The Good Deed Collection is designed by Mary Fisher and created
by artisans in Zambia who are members of the Abataka collective.
Each of the women whose profiles you can read here have battled seemingly
insurmountable odds. In addition to shouldering everything from HIV to tuberculosis
to malaria to cancer, they also have endured severe rejection from their very families.
Some have been physically battered. But all are survivors.
Every one has been trained by Mary Fisher and her colleagues to create hand-crafted
pieces of jewelry, fashioned from the highest quality materials and offered for sale at a
fair market price. The artisans earn wages for every bracelet and necklace they produce,
whether it immediately sells or not. And proceeds are returned to the women not only as
earnings, but in the way of food, a trust fund, literacy training and other essentials.
What each artisan’s story reminds us, is that we need one another, and that lives can be
changed by our good deeds. And that no land mass or ocean is too wide to reach across
and share the gifts we have to offer.
As Mary Fisher herself says, “True love finds ways to help us all belong.”
Meet the Artisans
Ida is a widowed mother of two biological children and an adopted son. In 2001, soon after her brother died of AIDS, she began working as an HIV counselor at the Chelstone clinic in Lusaka, Zambia. As a gifted counselor, Ida advised HIV-positive pregnant women on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission and provided care and support to people living with HIV. Her remarkable story is chronicled in Stephanie Nolen’s book, 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa.
In 2003, while working as an AIDS counselor, she tested HIV-positive. After learning her status, Ida became an even more vocal and passionate activist for people living with HIV and AIDS. She was promoted to the role of Director of Community Outreach at the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ), where she helped to create support groups and a peer education programme where people living with HIV and AIDS provide counseling and support services in all public clinics offering antiretroviral drugs.
Since 2007, Ida has served as a full-time field representative for the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Africa, where she uses her extensive knowledge and experience to help build the capacity of grassroots AIDS organizations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Ida was also awarded a red ribbon award for community service by Youth Media in 2007 and was elected to serve on the board of the council of churches in December 2012. Ida has also serves as a counselor and community liason person for Abataka Zambia since its inception.
Jamira’s eyes glisten with sadness to recall her younger brother dying in her arms of TB. She was 18 at the time, and little Henry just eleven. “It is one of the saddest things in your life,” she says, wiping tears from both cheeks. A decade later, her husband died of meningitis, and in the wake of his death, his relatives descended on Jamira and stripped her of all they’d accumulated together, leaving her and her two daughters with nothing.
To survive, she took to the streets, selling potato chips at a bar, and when she could afford it, the head of a cow, which she boiled and sliced and sold in pieces to passersby. By age 30, she’d been widowed and lost four siblings. When she herself was diagnosed with HIV, her remaining family shunned her, and she sought refuge in a rat-infested one-room home. At one point, Jamira became so ill, she required a three-month hospitalization, during which she started taking antiretroviral drugs. Her savior – the ABATAKA project. “As long as I’m working with Mary Fisher,” she says, “I can survive. I know I will succeed in my life, and that I will not die for a long time. I hope women in America know how hard we are fighting this disease in Africa.”
A baby on her doorstep. That’s what Sekai discovered in May 2009, left there by a woman who said she’d be back in two hours. She never returned, and Sekai nervously accepted responsibility for a child believed to have been conceived and delivered by her brother-in-law’s girlfriend. Sekai, who lost her only child when he was less than 2 years old, named the baby Tabo, which means “thank you” and “blessing.”
Tabo’s late father and surviving biological mother were both HIV-positive, but Tabo has been tested and is negative.
Sekai splits her time between making jewelry, and caring for Tabo, who is now able to recite the entire alphabet and sing songs. Their futures—and that of Sekai’s husband, who is a graphic designer—seem brighter than ever, thanks largely
Before she’d reached 30, Esther already had lost her mother and four siblings. Though she and her husband are both
HIV-positive, both are grateful that none of their three sons carries the virus. Before her affiliation with ABATAKA, Esther’s family survived on one meal a day. Earnings from jewelry sales have bumped that up to three a day, and provided enough for the family to enjoy shoes for the children, and even a refrigerator. Esther has enjoyed one other luxury—the replacement of a front tooth that has her smiling again.
Her recent life has not been without tragedy, though. In 2009, she gave birth to twins, Jacob and Mary. They were thriving when Mary Fisher visited Zambia in May of that year. Both have since died. Esnart weeps for them often, but tries to remain strong for the three who survive.
When Judith discovered she was HIV-positive, she attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. A great-aunt found her and saved her life, a life that has been marked by loss. After marrying at 19, Judith bore two children who died when they were just days old. Her third-born lived only a year.
