Here in the neighborhood, when a husband dies or there is a divorce, life comes to an end for many women in the ghetto. Rumour or gossip takes a stranglehold on lives, as survivors stay locked up behind fences and closed doors, mostly not venturing out of their homes for fear of shame. Some choose the acceptable option of letting go of the children to become an acceptable option for re-marriage, while others take the route of staying together and eking out an existence on the socialno or government support. It is all the worse, following a suicide – trapped in a prison of opiniõn. This was Edmira*´s predicament – a predicament which took a further turn for the worse when her father – the only one who had been a support and pillar in her life – contracted a fast metastasizing cancer and died. Again, the judgement mechanisms kicked in from “the Circle of Death” – that is, the local neighborhood and its rumour mill: It was her fault for causing all their problems – as if she had caused the death of both men, even the father´s by causing him stress. She had not. But now Edmira was left to the repayment of the massive debts her husband had left behind, running the gauntlet of public shame by raising money on social media to pay back the debts.
Edmira had, however, a gift. She had not been trained, but had always been interested, working privately and also showed potential in hair-dressing and make-up. She had heard about Operation Mercy´s STEP project through a presentation in a local school. The S.T.E.P. program – Skills Training, Empowerment and Practice – is an Operation Mercy project which challenges women in the municipality to recognize their worth and step out into the workforce in a context where 88% of the women are unengaged in work outside of family obligations. The Project offers a program of Life -, Business - and Vocational skills training, in areas such as tailoring, hairdressing and cake decoration. And the net we were throwing out was especially looking for vulnerable women who had lost husbands for whatever reason.
With the encouragement of school staff and the STEP presentation which seemed to offer hope even for her situation, Edmira took the interview to join the program. The final hurdle was faced when she thought that she would not be able to make it due to child care needs for her kids while she would attend training sessions. “There is NO WAY you are going to miss out on this!” was the response from one of our Life Skills trainers, and Operation Mercy facilitated the child care on site to make this work for Edmira.
So Edmira “took the step” and joined the program. Since going for it, Edmira has blossomed in her chosen area of training which was hair-dressing. She has received special feedback and commendations from the training school – which is one of the most prestigious hairstylists academies in the region. Boosted in her confidence, she also took the make-up track, offered by the same school. She has surged ahead, both in proving her capacity and also enjoying the STEP community of participants, which offers a system of mutual pastoral support for participants in an environment where a code of no-gossip and confidentiality is the foundation of participation. Others here have trained in sewing skills and cake decorating.
Edmira now looks a very different from her first interview, when the shadows were on her face. Against the odds, Edmira now finds herself on the road to a realised dream, where her potential is recognised to grow financial capacity, yet also find friendship and support on the journey.