By Ann Pretorius, Co-Founder

On 31 July, we celebrated Pan African Women’s Day on the continent and on 9 August we celebrate Women’s Day in South Africa in memory of the courageous women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to challenge the apartheid regime and its unfair pass laws..

Women are the powerful backbone of African society. Peter, who had the greatest admiration
for their strength and resilience, used to say: “Are you man enough to be a woman in Africa?”

He observed women who would never flinch in pain or complain as day after day, they carried a full 20-litre container of water on their heads, one in each hand, often with a baby snuggled on their backs. Many young girls are kept out of education and other productive activities because they spend so much time having to collect water, which we all know is a vital life source.

This is what motivated Peter to purchase drilling rigs and provide clean, potable water for rural communities. Last year our water and sanitation projects reached more than 500 000 people!

In reaching out to serve precious children in informal settlements in South Africa, I have met some of the world’s greatest heroes. These are incredible women — affectionately called “gogos” or “mamas” by JAM staff —  who give 100% of themselves each day to care for toddlers who would otherwise be on the streets.

These, often older women, share all that they have … their little tin shacks, their food, their beds and any items they possess that could be used as “toys” to amuse the children.

It is our privilege to supply them with our highly nutritious porridge so those in their care get a good start to each day and build their immune systems and brains for a brighter future.

I recall meeting two such ladies who were caring for 45 children in a poorly-ventilated single garage building. During the children’s rest time, when the noise was reduced enough for us to talk to one another, I remarked: “You must be exhausted at the end of the day after caring for so many little ones from 7am to 6pm?” They smiled and told me that at 8pm every night they walk to the community centre where they enjoy night studies. They wanted to graduate with a high school certificate. At 56 and 57 years old, this had a massive impact on me.

In Uganda, where we work at the Imvepi Refugee camp supplying nutrition and agricultural training, I have met many women who have fled unimaginable horrors in South Sudan. Their courage and determination is admirable. Yet, we also have women who willingly work for JAM in South Sudan and in other difficult and dangerous places. They put themselves aside in service of others, despite the uncomfortable conditions.

Abebe Amene, our country director for South Sudan, could have gone on to further her studies in the United Kingdom but chose to return to Africa, saying: “Africa is where our responsibility as Africans lies.”

When I first met our Sierra Leone country manager, Damarice Ager, she was on the banks of the Nile River in South Sudan teaching large communities of women about the importance of maternal health, the immense value of breastfeeding as well as how to cultivate crops and trade at the local markets. Through sharing her diverse knowledge, she has empowered others.

In Mozambique, where internal conflict and natural disasters have caused a humanitarian crisis, our workers have not been deterred and have pulled out all the stops to assist refugees with food, water and psychosocial support.

In Angola, where cases of malnutrition have shot up after a relentless drought, you will find women taking care of others, patiently willing them to heal.

Amanda Otieno, our chief programmes officer, who is passionate about gender equality, said recently: “There is always a connection between women, and even when they don’t speak the same language, there is always song.”

All these examples portray the essence of the African notion of “ubuntu”, which roughly translates to “I am because you are” — a simple expression of compassion, humanity and oneness among us.

On a personal note, I have to pay tribute to Callie Theletsane who has been at my side since the early 1980s. She is an amazing warrior woman who has shown dedication, faithfulness and integrity and who has been willing to learn multiple skills and serve in various fields.

Her warm, friendly and endearing personality wins the hearts of all who meet her and she has won multiple staff awards over the years, including our DELTA core values award for Delivery, Efficiency, Leadership, Trust and Alignment.

Thank you Callie for your excellent attitude and for being a true model of the mettle that is an African woman.

Unfortunately, I cannot mention all the names here of those who contribute daily to our success, but on Women’s Day I would like to thank and acknowledge all my fellow JAM women, who have a passion to see an Africa that thrives — and who know that they will only achieve that by uplifting other women.

I am because you are.

Angolan mothers face losing their children to hunger

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