Advocacy is concerned with values, awareness and knowledge of problems to promote actions, policies and changes in the issues that interest people.
Advocacy does not always aim, right from the start, at concrete results. Sometimes the right or desire of a person or a group involves too many values and too many instances to offer a clear path of action.
Advocacy can then limit itself to making public a problem that escapes or that is not present in public opinion or in bodies that should be concerned of. The aim of advocacy then is that the desire a person or a group perceive as a right can enter the agenda of the public debate. This is the case of Adeng.
My name is Adeng. I am 37 years old and mother of ten children, eight on earth and two already in Heaven. I went to the nuns’ elementary school and, thanks to them, my parents allowed me to start high school.
I was in my second year, I had just turned seventeen when, under pressure from my brother and an uncle, my parents gave me in marriage to a man twenty years older than I. He paid 200 cows – a substantial dowry in our culture -, which my brother mostly used for his wedding.
I was not consulted at all: in our culture, women, and especially girls, have no right to express their opinion. So, I only met my husband on my wedding day and found myself living as a second wife, with the first who was ten years older than I.
I can’t complain about my husband; he rarely beats me and, at least in the early years, he took care of me and of our children, not just financially. Then, the third and fourth wives arrived and his attentions began to move elsewhere. From then, practically, I had to raise our children alone. However, I am much luckier than many of my friends, who are often beaten and humiliated.
Of course, my marriage is a long way from the Christian marriage the nuns enthusiastically used depicting for us at school and catechism: a man and a woman welcoming each other, guided by the hand of God, joining their lives and their projects and promising respect, fidelity and eternal love, forming a family open to life and to others. A vision that used to make us all dreaming, knowing that our future would be very different.
Before getting married, I was assiduous to church, I attended catechism, I confessed and, every Sunday together with my friends, I received Communion: it was a joy to share the Eucharistic table as we did with our community meals!
When I entered high school, I began lending a hand to the young people who took care of the members of Missionary Childhood, a movement well rooted in our parish. To those children, I tried to transmit the first rudiments of our faith, as far as a little girl of my age was able to assimilate.
After the wedding, I continued for four years to teach catechism to the little ones; then I had to give up for family commitments but I continued to be part of the Legion of Mary.
I have always taken all my children to Mass, even when they were very little, as is our custom. All attend catechism regularly and the three oldest have already received First Communion and Confirmation. I have not been able to receive communion since my wedding. At school and at catechism, they told me that a woman in my situation lives in sin and is excluded from Communion. Forever?
I know well that sincere repentance and the commitment not to fall back into error make it possible to wash away the guilt and obtain forgiveness. But, I am and will always be the second of my husband’s four wives. I have no power to change my condition. In my culture, women cannot choose. I didn’t choose to marry him, nor could I object. I didn’t choose to become a second wife, humiliating the first even though I was suffering for her. I did not choose to approach him to have children nor did I have the power to refuse him. I won’t be able to do it in the future either.
How to get out of this situation? By running away? What would become of the children? By divorcing? Where to find all the cows to pay the ransom? Getting my husband to marry me, and me alone, in church? If I were to succeed, what about the other three wives and their children? If my husband dies, God forbid, we would all become wives of one of his brothers called to conceive in his name other children with us.
So I have to look down when my children ask me: “Why did you not go with us to take Communion today, Mom?” I ask myself, Will I never be able to take Communion again? For the rest of my life? Even if I want it with all my heart knowing how important it is for a Christian?