Jane Burns BANNER

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices

By Jane Burns, Church and Community Officer

We are in the midst of a busy Harvest Time again.  It is a time to give thanks to God for another year and a plentiful Harvest on the farm.  It is particularly poignant this year as we have had the onset of drought in July and it is brought home to us in Ireland just how much we take our rain for granted.

As a child, growing up on a tillage farm, Harvest brought feelings of excitement which as you move into adulthood bring feelings of appreciation for how God has provided for us through the land and all it produces.

Since becoming involved with Christian Aid about 14 years ago I have a new appreciation and understanding about what Harvest in its many forms means to individuals in the developing world.

This Harvest in Christian Aid, we are standing together with women like Aster in Ethiopia, to rejoice and call for gender justice through Christian Aid’s 2018 Harvest Appeal. As we celebrate and praise God for providing all we need, we also stand with our sisters whose harvests are uncertain.

For the once-overburdened Aster, life was a constant struggle, simply because she is a woman. Farming, cooking, carrying firewood – no matter how hard she worked, she was unable to save enough money to support her family. But Aster refused to be beaten by poverty.

Aster Argo, 29, and her children (L to R) Agar Gezahegu, 11, Hinit Gezahegu, 9, Dibora.

Aster Argo, 29, and her children (L to R) Agar Gezahegu, 11, Hinit Gezahegu, 9, Dibora. Aster used to walk for miles every day collecting firewood. But now her key source of light is through her solar lamp.

Photo: Christian Aid / Matt Gonzalez-Noda

She came together with women in her village to set up their own shop, powered by the sun. With training from our partner, Aster and her sisters turned this shop into a thriving business that benefits her, the community and the environment.

In Aster’s own words:

‘Coming together as a women’s group, it’s like adopting sisters; another family. We share happiness and sorrow together. They share my burden and help me face my challenges.’

Solar energy has given Aster’s village not just literal power – they once had no access to electricity – but also the power to change their lives. Now Aster and her sisters can save for the future, make their children proud, and challenge traditions while caring for the planet. All this in an environment where climate change hits women and girls the hardest.

Aster's sister, Ari, says: ‘In the past women were not recognised and we were not free. Having money as women was difficult. We didn’t have any reserves for the hard times or the drought.'

During a visit to Zimbabwe in 2014, I met with a group of women in the Binga region, who had set up with Christian Aid’s assistance, a savings and lending scheme group.  These schemes operate a bit like village banks, with each person making monthly contributions and receiving loans to improve their lives and start businesses.

We chatted to Maria who shared with us the amazing difference being a part of this group had made to her life. Maria, along with the others in the group, pay US$10 per month into the savings scheme.  This money is loaned out to those in the group to make purchases. Once the purchase has been made, the member begins to pay this money back with a small amount of interest. The groups latest investment when we visited had been two goats for each member. Maria spoke of the difference that the goats had made to her family. The benefits were not only financial, Maria had gained respect from her husband because of her ability to increase the family’s status amongst the community. Maria like Aster benefitted greatly from her involvement in this women’s group.

Thanks to you, women like Aster and Maria have the power to make improvements to their own lives, to own their own businesses, adapt to climate change, and nurture their environment for future generations. They have the ability to transform their lives and communities.

In Isaiah 58:7-8 we are reminded to ‘share our bread with the hungry’. Along with that reminder comes the beautiful promise in verse 8 that if we do then ‘our light will break forth like the dawn’. Let us as people of God this Harvest reflect upon all the good gifts that we have and how we can share them with others.

To find out how you or your church can support Christian Aid this Harvest email Jane Burns on jburns@christian-aid.org or call our Dublin office on 01 4967040 or Belfast office on 028 90648133.