Of Singlehood, Family and Finances

By Guest Blogger: Margaret Mwewa

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One Saturday morning, while preparing to head for the library to complete an assignment, I was looking discontentedly at my shoe rack, thinking it had been a pretty long time since a new pair had graced it. “I need to give some of these away and replenish my rack with…” My thought process was suddenly cut short by a phone call.

It was from one of my cousins. She was calling to inform me that her brother was getting married in two months time so I needed to pay a K500 contribution towards the nuptials. And she added matter-of-factly, “You can even pay double that amount because you are single so you can afford it.”

I laughed and told her that contrary to public opinion in the family, I was not rich. So no, I was not going to pay double that amount. But I assured her that I would try and come up with the set figure before the deadline. I almost added, “Actually, I would rather channel that K500 towards buying the pair of shoes I have been dreaming about than make that contribution because I think people who wish to marry should save up for the cost of the event and not count on other people to make their dream wedding come true …” But, I stopped myself because I needed to keep my spotless reputation of a cooperative family member intact.

You, see, I have learned, through sharing my experiences of finances and family with other single people that in quite a lot of Zambian families, working single men and single ladies are considered to be better than anyone else financially. For example, when family members, be it cousins, aunties, uncles etcetera borrow money from a single person, they feel that they do not necessarily have to return it because they think that a single person does not really need it or can do without it. Really? Who, in this tough economy, can be okay with never getting back their money, even if it is only a K100?

It seems family members generally like to think that when a person is single and childless, they automatically have lots of money to spare. According to them, single people do not have to buy diapers, clothes or pay school fees for any child therefore, they must have quite a lot of money freely available for others to come and borrow or simply get! The truth however, is very different from perception. As a single person, I cannot rely on anyone else to bail me out financially when I need help, unlike maybe married couples whereby if the husband is stuck, the wife can chip in to help him out and vice versa.

Single people fly solo and have to depend on the kindness of friends when the going gets tough. I do not know about the uber-rich single people out there, but I can speak for the ordinary working class ones that I know about. These single people singlehandedly pay for fuel, insurance, rent and the rest of the bills. So, really, there is no left over money lying around for other people to come and get or borrow.

When a situation that requires financial contributions arises in the family and a single person says they do not have the money to contribute towards the crisis, other family members usually find this hard to believe. They simply like to conclude that that person is stingy or uncooperative towards sorting out family issues. But when a couple declares that they are unable to contribute, people are more sympathetic to them and easily believe that the couple is more likely to be broke than a single person.

Alright, let us assume for a moment that there is indeed, money left in my account after all the bills have been paid, as a single person. Why exactly should my brother, sister uncle etcetera feel entitled to it? It is my money and I should be the one to decide whether to give it away or not. People should not automatically feel entitled to it.

I think what most people in our society do not realise is that money problems are universal. They are not limited to married couples. I believe everyone has money issues, even rich people. For instance, they have to figure out how to remain rich or grow their wealth even larger. So, they need to retain every little ngwee to make that happen.

Therefore, when it comes to finances, I think we all need to cut each other some slack. If you need help financially, ask for it politely. Do not act like you are entitled to it because you assume that the other person can afford to give you whatever amount you need, when you have not seen their budget or bank account statement. And if you do borrow money, be a man or woman of honor and return it even if you got it from a single person because, I am sorry to burst your bubble; single people have money problems too!

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Adoption in Zambia and the Paradox of Ubuntu

By Guest Blogger: Margaret Mwewa

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The news that American supermodel, Tyra Banks, welcomed her baby last week, via a surrogate, had me reflecting about why the concepts of surrogacy and adoption in our Zambian culture are generally unacceptable.

It takes a village to raise a child, is a popular African maxim which embodies the spirit of ubuntu, loosely translated as the spirit of togetherness or sense of community. This spirit of ubuntu was clearly present in my community when I was growing up in the 90s. In that era, almost every family in my neighborhood, including mine, had one or more dependants in the household at some point. The concept of a nuclear family was as alien as cell phones in those days.

I have an aunt and uncle who early in their marriage, discovered that they could not have children due to a medical issue. Their marriage survived somehow in spite of this, and they got children from extended family members to raise as their own. Those children have since grown up and established their own independent lives. I had always wondered why my aunt and uncle had never legally adopted those children as their own. If they could not adopt them because those children’s biological parents were alive and well, why did they never adopt orphaned children from the wider society?

So, recently, I took the chance to ask my aunt whether she had ever considered adoption as an option when she first learned that they could not have their own biological children. She said she had considered it. However, her husband and the entire family felt insulted that she had even considered wanting to raise what they termed as a stranger, instead of taking in children from within the extended family.

According to my grandmother, infertility was considered a serious misfortune in the African tradition. If the man was the one who could not have children, the woman would be allowed secretly to lie with her husband’s close family member, in order to produce children for her husband. If it was the woman who could not bear children, it was even worse because she was publicly shamed like it was her fault she could not bear children, and the husband was naturally encouraged to replace her with another woman who could do the job.