Four years into her marriage, her husband died. In 2004, Judith remarried and began taking antiretroviral drugs. She gave birth to a baby in 2006 who is HIV-negative. “I would like people in America to know that a positive woman is the same as a negative woman,” says Judith. “We are all alike.”
Mary had been married a dozen years when her husband died in 1999, leaving her to raise three young children. The youngest, Rose, was in and out of the hospital from the time she was born, and finally diagnosed HIV-positive in 2005. Mary’s older two children are negative.
Mary is HIV-positive, and attends a support group, which helps her deal with her sisters, who shun her. With earnings from making jewelry, Mary can buy the kinds and amounts of food required to keep her and Rose healthy, and on their HIV medications. She also earns enough to keep all her children in school.
At 44, Evelyn already had lost six of her 11 brothers and sisters. She suspects some or even all died of HIV/AIDS, though she’s unsure which ones ever went for testing. Evelyn was married for five years to a man who was married twice before. They divorced in 1998, leaving her to care for two young sons. In 1999, her ex-husband died. By 2005, Evelyn was in chronically bad health, and discovered she had not only tuberculosis, but HIV.
She now shares a home with the remnants of her family—her two sons, her mother and grandmother, three orphaned children of her late brother, and one widowed sister and her two children. Making jewelry for the ABATAKA project helps sustain the household, and provides schooling for her sons. Her dream is to see them graduate from high school and live
in a home of their own. “I’m very grateful,” she says of what ABATKA has helped provide. “I pay rent, and take the children to school.”
She married at 15, bore a daughter at 16, and was widowed at 19. In her 33 years, she already has mourned the death of both parents and three siblings. She was fired from her job as a chef when supervisors learned she’d tested positive for HIV. When Emely moved in with relatives and they learned the same, they drove her from the home, leaving her to sleep
in the family’s chicken run. Friends carried her to a hospice center when she became too weak to even stand. ABATAKA changed her life, providing work and an income for a family that now includes two children.
She has been able to save money to make her own cement blocks, a painstaking process that involves hammering stones
to tiny bits and then casting them into block form. Her dream is to create a home with the blocks, and she has so far made 400 and transported the bulk of them to a plot she managed to buy. Of the jewelry she makes and the volunteering she performs for the sick, Emely says “Pray that God blesses us so we can continue.”
A stove. A sofa. A rug. Hardly what many would consider luxuries. But they are to Judith, who possesses all three, thanks to income derived from the ABATAKA project. Judith presumes she contracted HIV from her first husband, who died in 1999. She grew sick five years later, and was tested positive at Mother Teresa’s hospice in Lusaka.
She learned about the ABATAKA bead project at a support group, and lauds it for supporting a household that includes herself, her husband, her mother, her daughter, and three orphans left behind when her sister died more than a decade ago. She’s proud to feed her family three times a day, and is saving in hopes of one day building them a house they can
call their own.
Florence knows what it is to suffer almost as a prisoner of war. Off and on for more than a year, she was locked into a chicken coop, forced to live with poultry that were teeming with insects and that came to use her skin as host, too, infecting her entire body with sores. Her crime? She shared with her extended family that she was HIV-positive. “I would stay in that chicken run for days without bathing,” she says, only getting temporary relief when her sister felt a tinge of guilt and allowed her inside the main home to clean up.
Even then, every step she took was followed up by a relative spraying disinfectant on anything she touched. Florence would go entire days without nourishment, but endured her fate because at least her stepchildren were being fed. She was finally rescued after befriending an HIV support group. Today, Florence says “I find a lot of peace because of working with Mary Fisher.” Of Abataka, and creating jewelry, she smiles softly and says, “I have found my place and my peace.”
Tears stream down Lilian’s cheeks as she recounts violent beginnings: She was forced as a youngster to undergo female circumcision. It haunted her throughout her adolescence, when friends bathing with her would taunt her because she was different. When engaged to be married, she told her husband-to-be that “I’m not like other women.” Initially, he didn’t care, but later became abusive, asking her “Why are you like this?”
Eventually, he left her, and took all their belongings with him. Lilian’s family also abandoned her, leaving her to fend with three small children. At one point, she wandered from village to village, listening for the wailing that signified a funeral, and more important in her case—the presence of food—the only way she could feed her starving brood. At her lowest point, she bought rat poison and discussed with her youngsters the option of taking their own lives. Her son, Chomba, then 12, countered with “The Bible says we can’t do this.”
