It is an honour to address the community on International Women’s Day, 2022 with the theme #BREAKTHEBIAS. I can envision different aspect of bias that can be addressed on this day, and in order to do that, I would like to remember some outstanding women who have been instrumental in the life of the organization Hope for the Village Child Foundation and who have in their own lives broken the bias that may have hindered them.
I would be remiss if I did not start with the founder of our organization, Margaret Mama. In spite of coming from an English background in which she saw racial bias all around her, she married her husband, Dr. Eli Mama, a Nigerian who brought her to Nigeria where for many years she made her home. During those years she saw the people around her as her brothers and sisters, and because she saw those who were in need, she began HVCF, and not only put her heart and soul into it while here but has continued to support it even from her home in England.
Secondly, I mention Jan Phillips. If one were to define the bias that Jan has broken, it is the bias that one must restrict one’s identity only to one’s one country and people. Jan has traveled the entire world, absorbing the world’s peace wisdom. Her visit to Nigeria enabled her to see how she could contribute to the development of children here, thus building peace. Jan is an artist, an enabler, a person in love with creation.
Thirdly, I will mention Rev. Sr. Teresita Huse. Sr. Teresita overcame the bias of “old age”, known as ageism. For her, she was always young enough. She visited Nigeria when she was 87 years so she could return to the US to tell others there of how wells were being dug in communities so people would have clean, accessible water, and many of the wells in HVCF communities are due to her efforts.
Fourthly, we cannot forget Dr. Christa Kitz. Christa has overcome the bias of fear, fear to take decisions, fear to move into areas of need. She has traveled to countries where disease was raging, but she also gave her time and efforts to set up the HVCF project for children with rickets. No effort was too great for her to make, even while she had her own responsibilities. She has also overcome the bias against women professionals on high level as she has opened and managed her own hospital for people in need.
Fifth, let us not forget Barbara Sponholz, a Doctor in the field of geography. The bias she has broken is “Do You Know Who I Am?” Barbara, despite being one of the most highly placed officials in the University of Wurzburg, Germany, was comfortable coming to HVCF to contribute the quota of her own and her students’ research to determine the cause of rickets. And she did this by staying at night in the communities, sleeping in a tent, sharing the life of the community. Yes, we do know who she is.
Sixth, one cannot talk about the history of the project of rickets, and there are children who would not let us do so, without mentioning Maria Wagner. Maria accompanied Dr. Raab when he came to perform surgery on children who had rickets. And what bias did Maria break? She broke the bias of “otherness”. Maria’s heart overflowed with love for the children, and there was no holding back for her. She identified with the children in their pain and in their joy. She put no barriers up between them and her.
You will notice that all of the examples I have noted here are of women outside of Nigeria. This is not because they are so different from the hundreds, thousands and even millions of women who are inspiring leaders in Nigeria, women who have broken biases of all sorts. To name them all would be impossible. But I don’t want to name them. I want each woman in our communities to themselves find the wonderful women of Nigeria who are among you, your neighbours, your family members, your friends, women in your church or mosque.
I want to challenge the women, women in our communities, women in the IDP camps, women who are teaching in the schools or are involved in our peace programmes, women who bring their children to the clinic, all those who know HVCF. The women I spoke about above, and so many other women here in Nigeria, have qualities that pushed them to break biases: overcoming racism and making a home anywhere; becoming an international person, i.e., seeing value in all people and in all creation; working for the good of others without worry about being too old or too young; not refusing to face situations even of fear, because the good of others is the priority; not holding oneself above others because of education or status but simply being free to make one’s own mark in life; letting one’s heart overflow with love so that the “other” becomes instead part of the “I’ and the “we” in our society.
Each of us can do that; each of us can break those and many other biases. But perhaps the greatest bias is one which has been spoken about often, that of believing that we, that I, cannot do such things. I don’t have the education, I don’t have the power, I don’t have money, I don’t know people in high places, I don’t….. I can’t…. but mainly I won’t. I will let myself be defeated not by anyone else but by my own self. If we can break that bias, we can change the world. That is my hope and wish for you on this International Women’s Day.
Sr. Rita Schwarzenberger