Watoto: Transforming Lives of Formerly Vulnerable Women

Filed under Organizations & Causes Your World on Feb 17 12 by

“The key to economic progress and fighting poverty is unleashing women’s potential.”

-United Nations

Living Hope Workshop

Women learning new skills in a Living Hope workshop. Photo courtesy of Watoto.

Since the beginning of time a battle has been taking place against the feminine heart. Women were created to bring forth life. The second chapter of Genesis states, “I will make a helper suitable for him (man).” The original Hebrew term used in this verse is, “ezer kenegdo”. “Kenegdo” can be defined as “alongside” or a “counterpart”, and “ezer” is usually explained with phrases like “companion” and “help meet”. Robert Alter, a Hebrew scholar, suggests many translations are missing the point. He claims if we were to look closely at scripture we would discover “ezer” is used only twenty times in the Old Testament and is always referring to a situation where God is coming through when he is desperately needed. Whether you believe this is truth or just myth I must ask you a question: Does this sound to you like women were only made to play the role of companion and help meet? We were created for so much more. Each of us was uniquely brought into the world at this time, as part of this generation, for a unique, significant, and specific purpose. You are living right now for a reason. You have an irreplaceable role to play.

Although we want to be an “ezer kenegdo” to our friends, family members, and significant others, often we just feel tied down and exhausted. We can’t imagine having the potential to make a significant difference in another person’s life, but the truth is that you and I have each been given a set of keys. My keys are not the same as your keys, but together we have the ability to unlock our own potential and the potential of the women around us. Each key is an opportunity to resource someone and to help restore something in her.

Right now in Uganda, a woman named Marilyn Skinner is busy releasing the chains that have been holding back dozens of women who are struggling through some of life’s most difficult circumstances. Marilyn runs Living Hope, an initiative under Watoto, the child care ministry she started with her husband. Living Hope is “committed to restoring dignity to vulnerable women, most of whom are HIV positive, victims of human trafficking, returnees from abduction into the rebel army and left to bear the brunt of AIDS, war, and social injustice.” Helping these women will enable them to look after their own children and will alleviate the orphan crisis. After discovering that women with HIV could survive for 20 years with proper medical attention, nutrition, and sanitary living conditions, Marilyn set out to provide these women with a new hope, new opportunities, and the chance to watch their children grow into adults.

Living Hope Ladies Display Certificates

The ladies of Living Hope display their certificates. Photo courtesy of Watoto.

Through Living Hope, women are given assistance “with basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. [They are also receiving] comprehensive HIV/AIDS care, including counseling and psychosocial support, spiritual and moral discipleship…and training that empowers them through income- generating projects and enables them to become productive members of society.” Not only are these women having their dignity restored, but they are being given the opportunity to raise and care for children who otherwise would be orphans.

WATOTO MEDIA RELEASE- Friday 28th October 2011

Lives are being transformed, dignity is being restored, and hope is returning to the ladies at Watoto’s Living Hope program where over 2100 HIV+ widows, single mothers and former war abductees are being empowered with spiritual discipleship and life skills training.

Lucy and her daughter

Lucy and her daughter. Photo courtesy of Watoto.

Lucy Laker was 12 years old when the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels abducted her in 1992. In the rebel camp, she was forced to live with a man who was over 30 years older. “He had HIV, but they forced me to marry him, and with this man I had two children. The first child survived, but the second one died,” she says.

While in captivity, Lucy was occasionally tortured. She was beaten and abused. In 1997 her husband died, and life became even tougher. She says, “At least when he was there, he would protect me a little. When he died there was no one to help me.”

After 8 years in captivity, Lucy managed to escape and returned home in 2000. But life was not easy, and she couldn’t come to terms with what had happened to her in the bush. In 2009, Lucy became joined Watoto’s Living Hope program in Gulu, northern Uganda. “When I came here and began actively participating in the tailoring department, Living Hope opened a bank account into which they would pay me a monthly salary. I began to learn how to save; the rest I use to pay school fees for my children, pay rent, and other living expenses,” she says. Every month, she was also given basic food items and access to health facilities whenever she or her children became sick. Lucy’s daughter was born in captivity and because of that, Lucy hated her so much. “I would say to the child, ‘If it was not for the bush you would not be here.” However, because of the discipleship training she received, she began to learn that children were not an accident. She says, “I began to realize that she is my own gift from God. It used to hurt me a lot when I saw her, but now I love her. I thank God that she is not HIV+.” After graduating from the Living Hope training, Lucy was given a sewing machine so that she could earn a living from the skills she had acquired. Today, Lucy is running a successful tailoring business and is able to support her family.

Lucy also benefited from the adult literacy classes where she acquired writing, reading and speaking skills. “The quality of my life has greatly improved. Today, I can read road signs and newspapers; I can express myself in English when I go to the doctor and understand medical prescriptions. I have gained confidence to speak in public, and I can also write both formal and informal letters. I am also a leader among the women in my circles and life is really good.”

To support the Living Hope program and learn more about Watoto’s work with vulnerable women, please visit www.watoto.com/livinghope.

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Catherine Smith
Catherine graduated from Western Carolina University with a degree in Education and has experiencing teaching both elementary and high school students. Catherine is passionate about helping women connect with their true purpose and discover their value. As the Community Relations Director, Catherine manages our outreach projects, events, and relationships with other organizations that support women.