4 bold women who are changing their worlds, chicken by chicken, song by song

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Carmen María Can Pixabaj has been raising chickens for about three years. As the chicks grow, she moves them into a chicken coop down the hill from her house. Ilene Perlman/Oxfam America

Women around the world are bringing about real change in their communities and beyond—with your support.

Empowered women can change the world. We see it happening every day in some of the poorest communities on our planet. When women can exercise their rights and gain the knowledge, skills and information they need to feed their aspirations, they can become powerful agents of change.

Each investment you make in women and girls pays handsome returns—for everyone. Whether you’re helping women gain access to new financial opportunities, standing with them as they strive to change unfair rules that keep them and their families trapped in poverty, or working to ensure their safety and health during emergencies, your support is vital. Change won’t happen without you.

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Here’s proof of what’s possible: four strong women who are boldly solving problems and making life better for their families and their communities.

Carmen María Can Pixabaj

Carmen María Can Pixabaj has kept up to 450 chickens at a time for the poultry processing business she runs in her small community in Guatemala. Ilene Perlman/Oxfam America

Here Caserio Chuijomil Can Pixabaj is something of a rarity in Guatemala: a woman who has countered convention and launched her own business—one that has grown steadily to become the envy of some of her neighbors. In Guatemala, a machismo culture coupled with the limited access women have to loans often robs them of entrepreneurial opportunities. Can Pixabaj, who runs a poultry production enterprise, has come to her success through a combination of hard work, courage, and the help of a new Oxfam program: WISE.

Short for Women in Small Enterprise, WISE aims to tackle some of the barriers that typically hold women business owners back. It offers intensive financial training, one-on-one business coaching, the opportunity to network with other women entrepreneurs, and access to loans big enough to help women grow their businesses significantly. 

Can Pixabaj usually sells about 50 chickens a week—for a profit of about 400 quetzales, or about $53.

“It’s helped me quite a lot,” says Can Pixabaj, who is 43 and has four children. “I help my children pay for their studies and things we need for the home.”  But as the business has prospered during the past three years, it is helping her in other important—and personal—ways, too.

“I feel much more sure of myself because I know I can make ends meet myself,” says Can Pixabaj. Though she consults her husband and he helps her with the work, she is the one who makes the decisions about the business.

Penda Ndiaye

Ngouda Keita and Penda Ndiaye with some of their children: Ndiaye says since they started baking and selling bread they have been able to earn more money to invest in their farming business. Photo: Jane Hahn/Oxfam America

Three years ago, Penda Ndiaye joined a Saving for Change group that Oxfam’s local partner, La Lumiere, organized in the Senegalese village of Pakirane.  The women meet weekly and each save about 20 cents a week. From their pooled savings they can take out small loans with interest of 10 percent and many of the women have used that resource to start small businesses—including Ndiaye who, together with her husband, has launched a small bakery.

Ndiaye used what she learned in business training sessions in her Saving for Change group meetings to take out a series of small loans to amass the capital to set up the bakery, and help her husband achieve his dream of becoming a baker. It’s an unusual business relationship between a wife and a husband in a Muslim country, but the couple is focused on the success of the venture, as their new business has led to a significant improvement in their standard of living.

 “Since we started the bakery, we have saved enough to buy farm equipment and a horse to work our land, some sheep, and goats,” Ndiaye says. “We bought school supplies and covered our family’s medical expenses. We can also buy some rice and other staples to feed our family that we couldn’t buy before.”

This bakery is not just a boon for Keita and Ndiaye, it’s a positive addition for the 600 people in Pakirane. Their neighbors now have a source of fresh bread, only otherwise available by traveling seven kilometers (more than four miles) to the nearby town of Koussanar. “The entire village is proud of the bakery,” Ndiaye says.

Louise Nyiranolozi 

Louise Nyiranolozi is a member of the women’s protection forum in Buporo, a camp for displaced people in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), decades of bad governance and disputes over resources have cost millions of lives. Poverty and hunger are widespread. More than two million of the country’s estimated 77 million citizens are displaced and living in temporary camps. But some women in DRC have found a way to protect and strengthen one another, even in the midst of extreme hardships.

Louise Nyiranolozi is a member of the women’s protection forum in Buporo, a camp for displaced people in North Kivu province. She is also the president of an Oxfam-trained committee that oversees hygiene and sanitation in the camp. About 3,800 people live in Buporo camp. Most are from the nearby town of Katoyi and came here seeking safety after violent conflict broke out in 2012.

Nyiranolozi is raising five children of her own—three daughters and two sons—as well as a young girl, about 4 years old, who was abandoned on the road on the outside the camp. “I bought soap, washed her and carried her on my back. I thought her mom would come and get her, but it’s now [been] two years and no one has come for her.”

As part of her work with the protection forum, Nyiranolozi now counsels women who have faced the loss of loved ones—as she has.

“Working for others is my talent and my nature,” she explained. “I have learned a lot with the women’s forum, and the women trust me and listen to me.”

Despite the hardships she and other women have experienced, Nyiranolozi said she believes in forgiveness.

“What would be the purpose of keeping hatred within me? I have to live in peace with everyone because when I don’t have something, they help me. I believe you do something good today and … tomorrow it will come back to you.”

Maria Cardoso

Maria Cardoso takes Ebola-prevention messages from door to door in at-risk villages of Guinea-Bissau. “If we fight these diseases with safe practices,” she says, “we will win the battle.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

“Don’t eat poop!” says Maria Cardoso, scowling fiercely.

The children gathered around her laugh, and after a pause she breaks into a smile. Now that she has everyone’s attention, she explains how the flies on your food may have dined on feces just moments before.  Cardoso is a nurse with a local women’s organization in a remote region of Guinea-Bissau, and she spends her days walking from one cluster of houses to the next, spreading the word about hygiene and Ebola—and cholera, as well.

She talks about using latrines, washing hands with soap and bleach, avoiding the meat of wild animals, and the other rules of Ebola prevention. “Because I am a nurse and I know these communities, people listen to me,” she says. In truth, anyone would enjoy listening to her.

Cardoso is a member of the Association of Women Workers—Association des Femmes Travailleuses—a  group funded and trained by Oxfam partner NADEL that organizes nurses in the villages of Tombali region to protect public health. Before Ebola arrived in West Africa, Femmes Travailleuses and NADEL joined forces to stop the deadly annual outbreaks of cholera that occur here.

Correction: outbreaks that used to occur here.

For the past two years, there has been no cholera in Guinea-Bissau, almost certainly because these groups have helped communities raise the bar on hygiene and awareness.

“If we fight these diseases with safe practices,” says Cardoso, “we will win the battle.”

There will be more battles ahead as women strive to right the wrongs of the systemic discrimination that keeps so many of them in poverty. Stand with them. They need your investment now.


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