At the Ely Diocesan Mothers’ Union Autumn Festival Day on 8 October 2016, the main speaker was Ruth Sichizya, former Diocesan President of Lusaka Diocese in Zambia (now a linked MU diocese with Ely MU diocese). Ruth explained the origins of the MU in Zambia when the MU started there in 1936 – the membership now stands at 1800 (some of the 4m MU members worldwide). About three-quarters of the members are what she described as Villagers, ie women with only primary education and subsistence farmers; the other 400 are educated to a higher level and many hold down professional jobs.
The Lusaka Diocese is huge and has now been sub-divided for the Mothers’ Union since 1970. The Mary Sumner House policy of less support for overseas dioceses continues – the diocesan MU in Lusaka no longer has support to pay Community Workers. Their Diocesan MU has no office (unlike the facility we enjoy in Ely) so MU files & literature have to be kept in individual homes – and the MU has to raise funds to support its community outreach. This is done, for example, by training women to knit so that they can sell the goods, the money from which is subsequently donated to support schools and prison work. The social service infrastructure in Zambia is minimal, so the MU fills a vital role in supporting families – as Ruth said, ‘ Being in the MU is a full-time job!’. Members are expected to wear their MU uniform so that they can be recognised as MU members – and even in church, if they do not wear their MU skirts and blouses, they will get fined, so the organisation is quite strict, but also very proud of what it contributes to Zambian society.
Ruth described two projects in particular, one called ‘The Clinic Bag’. In Zambia, women about to give birth in hospital are expected to bring with them a ‘Clinic Bag’ containing an infant’s layette – those too poor to have made one up may be detained in hospital with their babies, as the health authorities consider the infants to be in danger without proper clothes and blankets. So the MU in Zambia has a campaign to make up layette bags for those who cannot afford to provide their own. Another project was as a result of an ageing membership – called ‘The Young Family’ to target 15 to 24 year olds, especially concerning marriage and relationships, with seminars to learn about Anglicanism as well. The name has now changed to St Veronica’s Guild, and has been successful in attracting younger members.
Ruth was dressed in her Anglican uniform to show her faith – she also showed us commemorative MU fabric made for the 140th anniversary. Sales of these fabrics (commissioned by the MU) help to raise funds as well. Ruth was obviously very proud of her membership of the Mothers’ Union and it was a joy to meet her.