Last week I blogged about a woman I met in Haiti who was facing multiple levels of challenges. You can read her story here. The question to you was: “how would you best help a woman in her case?”
The reality is the complicated nature of her life makes it difficult to give advice and counsel that can even begin to address one of her problems.
The bad news is this woman's story is not unique in developing countries. All over the world this story is told over and over again. It usually begins with an uneducated woman who lives in poverty, she is then marginalized, sometimes the mother of more than one and oftentimes find herself with men who she is not married to or men she is well aware of having multiple partners but she turns the other way and accept it out of necessity, not just for companionship but for financial means. But this is no story; this is reality for many women all over the world.
So how do we give counsel and advice to these women that come to us for help or your heart is just aching to help??
My approach on advising and counseling these women is contingent on their ability to fight for their lives and the lives of their children. I am an avid believer that if you have a reason to live, you will live. If not, no advice will ever be enough and no relief will ever be sufficient because you have already claimed death as your companion.
My counsel for these kinds of complicated situations usually involves four components: finding work, getting an education, having faith in God and developing or joining social networks.
Women in these types of situations must find work. I advised the woman I met in Haiti to find “meaningful” work that will not require her to sell her soul to the devil, whatever the job may be; because a woman with money in her pockets has more options. A woman with money to care for herself and her children does not have to stay in abusive relationships or live in hopelessness.
Secondly, I advised her to keep her eyes open for free opportunities to learn a trade and get an education. Women in these types of situations cannot afford to pay for an education but there are many organizations willing to work with a woman whose goal is to learn and get out of poverty. An educated woman is a woman with even more options. An education is one of the best poverty deterrents. Which is why educating girls is such an essential part of alleviating poverty among women. If you educate them early, there’s an even greater chance that they will not end up in poverty and hopeless situations.
Thirdly, having faith in God builds our optimism about the future. Over and over again, we have seen that those with a strong faith in God are overall more hopeful about the future. Their faith in God motivates them to keep walking, to keep fighting and never give up. Oftentimes, when you ask the women of Haiti: "how are you doing?" Their answer is usually: "good by the grace of God"! Again, if you have a reason to live, you will live.
Lastly, we were created to live in community with each other. I reminded this woman, it is not good for us to live alone without the support of friends, family and other social networks. In a country like Haiti, there's a huge distrust factor. Neighbors are often reluctant to share personal details with each other in fear of betrayal and jealousy. But this woman was in desperate need of human interaction. I challenged her to go in her community and develop friendships; friends who will encourage her, laugh with her and share life with her.
When working with these women; it is vital that we understand the challenges ahead of them. Our counsel needs to be given in context, with compassion and never judgmentally.
May we continue to learn from these women and tell their stories so that those in power can create opportunities for them to learn, grow and live productive lives with their families.