Today, Lilian credits Mary Fisher with a new life of quiet peace: “My whole life is Abataka. Without it, I would have passed on.”
Lillian has known hardship, grief and sacrifice during her short life. She has suffered through the death of her mother
and brother and endured a pregnancy when she was just 14 years old. Her education was stopped at grade 9 due to lack
of money and her only work experience was as a maid for CIDRZ (Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia) employees. A bright spot in Lillian’s life was when she met and eventually married her husband, Medicine, a driver
for CIDRZ. Lillian found out she was HIV+ during her third pregnancy with her husband.
Her husband also eventually tested positive. Lillian says being a part of the jewelry program allows her to be more independent and to contribute towards expenses at their home. They now have four children and all of them are able
to attend school.
When Martha was suffering simultaneously from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, she nearly starved to death, and sought out food wherever she could find but a few morsels. Now, with the income she derives from ABATAKA, she finally enjoys healthy meals on a regular basis.
She’s been with the project since 2006, and says of each time that Mary Fisher visits, “I ask that Mary always leaves a part of her heart here when she returns home.” Martha credits ABATAKA with helping her realize a reason for living. “When people just sit around thinking they are dying because they are HIV-positive, they will die,” says Martha, who is married and has no children but cares for her sister’s two children. “It is important to stand and live.”
Esther lives in a three-bedroom home that is bursting with an extended family that includes her mother, five siblings
and 22 children. Of Esther’s own four children, the youngest is HIV-positive. Esther, who learned in 2003 that she was infected with TB, relies on profits rendered from the jewelry she sells through ABATAKA to feed the family, mostly a porridge made with maize.
Esther is especially grateful to Mary Fisher and her assistant Penny Morgan for teaching her how to make jewelry, and in doing so, providing for her loved ones. The ABATAKA project “is a prayer answered,” says Esther. “May God bless Mary so that she may live long and continue to teach.”
A bride at 19 and a widow at 21, Annie discovered she was HIV-positive after her husband died. Her family disowned
Annie and her newborn daughter, denying her food and shelter. Her church came to her rescue, but in the wake of her abandonment, she lost all six of her brothers and sisters to AIDS-related illnesses. She survives because she was the only one to stay on her medications—thanks largely to financial assistance rendered via ABATAKA.
Annie fashions jewelry, and also sells candles from a lean-to near her humble home. Her enterprises pay rent for herself, her second husband and a daughter they had together, who was born without the AIDS virus, thanks to medications Annie received during childbirth.
When Rachel was hospitalized in 1995 for what would eventually be a positive diagnosis for HIV, she was raising four children and about to bear a fifth. Her husband died four years later, refusing to the end to be tested. Rachel underwent experimental treatments that included drinking her own urine, before finally gaining access to antiretroviral drugs that improved her condition. Today, she fights the after-effects of therapies to combat cervical cancer, and continues to care for her children, two of whom have completed the 12th grade.
Of her affiliation with the ABATAKA project, she says “I am happy to be with people like me who are positive but learning to live.” Her relationship with Mary Fisher is familial: “We have learned so many skills from our mother, Mary Fisher,” she says. “When I go to bed each night, I say a prayer for her, happy for the skills I have, happy for the gifts she has brought into my life.”
A widowed mother of five daughters, Helen has known grief. Her eldest daughter died during childbirth in 2004, leaving
the granddaughter in Helen’s care. The next year, Helen lost both the granddaughter and her husband. Helen’s three youngest daughters still live with her, though she can only afford to send one at a time to school.
Some of her profits from making jewelry have gone to finally install a door on their home, and to replace a roof initially fashioned from plastic bags with more durable metal sheets. “For me to be alive and well, and to have a little shop at
home is all from the bead project,” says Helen, who tested positive for HIV in 2000. “Now, I can care better for my
family and myself.”
Bertha and her husband had been married 18 years when he tested positive for HIV, the result of having relations outside their marriage. She was infected by him. With a counselor’s help, they are staying together, and raising four children, none of whom contracted HIV. Income from the ABATAKA project pays for schooling for all four children, as well as two nieces.
Bertha also hopes to establish her own business, making frozen treats, and sell them throughout Zambia’s hot summers. To date, she has saved about half the cost of the machine. “I won’t be dying tomorrow,” she says. “ I want to live life to
Nesia’s father and three siblings died because they could not afford antiretroviral drugs to combat HIV, back before they were widely available at no cost. Nesia’s husband also died of what she believes was AIDS. Those losses helped motivate Nesia to fight her own positive diagnoses of HIV and TB, even though some members of her family have turned against her.
