For Hajiya Murjanatu Sanusi Umar Ringim, founder of the Voice of Bazawara, it was a personal experience that pushed her into philanthropy. The 29-year-old started her philanthropy journey in 2015 when she worked with the Almajiri because she felt the need to help others.
She said she started her work of assisting divorcees (bazawara) and widows after experiencing the same, following the collapse of her marriage.
“I am an entrepreneur and an activist; an activist in the sense that I try to protect the interest of the vulnerable in the society. I started this journey when I experienced divorce. I am also a divorcee and I know what I went through in the society – the stigma, blame game and all that. People ask me why I use the word ‘Bazawara’, which means divorcee in Hausa language, and I tell them that in our society, when a woman is addressed as a divorcee or a widow, people assume they are bad people, they make the women look worthless. There is nothing bad about being a widow or divorcee. I know how I felt during that period; a lot of women face financial and psychological problems when they are divorced or widowed.
“When I left my husband’s house, it was a very trying time for me. I was traumatised and stigmatised by my family and friends. I could not go out because they made me feel ashamed of myself. It took me about a year before I was able to summon courage, face my fears and get back my confidence.
“Then, I started hearing people’s stories on why their marriages ended, so, I got closer to them and discovered that they had very pathetic stories to tell. Coming closer to them made me realise that these set of vulnerable people need help financially, emotionally and psychologically, and that was how I started.”
She said she started by offering little financial assistance to them. “I discovered that most of them just needed N5, 000 or thereabout, so I supported them. My friends used to tease me that I was wasting my money, but when they realised that what I was doing was creating impact, they supported me. It was quite demanding, but when it was becoming overwhelming, I decided to share their stories on social media in order to reach more people. I must say that opened people’s eyes to see how this vulnerable group could hardly afford one meal a day.”
She said she was initially working with the Almajiri and in 2016, she became the state coordinator of the Almajiri Child’s Rights Initiative, but the Voice of Bazawara was launched 18 months ago.
She said the Voice of Bazawara authenticates the beneficiaries through the use of live videos for people to know that the stories are not fabricated. “At first, people queried why I showed the faces of the beneficiaries, saying that I was publicly shaming them, but we have many people on social media who are willing to go to any length to cheat people so, when we show these faces, if what they are saying is false, people will reach out to us. We try as much as possible to verify information before sharing it on our page.”
She said she derives satisfaction from the work and it has made her stronger.
“Being a bazawara has helped me grow; I am a stronger woman now and that is my hope for every divorcee or widow. Once I see someone in my shoes, I develop a soft spot for that woman; I give her a listening ear to understand what she is going through so we can support her financially because empowerment is key to self-sufficiency and whatever we do, we do in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) because once someone is empowered, that person can access good nutrition, healthcare and education. If you empower a woman, she will be able to see her children through school and provide other basic needs. Helping these women is something I love doing and since we cannot reach everyone, we are trying to reach as many as possible to make an impact in their lives.”
Hajiya Murjanatu said so far, the project has empowered about 1, 200 divorcees and widows. “We have trainings every month on soap making, tailoring and other skills that they can acquire to help them earn a living.After the empowerment, when we visit them, we’ll notice that they are using the skills they acquired to better their lives and that of their children. This has motivated us to do more because if you empower someone and that person doesn’t put it to good use, it will discourage you.”
She said her biggest challenge is reaching out to those in need of help. “At the beginning, I just helped the beneficiary and moved on, I did not get their details like phone number, addresses and the rest, so when I started posting their stories online, people wanted to help, but I was unable to reach the people. So now, I make it a point of duty to get their details, including their address. Another challenge is that when you are doing charity work, your time is not yours because at any time of the day or night, you can be called to address a pressing issue.”
She said the project has gone beyond Kaduna, where she is based, with coordinators in all the Northern states.
Murjanatu said the project is still self-sponsored to an extent although they sometimes get donations from well-meaning Nigerians after seeing their posts. She said the project would welcome donations and partnership with any individual or organisation that shares their passion to make impact in the society.
She noted that part of their work is to enlighten people to understand that divorcees and widows are not bad people as is being portrayed in the society.
“We are enlightening people and they are beginning to understand that divorcees or widows are not bad people because they did not choose the life they got. When you follow us on our platforms, these people tell their stories themselves and leave it for society to judge. These are vulnerable people who just need a little help from the society to get back on their feet. And I always ask the question, when a marriage fails, why is the blame only on the woman and not the man; a woman cannot divorce herself, it is husband that does the divorcing yet he is not judged like the woman. We are trying to bring these things out so that people would start rethinking their actions and thereby, lending a voice to the course of divorcees and widows.
“I want to plead with Nigerians to stop judging divorcees and widows because they are going through a lot. The society is good at judging but no one wants to listen to their plights. These women hustle from morning till night to fend for their children yet society judges them.”
She advised divorcees to ensure that before they remarry, they should try to achieve financial independence.
“It is good to have your own source of income – either a job or a business. I want to also advise them to take their time before they get into another marriage, get to know the person and pray over it so that they will not face the same challenges they faced in theprevious marriage.”
Looking at the future, Murjanatu said she would like to see the Voice of Bazawara somewhere unimaginable –at a point where“we will be able to overcome poverty in Nigeria through empowerment.”
“I want to be remembered as someone who touched people’s lives because that is the best part – touching people lives in different aspects.”