Today, couples who find themselves unable to have children resort to all sorts of desperate measures to rectify the situation; like paying a lot of money to undergo ridiculous rituals prescribed by wacky witchdoctors, attending unending prayer sessions with phony prophets, or committing adultery in the hope that another person will be able to give them the children that their spouse is incapable of giving them. Now, let me make it very clear that I have nothing against fervently praying for a miracle, or using traditional medicine in the quest to procreate. However, both these types of interventions are often never successful.

How about surrogacy? Surrogacy is the practice of giving birth to a baby for another woman who is unable to have babies herself. This is a controversial topic throughout the world. The BBC reports that there are no international recognised laws for surrogacy. Many countries still prohibit it. However, some countries, like the United States of America (USA), have legal frameworks in place that protect the surrogate, the intended parents and the child. Chances are that many people in our conservative nation are instantly repulsed by the idea of surrogacy, but I think some women would be interested in being surrogates, at a fee, of course, or for nothing at all, in order to help out fellow women who have fertility problems. Our country does not even have laws governing this subject, so it is not even a viable idea that Zambian couples with fertility issues can think of.

Why is it that Zambian couples can never consider adoption as a more practical and responsible way of having children when nature fails them? Why are Zambians comfortable with the idea of committing adultery in order to have children that they cannot have within the marriage, and raising extended family members’ children, instead of adopting orphaned or abandoned children who are plenty in orphanages? Of course, people argue that the bond you could have, or the love you could feel for an adoptive child can never equal the one you would feel for a biological child you carried in a belly for nine months. That may be true. In a perfect world, everyone would be capable of producing their own offspring the normal way. The real world, however, is very different.

Many of these orphaned and abandoned children languishing in orphanages in our country could have a much better life than they have living in those places, if Zambians were agreeable to the concept of adoption, instead of resorting to desperate and dangerous measures to have children. We look down on the concept of surrogacy and adoption, but claim to be proud of our culture of ubuntu. We can raise our extended family members’ children, but cringe at the thought of adoption. Therein lies, the paradox.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines culture as “The customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organisation of a particular country or group.” It is said that culture is dynamic, meaning it changes over time. People create culture and not vice versa. Therefore, it follows that people can improve or indeed change their culture to suit new situations. As Zambians, let us not be prisoners of our cultural norms that no longer make sense and are detrimental to our lives. The fact is, not everything in African culture is good, and not everything in the Western culture is bad. We should be flexible enough to adopt certain cultural norms from other cultures which are good and get rid of our own customs which are ridiculous and redundant in our modern lives. We have adopted so many Western customs such as modern clothing, education and white weddings. So, why can we not adopt the culture of adoption too, especially that it is not a harmful thing?

When it comes to raising and caring for children, why is our spirit of ubuntu limited only to children of extended family members? Why can it not be extended to other vulnerable children in our society who need to be part of a loving family unit?

The HIV AIDS pandemic and the harsh economic environment have led to our society having so many abandoned and orphaned children. Non-governmental organisations such as SOS Children’s International and orphanages like Kasisi Children’s Home are doing a great job by taking in and raising these children, but their efforts alone are not enough. It is time that we, as individuals, did our part. Every child deserves a loving home to grow up in. I think that there should be no shame, judgement or embarrassment attached to adopting a child.

Sinfully Addicted

By Charity Wathu Chingloma – Guest Blogger

couple

Cracks are my favourite sight
Your negligence, my cocaine
Your option, My priority
Its amazing How Hurting me makes me want you more

It aint rational, its emotional
Push me away
Like a widow I’ll still love you
You think am crazy?
A single passion from you will heal me

Am not pathetic
Am athletic
On a race to sanity
Which only is delayed by your vanity

One opportunity I’ll deflater your masculinity
And the We and Us will define the Infinity
Until then my addiction, your ego
Will form a sinful unity

 

My 7 months in mountainous Kenya: A profile of Roberta Muchangwe

A friend of mine recently told me that he was writing a piece that I might find interesting…and as you all know am all about all things, even “Recognizing women doing great work”! I must say, I did find the woman in this practitioner profile very inspiring especially that I also deep my toes every now and then in communications and public relations work.

In this profile, Suzyika captures the experiences of Roberta Muchangwe when she worked in Kenya as a communications specialist with Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS). The idea is to get first-hand information from practioners in public domains on challenges and opportunities.

You can find more information about profiles of practioners on http://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/fit117/

robertaMy 7 months in mountainous Kenya: A profile of Roberta Muchangwe

From October 2009 to April 2010, I worked in Kenya under MS Kenya and ActionAid Denmark. I was placed with a partner organisation called Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS). After graduating from the UNZA in 2009, I found this job advertisement online and I applied for it. I didn’t even think I was qualified enough but I still applied for it. I pushed in my Journalism Diploma and my Mass Communication Degree and went through the selection process. I later received an email saying I was appointed. It was quite surprising. I put my things together and I was off to Kenya.

