'˜It's up to us to give women that helping hand'
Jean Anderson, founder of charity One Woman at a Time, speaks about her work empowering women
Empowering women has been an integral part of Jean Anderson’s life for years in her role as a midwife, doula and advocate for natural birth.
But since 2012, when Jean Travelled to Kenya as an observer with Beyond FGM, a charity fighting female genital mutation, she set up her own charity One Woman at a Time with the aim of identifying and assisting women of any age to achieve a helping hand in gaining education, training and employment to change their and their families’ futures.
Jean, 68, from Morecambe, who is a retired midwife of 35 years, lived in Uganda for a short while, also Zambia and Nigeria and never knew FGM existed.
She said: “I went to Kenya in 2012 to see the work of Cath Holland in Ortum Pokot, Kenya.
“While there, a lady called Margaret Lolimas became very sick after childbirth. I transported her to the local Kenyan hospital for more surgery with her husband and mother.
“Unfortunately three weeks later she died. Cath and I returned to the UK with the idea of teaching the tribal midwives care. On my return to Kenya, I then found the children of Margaret in dire straits, with the husband’s new wife taking precedence.
“I have since taken on the role of sponsoring her children after finding them malnourished and in need of support. The aim of my sponsorship was to prevent these two girls being cut and given away in early marriage to support the boys in the family. By the time they are educated, hopefully FGM will be not done in their area of the country.”
In each place in Africa that Jean lived, she would help a family. She said: “In each area I’ve lived women just want a helping hand. Women in under-developed countries can be treated like chattel, they are sold and have no rights and no voice. The women do all the work, in many families the boys are educated but the girls aren’t. It’s not economical to help a girl.
“For just £270 a year you can sponsor a girl and save her from being cut. It all started in Kenya paying for girls running away from FGM to go to school. Since we have come on board, we have paid for 18 girls to be educated.”
Divinah Cherop is just one of the girls who needs help from the charity. She is 21 years-old and has two children. She lives alone at mission houses. She is single and needy. Her mother has just died and her father is insisting she leaves and has FGM and gets married. As she has refused, no one will marry her so he has thrown her out.
She is fighting to better her education to bring herself and her children a better life. She has now gone back to school in Form 4 and is doing her exams. She is willing to join nursing.
One Woman at a Time is looking for a sponsor to help her with training to become a nurse.
Jean set up a weight loss support group and managed to raise some money for her charity from that. But when she met one of the stars from The Real Housewives in Cheshire she was given her full support and lots of extra money was raised.
Jean was a doula at the birth of Leanne Brown’s daughter Lola. Leanne is married to footballer Wes Brown and starred in The Real Housewives of Cheshire.
Jean said: “I met Leanne Brown last August as I was a doula at the birth of one of her children. We went for a meal and she said ,‘I want to come to Africa’.
“She held a massive ball to raise money for the charity. It took me five years to raise £3,000 and she raised £30,000 in one night!
“Since then it’s made it more real but it’s the same philosophy, helping women or girls to take that next step into education or training.”
Jean has not only travelled throughout Africa but to India too.
She said: “I went to India to find a charity and I wanted to go to an orphanage, keeping with the ethos of the charity. If you help women, you help children.
“I met a fantastic woman by chance on a ferry, who ran two homes in Kerala for women. One is for those who have suffered domestic abuse, dowry abuse, brutality, acid being thrown on them etc.
“The other is for girls who have been trafficked for sex. She has them all sewing, doing fine beadwork. When they come in they are traumatised and quite often go mad, they give them the sewing to keep their minds occupied.
“They see a counsellor and do music and drama and have therapy. The first year is getting them to heal.
“These women are psychologically traumatised, One of the girls was taught to drive a Tuk Tuk. We paid for a full time psychologist and for medicine for them. We are starting to raise money to get another Tuk Tuk.
“I want to get them that thing they are dreaming of. Why can’t we pay for them to be trained?
“Even if it’s just to train as a tailoress. Education is the biggest thing and getting economic power and the price of that power is you can feed the kids.
“In India I want to raise £3,000 for getting another Tuk Tuk. For the price of two lattes a week you can change someone’s life.”
Since starting the charity, One Woman at a Time has helped numerous girls get an education. And Jean wants to carry on fundraising to continue this work.
She said: “The cross bay walk we booked was cancelled, but we still had sponsorship so we did a walk up Arnside Knott and raised £2,000 which will pay for a generator for a school. We are going to do another walk in August and Leanne Brown is having a medium night in Manchester.
“There is a medium night at the Vale of Lune rugby club on June 22 at 7pm, with Marilyn, admission is £10.
“There is also a cross bay walk planned for June 18.”
Along with Leanne’s support, Jean has a team of people who help her in various ways. She said: “I recently got a team of women, these people just dropped in my lap.
“I found a sponsor from Manchester to give £20 a week which will feed the schoolchildren one meal a day of beans, rice and tomatoes.
“Just one meal a day has a massive effect, £20 feeds 169 children one meal a day.
“Another lady helping is a producer on Jeremy Kyle and she is organising a ball to raise funds.
“There is a sponsor in London, and someone offered to do leaflets for free. Also, I cannot thank Leanne Brown enough. She went out there and travelled. She has been to India and she is coming to Nigeria as well.
“She just acts like she is one of the locals and no-one knows who she is. It’s a big culture shock but she handled it really well, she is a real down to earth person.”Jean continues to be an advocate for women and has issued a challenge for those who might want to get involved in the charity. She said: “Come over to Africa or India and learn what challenges face other women.
“You just need your air fare and £15 a week to stay in the convent and meet these women. All I ask is you take one of these girls and educate them.
“People can come over with me for a week or two weeks.
“There is no respect, no life, no choices for these women.
“They have no voice and are kept down. It’s up to us, it’s giving another woman a helping hand.”
For more information about the charity or to donate visit www.onewomanatatime.co.uk.
n Call Jean Anderson on 07913 389009 if you want to help with fundraising or sponsoring a girl to get an education.