Our implementing partner, World Relief, has done a tremendous job of laying the groundwork for building a sustainable infrastructure in countries around the world that have been plagued by conflict. Seeing this in action in the DRC gave me a better understanding of why it is so important that these programs are being put in place in South Sudan, where they are just beginning to be implemented.

    The Somebody’s Mama community has chosen to partner with women in Ibba County, South Sudan to fund micro-business loans through the Tools and Seeds program. Through small grants, recipients are able to start agribusinesses to feed their families and build community with their neighbors. They are also given the opportunity to be part of a Savings for Life group, where they learn how to budget, save for the future, and create a bank for future loans. World Relief staff in South Sudan sent us pictures of some of the women who have already received help through Tools and Seeds and Savings for Life.

Picture provided by World Relief

Picture provided by World Relief

Meet Alice—one of fifteen members of the Napaga Farmers Group in Ibba. Through Tools and Seeds, Alice has received small business loans to build her crops of maize, sorghum, cow peas, ground nuts, and cassava. Alice says she has gained valuable knowledge about farming including how to plant in lines with regular spacing and how to efficiently preserve seeds and grains for future planting.

Meet Nama, a mother of three, who was able to use a loan from her savings group to pay for medical treatment, allowing her to heal from a long-time illness for which she could never afford medical care before joining the savings group. Nama says, “Apart from accessing cash, I have new friends because the group members kept on visiting me when I was sick. They comfort me, and I feel I have brothers and sisters.” Now that she is no longer sick, Nama has plans to work on a garden next planting season and possibly start a kiosk in the village to sell some of her crops.

Picture provided by World Relief

Picture provided by World Relief

Picture provided by World Relief

Picture provided by World Relief

Meet Monica, a 39-year-old mother of seven. She is one of 27 members in the St. Charles Lwanga savings group who also farms maize and ground nuts. Having been in the group since 2014, she has taken advantage of the loan program three times, paying the loans back each time within three months. She invested her first loan to improve the shop where she sells cooking oil. She used the second loan to pay school fees for her children. Her last loan was used to invest in her garden, and she reports that her crops have not only yielded enough to feed her family but enough to trade and sell the surplus. Monica is building a successful business, feeding her family, and sending her children to school.

It would be easy to lose momentum in this moment—the mountaintop experience is over, and the excitement of the climb has passed. But we are not finished. Somebody’s Mama has committed to funding grants for 805 women in South Sudan for a total of $19,341—a dollar for every foot of mountain I climbed.

    What I love most about these programs is seeing people empowered. The recipients of these grants understand that they are the only ones who can change the trajectory of their lives. There is a sense of ownership—yes, life is hard and circumstances can be overwhelming, but there’s hope for a better life. And this hope isn’t abstract or theoretical—these women see the affects of joining support groups to heal emotionally, of joining savings groups to plan for the future, and of joining village peace committees to promote grassroots peace-building in places where the local and national government can not be depended upon for setting the tone.

    Here’s the GREAT news—we have a matching funds grant from now until the end of April. Every dollar donated will be doubled, so your dollar goes further. We still need to raise $3,472.30 to reach our goal. The initial loan for one woman to start an agribusiness is $24. That’s an insanely small investment when you consider the ripples: families who can eat healthier food and afford medical care, children going to school, and communities of people working for the good of their neighbors.

    We have already raised enough to sponsor grants for 661 women—that’s not small potatoes, friends. Let’s finish this project and tell the Mamas of South Sudan that we see them, we care about them, and we are rooting them on as they pursue better lives.