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Monday, April 10, 2006

Resilient rural women

by Sadie Amin

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity of traveling up the Mahaica River to do some work with a farmers’ group. I love traveling off the beaten path and a forty minute ride in a small aluminum power boat was just up my ally. I had been up the river once before but that was over fifteen years ago so it was like going there for the first time. Along the way I was fortunate to see our national bird, the Canje Pheasant. I was told that the Mahaica Basin has the largest concentration of these beautiful birds.

The meeting was supposed to start at ten but due to some of the farmers being delayed we started an hour later. In the meantime I struck up a conversation with the homeowner’s wife on the beauty of the area and what I had seen on the way in. I asked her what it was like to live in an area where the sole means of transportation was via the river. Her reply was that living in a riverian area was no different from living elsewhere, the difference being boats substituted for cars. I realized she was being modest. I commented that in addition to being told that the area was a natural habitat for the Canje Pheasant, I was also informed that the Mahaica River was highly infested with alligators. She chuckled and simply told me an occasional alligator was no big deal and that sometimes she would discover a reptile or two literally at her front steps. I hastily glanced around just in case. It must have been my lucky day not to have a reptilian encounter.

As people started arriving in various forms of river transportations for the meeting I was surprised to be introduced to three executive members who were women. I had had the misconceived notion that a farmers’ group would consist of only men. Throughout the meeting the three women made the most pertinent contributions and all of their men colleagues showed great respect for their opinions and often times deferred to the women. Yet another misconception on my part about rural women.

During lunch after the meeting, the homeowner’s wife and some other neighboring women joined us and the conversation drifted to the recent floods that devastated the area and how the women coped with being submerged for such a prolong period of time. Some of their tales were remarkable and showed great innovation and ingenuity on the part of the women in terms of staying ahead of the floodwaters. One woman said she had resolved from previous flood situations to inculcate the notion of being underwater from time to time since by nature, rivers would be prone to flooding. It was either that or move which she didn’t see as a viable option. I was quite taken by her stoicism.

When I asked what they did in their past-time since the area had no electricity, I was told of a number of activities that they organized among themselves using each other as expert resource personnel. One of the group was currently teaching the others how to cut patterns. Most knew how to sew already but had a hard time with the cutting aspect. When the only seamstress in the area was planning to move, they had the hindsight to ask her to train the current person who was giving the cutting lessons, prior to her leaving. This was a clear indication of forward planning and innovation on the part of these women. vAnother group project the women were involved in was aquaculture. I have to admit that other that hearing the word before I was mostly clueless. By the time they finished explaining their project I felt I had just been given a lecture by a team of renowned fishery scientists. These women used words and phrases such as “fingerlings,” “spawning,” “keeping algae growth to a minimum,” “pens as control mechanisms,” etc. They were completely confident with what they were doing and had even done some amount of formal training in aquaculture.

By the time I was ready to leave I was completely impressed by their dedication and commitment to their projects. One of them asked if I had any suggestions for further projects and I didn’t know what to say. I felt intimidated in venturing to give advice to persons who seemed expert enough. These were rural women who had broken from the traditional mould. No crocheting or cake-decorating classes for them. Practicality, resilience and knowing the limitations of their unique environment were key factors in their approach to enhancing their economic and social wellbeing.

Posted by jebratt :: Monday, April 10, 2006 :: 0 comments

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