Hadassah Nakiza Waluntu is President of the Union of Jewish Women of Uganda, representing the women of the Abayudaya tribe in Eastern Uganda, East Africa. She is 26 years old and studying for her BA in Media Technology, hoping to graduate this year. She runs the UJW on a volunteer basis, serving the 60 women of their community.
“The UJW brings together women of different ages, and everyone has something to contribute. The older women bring their experience, while the younger women bring their energy. Our mothers grew up without any education, so we help them to adapt to new ideas and connect them with the outside world. In return, they help the younger women with advice.
“We have a program of counseling by older women, who are chosen for their wisdom. They run individual sessions with the younger women to discuss their problems, which are mostly economic. Girls from poor families have to find jobs and earn money to support themselves. We try to encourage them not to marry too young, because if they start a family before they have a chance to find work they will never break out of the cycle of poverty.”
The girls of Abayudaya attend the local Jewish school, and today there is equality and respect between the genders. Most activities in the village are run by men for men and by women for women, but they get together for religious events and for discussions about issues of shared concern. Hadassah says: “Our mothers never challenged the male leadership, but today the women have earned the respect of the men and we work together for the benefit of the community.”
Hadassah decided while in high school that she wanted to become a community leader. She recognized the problems of the community and decided that she wanted to make a difference. Some of her friends have married and moved to the United States, and Hadassah recognizes that her future may take her away from the village, but for now she wants to stay and help. If she can use her degree to work in media from Uganda, she will continue to run the UJW.
Most of the activities in the community revolve around farming, raising poultry, and making bracelets to sell. Hadassah and her team recently launched a new project to make washable sanitary pads. Most of the women in the villages use rags and have no money to buy pads. Hadassah spoke to other women’s groups about how to make reusable sanitary pads, but they have no sewing machines. Currently they are sewing them by hand and selling them to other local villages.
Anyone who wants to help Hadassah with her project is invited to contact her directly at [email protected]