This is Joyce or Joycee as she is called on the farm, where she is one of our longest serving employees.
We gave her a little house and a job when we heard that she had no place to live with her son Boyd. She was poor, homeless and alone as well as being deaf and dumb according to our local neighbours and some of her relations.
The other evening when we had celebration on the farm, a going home thank-you, to all the staff and their families.
When Mary asked, they, in turn, said a few words about their jobs and responsibilities.
I noticed her friend Wezzie, urging Joycee to say something in “Tumbuka, Tumbuka, Tumbuka” and then suddenly she burst into a big flow of words which had us crying, clapping and more than a little shell shocked.
She told us her job was sanitation and keeping the whole place clean and tidy, collecting seeds, drying tephrosia leaves and that her biggest responsibility was accompanying the farm children to preschool and collecting them when they are ready to come home.
She just kept going and was reluctant to finish.
It had us stunned at what appeared to be the miracle of all miracles.
Here was a woman who was destitute with nothing and nowhere to go, who found our little house that became her home, who was befriended by our friend Denise, who got her first job and a little wage and who has worked quietly and diligently over the years and is now a legend.
On every visit to the farm I get a big smile, a big hug and a few mumbles, as soon as she sees me, but now she can stand up in front of maybe twenty people and burst into what might be called an oration in her own language. Simply breath-taking. I was so delighted.
Like most of the poor rural women I meet every day, she is a powerhouse, who with a little help can achieve so much because they do it every day just to stay alive, a bit like the old post famine women of my youth in the West of Ireland.
If I tell you that every month Joycee squirrelled away some of her wages, got loans and paid back out of the same wages and has built a small house on a piece of traditional land.
Of course being Joycee she hasn’t moved there. No, she has it rented out and stays, free from rent, on the farm with people who love her, and of course the food from the gardens is also free!!
She is a legendary survivor.
She has never looked for, or got, any handouts from the Aid Brigade, or us. Like our women everywhere I go, she doesn’t need our charity, she just needed to be allowed to use her brain and her wits and she could do, and did, the rest.
It is a real lesson in how development should be and maybe a subject for an excellent PhD compared to the useless deluge of academic garbage that passes for that level of education.
In most communities, Joycee would be a Woman of the Year!
Next year she will dress in her finest and travel, with some of her farm friends, 400 km South to Lilongwe for her son Boyd’s graduation in Horticulture from the College of Natural Resources. He too came to the farm as a boy, and with the support of our friends, Denise and Padraig, he went to Secondary school, worked hard in school and on the farm and qualified to go to University. With us, there was no free lunch. He had to work his way through and is now doing very well. Mary and Denise have kept a close eye on him while Joycee is (should be) so proud of him.
The power of the human spirit is so strong but hardly ever recognised. Of course it’s hard to see it from a gleaming 4 by 4 jeep while rushing to drop off the Aid.
What a woman? and one of many powerful women on our staff.
My mother at 91 would love to be with them and be part of this action but with two dodgy hips it’s too late. She would fit in perfectly and be an inspiration.