Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drivers' Wives, Unite!

Caroline, a Zambian friend, invited me to a meeting last Saturday. (She's the one who has taken in 12 orphans and cares for them along with her own family.) She asked if I would bake a chocolate sheet cake to take along, and said she would come to accompany me since otherwise I might never find the place.

She was right. The meeting was in the small space between two houses in a compound called Chimwemwe, which means "Happiness" in Bemba. I never could have found it in a taxi, so Jenny drove us there. She had intended to come to the meeting, too, but had a conflict. So she just helped with transport.

We had chairs and mats to sit on, a tree to shade us, and music from a stereo set. About twenty women were there and about double that number of children and youths. As soon as Caroline and I arrived, she led the women in a cheer: "Drivers' Wives, UNITE!"

This was a meeting of the Association of Drivers' Wives, a self-help, mutual aid organization Caroline has initiated. Their first purpose is to set up a fund to assist the women and children who are widowed and orphaned when a driver dies in a road accident. They also plan to help families pay for health care, and ultimately to create a cooperative loan fund the members could tap into when they want to start an income-generating project. There is no universal Social Security system here in Zambia, or even worker's compensation or unemployment insurance. People are on their own, or cared for by family or friends when in need. So mutual aid associations are a means to share some of the risks of life and supplement the resources of the family.

The Association of Drivers' Wives has an ambitious long-term agenda with their goal of creating a fund big enough to meet crisis needs and eventually also to support a revolving fund for seed money for members' small businesses. For today, our purpose was to get a progress report on the work of becoming a registered, chartered organization, and to celebrate with prayer, singing, dancing, and the traditional "brai" luncheon: roasted chicken, rice, relish, potatoes, coleslaw, and, of course, the cake for dessert. We managed to make one cake feed everyone--bigger pieces for the adults, bite-size portions for the children. Reminded me of the feeding of the five thousand...

There was competitive dancing between the teenage girls, daughters of the members, to see who could do the traditional dances best. The mothers couldn't help but join in, and finally even I had to attempt dancing, too. I think you have to start as a young child to master the hip and waist movement that is the heart of the dancing here. Everyone applauded my effort, but I think they were being kind to the Muzungu.

And, as I have learned to expect, I was asked to offer words of encouragement to the women in their efforts to organize themselves and raise money for their self-help activities. This was easy to do, since their enthusiasm and hard work were evident in this event. I was impressed with their strength and their hope.

We concluded with the chant, repeated like a cheer, "Drivers' Wives, UNITE!"

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