JEHOVENESS AND THE WOMEN’S WATER INITIATIVE
Jehoveness lived in the buzzing city of Dar es Salaam, and her husband owned a business buying and selling cars. They had four beautiful young children, property, a life, a future. But then, her husband died of cancer in 2014. She and the children moved to his home village. Suddenly, everything fell away. Jehoveness’s in-laws lay claim to everything her husband owned. She was left brokenhearted and bereft. She didn’t even have a toilet – she had to use the neighbor’s.
Because she was still young and had four small children, her in-laws decided she must marry again. Despite her unwillingness, they proposed a man, but Jehoveness refused. She wasn’t ready. They proposed another man – and this time, she relented; she could see she was angering them with her resistance, and her grief was wearing down her strength.
But what her in-laws demanded of her required a sacrifice of her self-hood, and in her dark hours, she discovered that no matter how dire the circumstances, she wasn’t willing to let go of that. She told the man she wasn’t ready and braved the disapproval she knew she’d face.
She was alone and didn’t know how to move forward or to provide for her children. On top of this, access to water was far, and she had to enlist her children’s help to fetch enough to meet the household’s needs.
They required 100 liters a day and could only carry 20 liters at a time. Sometimes they’d get all the way to the water source to find out the water had been cut off; other times, there’d be fights for access. There were so many stories of infants dying of diarrhea and so many brown teeth from the fluoride in the water.
This was her life when Save the Rain came to her community. Jehoveness was at rock-bottom. She received the gift of rainwater – and, seeing that she needed not just some food in her belly but a sense of purpose and the companionship of labor, Save the Rain offered her work. This made all the difference. To talk to her now, you wouldn’t believe the depths of despair she rose from – she is so alive with warmth, humor, joie de vivre, vitality. Most importantly, she has resurrected her dignity. She’s part of a team; she commands respect and enjoys the camaraderie. Shoulder to shoulder, laughing and sweating together, you can see that the good that they’re doing feels good.
All of Save the Rain’s builders were first recipients of a rainwater harvesting tank. Jehoveness estimates that she’s built more than 230 tanks since 2015, and she’s taught a great many people the art of garden design, too, providing them with the means to feed their families with healthful, enriching food all year round.
She has goats, cows for milk, and chickens – and her garden feeds the family and generates some extra cash when she sells the surplus. Her kids are all healthy, and at school, she’s added a toilet, a kitchen, and a chicken house to her home; she’s a provider for her family. She’s proud to be a good mother, a businesswoman, and a valued member of her community with the gift of life to give. Her own gratitude has made her into a giver of great generosity, and the joy behind her smile is perhaps her greatest gift of all.
Jehoveness was the first widow to inspire us to expand the Women’s Water Initiative and create satellite teams. We now have 3 more teams like Jehoveness’ — 115 women builders in all. 53% of them are widows or abandoned and the sole providers for their families. As we grow, more women builders will grow, and like Jehoveness, more women will rise.