|Posted by Jacob Jacob on June 21, 2014 at 9:40 AM|
Few heartwarming stories come from Nigeria’s northeast region. In the last two years, the Boko Haram insurgency, poverty, Islamist fundamentalism and youth disenfranchisement have dominated news from the three states that make up the region. I was therefore overwhelmed last week when I ran into an inspiring story of women empowerment at the sidelines of the international peace and development conference at the American university of Nigeria, Yola.
Early in 2013, the university’s sustainability team trained 26 women from a women development group on how to crochet yarn made from discarded plastic bags into handbags, mats, baskets and gift items. The non-biodegradable plastic bags are an environmental nightmare and the university’s dormitories, shops and offices generate several, daily.
Now, rather than add to the already fragile ecosystem in the region, the plastic bags are cleaned and weaved by the local women into beautiful, colourful products. The products are then sold at shops, hotels and events and the money goes straight into the pockets of the women.
Jennifer Che (second from left) is the programme administrator
Jennifer Che, administrator of sustainability programmes at the university told me that the project has had profound impacts on the lives of the women and their families. Several of the women, she said have used money from sales of the products to get their children back to school and buy needed medicine. “It is not pocket money, it is real money” she said.
One of the women, Ma Elizabeth James told me that the project has changed her life. Her husband died from liver problems leaving her to fend for herself and seven children. When she heard about the programme from a local women’s group, she decided to give it a go. “The money from the products has helped me to pay for my children’s school fees, buy food and pay for my diabetes medicine” she said.
The quality of the products is commendable. Che said the university’s sustainability team is working on expanding the programme and building a website to showcase the products to a larger clientele.
Ma Elizabeth James said money from sales has helped her take care of her seven children and pay medical bills
The project has profoundly empowered local women, previously excluded socially and economically in a male dominated society. It scores multiple goals for the society, for peace and for the environment. The women now have a renewed sense of belonging. Their children have access to education, thus limiting chances of their disenfranchisement and possible radicalisation. In addition, the environment is preserved from non-biodegradable plastic bags. I can’t think of a better win-win-win story.
The American University of Nigeria was founded in 2003 by former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar. It is Africa’s premier development university. A unique feature of the university is that students undertake a mandatory community development course where they work with school children and teachers in local communities.