CREADIS is an NGO whose aim is to eradicate poverty in rural Kenya by using different innovations in agriculture. They go to different villages and teach farmers how to grow their crops and introduce them to new technology or innovations in the field of agriculture like new chemicals for their agricultural products. Through CREADIS, communities are taught about planting trees and how to conserve the environment. Besides that, it engages communities on how to improve nutrition practices of rural households. Their nutrition program also focused on orphans and vulnerable children especially those that have lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. For the orphans, they would offer sponsorship to go to school and buy them what they needed such as books and clothes.

As a communications specialist, I was there to capacity build the organisation in communications and was expected to inspire the staff of CREADIS in communications. I was there to help them see ways in which they can bring in the use of the media in their projects especially as regards their fundraising strategies. We worked on building the image of the organisation by improving public relations in order to draw donors and well-wishers to their organisation. I trained them and ran workshops where we looked at writing for the media as well as writing to attract the media. We also looked into ways we could organise events that would attract media coverage to put the organisation on the map.

I revived, designed and laid out the CREADIS Newsletter and other communication tools such as brochures, information sheets, photo gallery and posters. Staff member were then trained on how to utilise media in their work through capacity building workshops‏. Capacity building is always crucial, especially for NGOs working with communities to ensure continuity of programmes.

I went out into the field with project officers and got involved with the work that they engaged in and tried to find stories that we could write about. I had to balance my work between the field and the desk though I spent more time in the field where everything was happening. I gathered, edited and wrote news stories and other communication write-ups for the organisation.

My experience was not short of challenges. I never understood Kiswahili which is the other official language that is spoken in Kenya apart from English and of course there are other local languages. CREADIS is an organisation that works in deep rural Kenya where people do not use English. The good thing is Kiswahili is a Bantu language which makes it similar to languages here in Zambia. I could get the meaning of some of the words but for the sake of accuracy, I had to have an interpreter with me which proved a challenge of language none existent.

I found Kenya fast paced compared to Zambia. Zambia is slow paced if you ask me. Kenyan people are always up and about doing a lot of things. Most Kenyans are not in formal employment but are into business and they seem to catch on with the latest things happening around. I guess it is a personal thing and that’s why I might I have felt that way. I am more of a laggard as I always catch on much later on certain things, be it personal or technology wise‏. Adapting to this kind of arrangement was quite a tough one but eventually I managed.

Besides that, I felt some form of intimidation from the staff of CREADIS. I think some of them felt they didn’t need an expert from a different country to come and teach them about communication when they had people within country with those skills. Who can blame them? though the idea with ActionAid was to let the African region create links. Yes they have their own experts; it was about learning from one another and sharing experiences.

As a project, there were times when we didn’t meet the project goals, especially as regards fund raising. Times when I drew up fund raising proposals to different funders and some did not go through. Such times were usually the crucial times for me. But then again, we could only try again.

In terms of social life, I was able to fit in quite well. I understand how African culture works as regards behaviour, dressing and such things so this was no big deal, I was able to easily fit in. I just had to practice a bit of “when you go to Rome do as the Romans do”. An African really just fits in [laughter], but of course I had to ensure that I was sensitive to each and every cultural norm I encountered that was different from mine‏.

Looking back now, I think anything is possible even if you have barriers. You can still break through if you really want to effect change but you have to be patient because you are working people who have different attitudes. If you are going to work with other human beings, you have to be humble. Place yourself in a position where you also want to learn from them. In as much as I went out there to impart this knowledge, I came back with a lot of knowledge myself.

When it was finally time to leave Kenya, I felt like I was living my family behind, I had met great people that I wished I could stay and work with forever. At the same time I looked forward to going back to my country which I missed every day. Mixed feelings encompassed me during my last days in Kenya.

Despite the fact that I didn’t have the required experience, managed to carry out my duties effectively. I worked has and my passion to work with communities and helping to see them develop got me doing the work without the required years of experience. Additionally, I had a previous eight months experience in community work from my previous voluntary job with Restless Development and also with different Media houses as an intern. By the time I was leaving I really felt like I had archived something huge. I left a happy woman because they knew how to utilise communication in their organisation with regards to their projects.

Kenya is beautiful and I had beautiful experiences there. It is a land of diversity though there are divisions amongst people from different tribes. I loved the great landscapes that Kenya has and of course the coastal area with its beautiful beaches. The beaches were a great get away place most times for me. This is not to say I didn’t miss home, I missed it every day but I knew what I went there to do was worth missing home for‏. I did not only learn a lot from the project but I made life long memories and friends.

Roberta Muchangwe is a Lecturer at The University of Zambia in the department of Mass Communication and Coordinator of the Media Project (Zambia).

About the Author:

Suzyika is a Graduate Student at Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy University studying Public Policy.