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Women of Worth

The WORTH project brings women together to learn skills necessary to survive and thrive.

The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) seeks to elevate women out of these dire circumstances through the WORTH project – which brings women together in groups of 20-30 to learn how to read and write; keep business records; account for group and personal savings; and to run their own businesses (http://sawso.org/sawso/Women_of_Worth). Commissioner Jolene Kay wrote letters to stay in touch with family and friends when she and her and husband Kenneth G. Hodder (currently territorial leaders for the USA West) served as leaders of the Army’s work in Kenya (2006-2009). Her letters were later published in book form with the title Women in White (Frontier Press, © 2013). Here is an excerpt about her encounter with the WORTH program.

Accompanied by a donor from Cross International who wished to see our WORTH program, I took a long trip to Embu yesterday. What a day it was! 

The first Salvation Army compound we visited had 10 groups of 25 women, all of whom were waiting to show us the small businesses they had started with the help of the Army. One group makes avocado soap; another sells seedlings; one sells and makes baskets; several breed goats; others grow green beans. These ladies can now count up to 100, write their names and are learning how to read and write. They stood proudly as they reported that they are now businesswomen, earning a living for their families and contributing to their own communities. I was so caught up in the excitement of the moment that I told them that, while I couldn’t buy from all of them (mainly because my husband would not be happy if I returned home with a cow or goat), I would give each a little to add to their cash boxes. They all cheered and danced.

Women run microcredit programs to support such business efforts as growing crops for sale, making pottery, digging wells and tending livestock.

I went to four corps and spoke to hundreds of women. Some have made cookers, which they sell to support orphans in their communities. I met the orphans they are raising, and I was thrilled when these young ladies told me what their dreams are. One wants to be a lawyer; one, a pilot; another plans to become an engineer; one hopes to become a doctor. Their English is perfect. They stood, extended their hands, looked me right in the eye and said thank you for giving them hope. I had to hold back the tears. I could see our daughter Jess in each of them.

"I spoke to hundreds of women. Some make and sell cookers to support orphans in their communities. One wants to be a lawyer, another a doctor, another a pilot, another an engineer."

A highlight of the day occurred when I went into a steep ravine to see what one group was doing. Mostly elderly women were sitting on a huge pile of rocks, mallets in hand, breaking large rocks into small stones. But first the women had to crawl into large pits and cut off big pieces of rock. Some hoisted the rocks out of the pit. Others pounded on them to make smaller rocks and, finally, pebbles. The ladies then sell the pebbles to road-builders for about $10 a truckload. I sat down with them, hitting the rocks with a mallet while listening to their beautiful singing. One of the youngest women sitting next to me was breastfeeding her baby, shattering the rocks and at the same time protecting her baby.

When I got up to leave, the women, singing and dancing, followed me. Halfway up the ravine, I slipped on the rocks. One elderly woman walked in front of me, threw me on her back as if I were just a simple shawl and carried me up the ravine. At first I was frightened, but once I sensed how strong she was and that her footing was sure, I just relaxed and let her carry me.

At the end of the day, I was presented with a cup of a liquid porridge, made by yet another group and sold for special ceremonies. I had watched the women make the porridge from fermented flour and sugar, kneading the mixture by hand and rocks and pouring the results into gourds. They gingerly handed me a full cup. The group was quiet as they stared at me, probably wondering if I would drink it. I took a small sip. I said I liked it. They all cheered. I do have to admit, however, that my next four sips were pretend sips, and I was very grateful when my driver took the gourd out of my hand and finished the drink. It was one of the many unique foods and drinks I tried yesterday. When I arrived home late last night, I simply wanted to fall into bed, thinking I might never want to eat or drink again.

The lesson I learned yesterday is that a little love, encouragement and support can change a community. These woman in the WORTH program started their businesses with pennies, but since the Army began teaching them how to count, read and run a business, and what it means to be proud of what they do, they have changed entire communities. The next time I am tempted to say I can’t do something or that something is impossible, I will stop and remember these incredible women. 

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