A Mother’s Strength

A two-time widow in Malawi tells you what gave her the courage to keep going.


Being a mother is not easy, anywhere in the world. But being a single mama in a country where families traditionally rely on men to earn a living requires extraordinary strength and grace.

So many of the kids Children of the Nations (COTN) serves have lost their fathers. Child sponsorship gives moms the support they need to continue to raise their children well. For Emily, a mom of two in Malawi who lived through the death of not one, but two husbands, this support changed everything.

Emily’s two sons Leonard and Shabban had six months to say goodbye to their father. When he fell ill, they watched him quickly decline. Without access to medical care, there was little chance he would survive.
When Emily’s first husband died, the family was devastated. As they grieved the loss of their father, Emily began to wonder how she would support her growing boys. “Most women who are widowed opt for their children to drop out of school because they are not able to meet their daily needs,” Emily explains. “In fact, children are sent to markets and streets to run family businesses.”

“As most women in Malawi, I was not able to support my children with school fee and uniforms,” Emily adds. Sadly, her boys had no choice but to drop out of school.

Emily’s youngest son, Leonard, in 2003.

With little education, and no land or marketable skills, Emily was at a loss. “Men are usually the breadwinners and when they die women are not able to do all the work on their own,” she says. “Cultural restrictions and prejudice hinder women from developing a safe environment for their children. I have been a victim of this.”

In such an environment, Emily’s only hope was to remarry. Most widows in Malawi see this as their only option, but it’s difficult to find a man willing to provide for you and your children. Emily was full of joy when she did. Her second husband loved her family as his own, and helped her boys go back to school.

Her second husband’s death took everyone by surprise. He fell ill with tuberculosis one day, and was gone the next.

Emily testifies that it was only by the grace of God that she got up and kept going after that tragedy. Leonard and Shabban became part of Children of the Nations’ (COTN) child sponsorship program. Thanks to their sponsors’ support, the boys were able to continue attending school, and received help with uniforms, school supplies, food, and other necessities.

But the help didn’t stop there. A few years later, a COTN summer intern from the US helped start a new project focused on widows. The idea was to help single mothers like Emily generate extra income so they could take better care of their children.

In 2006, a group of 74 widows, including Emily, began meeting together. They learned simple, marketable skills like sewing and baking. They began selling their products and started a group bank account. With their capital, the women invested in more supplies, and their small businesses took off.

Women from the Widows Initiative meet together for encouragement and training.

More than just a means of income, this gathering became a powerful support group as Emily navigated the challenges of raising children on her own. Central to their meetings was prayer and Bible studies. “God has provided us all with knowledge and strength,” she says with a wise smile. Through the Widows Initiative, as the project has come to be known, “I learned the Word of God, and to be thankful for that,” Emily says.

Praise, worship, and prayer are central to the widows’ meetings.

As a mother, Emily believes the most important thing she can teach her children is just what she and the other women in the Widows Initiative encourage in each other daily: knowledge of God and the desire to follow Him. So when her oldest, Shabban, graduated from COTN’s sponsorship program and became a pastor at a local church, she was overjoyed.

This June, Leonard will graduate from COTN’s high school. He hopes to go on to university. Emily is beside herself with joy.

As we celebrate the hardworking mothers across the US this weekend, Emily says she will be praying for you. “My encouragement to women all over the world is that they shouldn’t let themselves be overcome by the challenges they are facing,” Emily says. “They should ask God for help and not be worried about their situations.”

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