Eka’s story: strong woman against the poverty
To mark International Women’s Day, Oxfam Communication Officers, Caroline Berger and Nino Gvianishvili, report from Samegrelo in Western Georgia on one woman’s story who has overcome tragedy, started her own business and is now a role model in her village
Editor’s note: This story and video was produced by Georgian bloggers with support of Oxfam
Eka stands proudly with her herd of five cows against the breathtaking snowy backdrop of the Caucasus mountain range. The last of the sun’s rays cast a glow on her one bedroom house, which stands alone in the middle of the vast field in the village of Narazeni. She shows us inside her sparse room and lights the small wood burner to keep warm.
“I built this house myself,” she beams. “It’s not much but at least everything I have is my own and I’m happy here.”
But Eka’s smile belies the path she has taken to reach here. A few years ago, Eka had nothing. Whilst bearing her second child, her husband, who was displaced from Abkahzia, tragically died and she was left to bring up her young daughter and newborn baby.
“After my husband died, all I could think about was to how to find money to feed my children, and buy clothes for them,” Eka gently strokes her daughter Mariam’s hair as tears begin to form in her eyes.
Alone with two young children, Eka moved back into her parents’ house where she grew up. Dependent on the lowly monthly income of 55 lari from social benefits, Eka struggled to feed her family.
“My family only had a small cow which didn’t produce much milk for all of us. I often went hungry, and gave the little we had to my children.”
After her mother died, Eka moved into her housing for people displaced from conflict, but it tragically burnt down in a fire leaving her again to fend for herself and her family.
“I’m used to challenges and problems,” Eka says defiantly. “The only thing I can count on is myself.”
With support from Oxfam, Eka was able to slowly re-build her life. With tools and training from Oxfam she learnt how to farm, and take care of cattle.
“I didn’t know how to work on the land” she remembers, “but Oxfam taught me how to farm, and gave us a pregnant cow.” She points at the giant mounds of hay outside her house, “People are surprised to see me collect hay and build these mounds all by myself. They’re surprised by my power,” she laughs.
Nearly five years on, Eka’s has expanded her herd, and now has five cattle. With the income she makes from selling cheese, Eka was able to send her children to school. Eka’s daughters shyly smile as they show us their school certificates. Ana, the youngest daughter, says she’s just started singing lessons. “Most importantly my children aren’t hungry,” Eka smiles fondly at her daughter Ana.
However, there is a new challenge facing the family – rising food prices. In Western Georgia, the price of one pack of wheat (50 kg), which is used to bake bread, has risen by 10 lari (£3.77) in the last few months. According to WFP, Georgia has the highest levels of under-nourishment in the Caucasus, and more than 60% of people are still living below the poverty line.
“Everything has become more expensive. There are things that my children ask for like chocolate but I don’t allow myself to buy special food on their birthdays because we can’t afford it.”
Eka continues, “At school, I can only afford to give my children 1 lari (37p) each but they can only buy a small piece of cake. Sometimes they’re hungry so they ask me to bake them khachapuri (bread filled with cheese).”
There are days when Eka finds herself unable to cope. “Sometimes I get upset when we don’t have any furniture and I start to cry. My children calm me down, and tell me everyone starts from nothing, and one day we’ll be rich.”
Winter compounds the family’s hardship. . There is no running water in the village and the nearest well is 20 minutes away. Eka has to go to the well ten times each day to take care of her family. “It’s very difficult,” she says, “I have to heat the water in the yard but it will be hard during winter.”
Despite the challenges, Eka is a role model in her village. She laughs demurely, “My neighbours tell me that people have lived here for 50 or 60 years and they could never manage what I’ve achieved.”
As the sun sets, Eka’s children Ana and Mariam curl up in their mother’s lap ready for their bedtime story. She looks out of the window and says to us, “I hope the future will be prosperous for my family”