Life is hard for mums - lots of demands on your attention and never enough time. But for mums in the remote African countryside where TREE AID works, life is unbelievably tough. Two working mums Alice, from the UK and Amina, from Ghana, share what daily life is like in their villages…
This is Alice, she’s 37 and she lives in a village in Wiltshire, England. She’s a mum of two. Among other things.
This is Amina, she’s 37 and she lives in a village in Northern Ghana. She’s a mum of seven. Among other things.
6.30am Alice wakes up and her husband Dan has already left for the day. She fumbles for socks in the dark, then makes her way downstairs. The comforting rumble of the coffee machine starts to wake her up and she has a few precious minutes of alone time, something Alice doesn’t take for granted with a three and a five year old.
4.00am Amina wakes up, four of her children sleep with her in the bed or on the floor of her bedroom. Her husband sleeps in his own room and Amina doesn’t see him at this time of day. She goes outside to the communal washing place and has a quick wash before her morning prayer.
6.45am Her peace is broken by kids clambering downstairs and demanding breakfast. As Alice empties the dishwasher, the kids entertain themselves by enthusiastically squashing blackberries and covering themselves with the juice until Alice intervenes with a wet wipe and cleans their sticky hands. After breakfast, Alice negotiates with the kids to put on their uniforms while she feeds the dog and takes her out for her morning poo. The packed lunch and after school snacks are quickly assembled then it’s time to set out.
5.00am Amina makes breakfast outside on one of the village fire pits. This meal, like almost every meal, is a thick millet porridge. If Amina has enough money she will eat some breakfast with the children. If there isn’t enough to go round she will have to wait til the evening to eat. She’d like to be able to feed the children something else to supplement the porridge as she knows that it’s not very nutritious, but most days she can’t. After breakfast it’s bath time for the kids. Amina is fortunate to have a well near her house, so unlike many women in her area collecting water only takes twenty minutes at this time of day. It’s a real advantage when there are seven kids to clean of the red dust that blows through the village, and the whole job takes less than an hour. Going to the well is a job Amina will have to repeat many times during a day.
Off to school
Off to School
7.45am Alice carries two school bags, children’s coats and swimming kit, her work bag, laptop and shopping bag of miscellaneous detritus out to the car. She feels like Atlas heroically carrying the world. Her load barely fits in the boot. She drops the kids off at school wondering what she has forgotten today, and commutes into Bristol for work.
6.30am Five of Amina’s children set off to school, she’d like to be able to send the others but she can’t afford it. If she had a more stable way of making money, the first thing she would change would be to send her other children to school. Most schools in the area don’t offer lunch and unless the parents pay in advance the kids will come home hungry.
9.00am Alice arrives at work. After her second maternity leave she’s now back doing a few days a week freelancing. Work feels good, being surrounded by adults, feeling valued for what she can do well. Not that she doesn’t miss the kids or that work doesn’t bring its own share of stresses and difficult conversations. But she’s never yet had to bribe a colleague with the promise of Disney Junior during a negotiation.
8.00am Time to get stuck in to the morning’s chores. First she tends to her animals then sets off to the orchard near her village, where she picks up fallen wood to feed the fire. In addition to her seven children she cares for the baby of a neighbour who died, and looks out for a neighbour who was brain damaged following an illness. The children that are not at school form a small entourage who accompany her on her morning rounds.
1.00pm Alice stops for lunch at work, she’s brought in soup and a sandwich from home. It’s nice to sit in peace for a bit and have a chance to catch up with Facebook, Twitter and what’s going on in the world.
10.00am Today is the weekly meeting of her village savings and loans association, which some of the women in her village set up with help from one of TREE AID’s partners. She pays 4p a week membership and members may save between 20p and £1 a week to make sure they have something set aside for a rainy day. Having the goal of saving a little each week with the other women, rather than just thinking constantly about all the hungry mouths, has given her a new sense of purpose. A welcome distraction from the daily worries.
After school snaks
After school snacks
5.00pm Alice leaves work and drives on the speed limit to get to after-school club before closing time. The kids get their after-school snacks and sing along to Taylor Swift on the way home. At home Alice hurriedly offers them jellybeans to do their homework and after dinner piles them into the bath.
12.00pm Off to the orchard again, with the other women from her village. They make shea butter together when shea nuts are in season. She shakes nuts from the trees, roasts them, grinds them and turns them into shea butter. It’s an exhausting and very physical process and one to which every woman in the village contributes. The women sell the butter, which is used as a sunscreen, insecticide and ointment, at the local market. Shea trees provide the income for all the women in the village and all the villages that surround them. In return the community protects and nurtures the trees, making sure the precious harvest will continue to grow. At 2.00pm the children return from school. If it’s the right season mango will be growing and the children will have some nutritious fruit to eat.
Time with the children
Time with the children
7.30pm Bed time for the kids. Two stories then into bed where there are endless questions about why the dog is encouraged to poo outside when they’re never allowed to – not even once! Alice treasures this time of cuddles and questions, the only time she doesn’t need to make sure that she, or the kids or Dan are on time, in the right place or equipped for emergencies. Once little eyes have shut, Alice sneaks downstairs.
3.00pm During planting season the children will be expected to help planting, weeding or preparing soil or but today they’re helping with the shea processing. They’re always hungry but it’s not time for more porridge yet. If times are really tough and there’s not even porridge to eat then Amina mixes crushed ground nuts with some of the shea butter, wraps the paste in leaves from the orchard and feeds it to her children. The little parcels don’t really fill their bellies but the leaves and the shea butter do contain nutrients and energy and it keeps the family going.
8.30pm The uniforms go in the machine and the dishes in the washer. Dan gets home in time to take the puppy out for her last walk of the day. They meet again on the sofa, with pizzas on laps, watch an hour of a Netflix box set while Alice answers some work emails.
6.00pm Time for supper for the family and then another bath for the dusty kids. Later, when the kids are safely in bed Amina spends the last few hours of the day praying and making tamarind juice, which she sometimes sells to generate a little extra money.
10.30pm Alice and Dan go up to bed. Alice tries to switch off her mind from work and chores and looks forward to the weekend, where she can relax with the family and have fun together. The weekend family time make it all worthwhile. Alice collapses into bed before drifting off to sleep. And the cycle begins again.
00.00am Amina sneaks into her bedroom carefully, so as not to wake up the sleeping children. She would like more help for her and the other women in the village, the sort of help they had to set up the savings and loans group. Help to take care of the trees and learn how to process shea more efficiently. She looks forward to a time that will happen, when she hopes she’ll be able to sleep more soundly. Amina collapses into bed before drifting off to sleep. And the cycle begins again.
A child like Amina’s dies of hunger every two minutes in the African drylands.
Amina, like every mother, wants the best for her children. The chance to give them more opportunities than she had, like going to school, and to keep them fed even during the difficult times. Donate today to the Grow Hope appeal to help Amina, and women like her, get the help they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
How you can help grow hope for families
- £30 could grow three trees so a family can grow nutritious fruit, improve their health and earn a living
- £50 could give ‘tree food’ tools so a family can pick fruit and nuts and store them for the ’hungry months’
- £85 could train a family how to earn a living from trees, such as how to turn shea nuts into shea butter to sell.