She also battled an uncle who was trying to wrestle the title from her house. Against all the adversity, Nesia never misses
a meeting of her support group, and celebrates her ability through ABATAKA to provide her family an income, and keep her son in school.
Throughout four years of her marriage, Leah’s husband secretly kept a girlfriend, and the woman became pregnant four times. Two were cut short by abortions, and the other two resulted in daughters who died within months of their births.
In 2004, Leah and her husband were both diagnosed HIV-positive, and were advised not to have unprotected sex. Leah’s husband left her, then returned home after a few months, but continued to have unprotected sex outside their marriage. Today, they have reconciled, and he is finally faithful. What helped sustain her was ABATAKA: “The bead project has changed my life,” says Leah, who hopes to one day buy a house for a family that includes three children.
After testing positive for HIV, Edina’s own brother broke into a rage, beating her up and telling her “You should leave this house.” Under a strained arrangement, she and her two children continue to live on the same compound as the rest of the extended family, but their quarters are restricted to one room measuring just 12 ft sq. In her scant spare time, Edina scratches out additional income by selling fish, salt and charcoal from a ramshackle stall of plywood and chicken wire outside the family dwelling.
Through money Edina earned making jewelry for ABATAKA, she was able to add a door to what used to be an open room. “Hopefully,” says Edina, “we can someday build on our own piece of land.” In her daily prayer, “We ask that Mary always remembers us,” says Edina. “And we wish her many years.”
The ABATAKA project is changing Judith’s life. As a child, she left school in the fifth grade, dismissing herself as “not clever.” She never learned how to read or write, but now feels strongly that education is the one element that opens
doors. Nothing makes Judith more proud than knowing her son is achieving academically.
He’s completed the 10th grade and has plans to continue on in school. A widow, Judith’s profits from selling jewelry support herself, her son, her father, mother, two orphaned nephews and a runaway youth. Thanks to ABATAKA, everyone
in the home has clothing, medicine, good food and adequate shelter.
Florence was in denial. Despite three separate tests confirming her HIV-positive status, she refused to believe it. When
she finally agreed to take antiretroviral drugs, her husband convinced her they were dangerous. Because he was better educated, she followed his advice, and chased clinic counselors from her home when they showed up to encourage her
to follow her drug regimen. Only when her husband became gravely ill—and a daughter fell sick as well—did Florence succumb to the medicine. Her husband died just days before an appointment to begin HIV treatment himself.
Today, Florence and both her daughters are HIV-positive. Not long ago, her daughter Carol nearly drowned in an outdoor pit toilet that had filled with water during the rainy season. Her dream now is to one day add an indoor toilet to her home. Florence is confident that profits from her jewelry sales—which have allowed her to pay rent and help support her widowed mother—will also make this possible
Her mother and siblings shun her. They refuse to eat with her, or share clothing with her. They will not touch her. But Helen is undaunted; she tells everyone she meets that being tested for HIV is an important step toward their health. By attending counseling and support groups since her diagnosis, Helen has learned how to live safely with HIV. It’s at a support group that she met a man who is HIV-positive. They married and have a son they nicknamed “Wonder.”
For months before his birth, Helen used money from her jewelry sales to stockpile canned baby formula, to reduce the risk of virus transmission through breastfeeding.
Soft-spoken and motivated, Estellah has been victimized by three husbands. The second used to beat her about the face with his closed fists. When she was diagnosed with HIV, her father and mother turned Estellah and her son out of their home. While living in a shanty compound, her prayers were answered when, in Estellah’s words, “He sent Mary Fisher.”
Since joining Abataka, Estellah’s become one of the most ambitious women in the group, serving as a primary bookkeeper for the project. She carefully logs sales and receipts at the weekly market, and has been a faithful attendant. In 2012, Estellah made a bittersweet decision to come to the aid of an ailing old man who’d been born in 1918 and needed her
help in bathing, eating and diapering. In a move that speaks of forgiveness and grace, she returned to take care of the
very man who’d shunned her years earlier. Her father.
Both Dorothy and her eldest daughter—one of four children—are fighting their HIV-positive diagnosis. And now, Dorothy continues to monitor her 7-year-old daughter, who was raped and must undergo regular monitoring. The ongoing criminal case is an uphill battle for Dorothy and her family, because the alleged assailant denies everything.
They have gone to court hearings—expensive for mom and harrowing for her daughter—only to find them cancelled. Dorothy knows that if she fails to attend even one hearing, the case could be dismissed. Dorothy says that only through the support of friends she’s met through the ABATAKA project is she surviving the ongoing ordeal
As a young newlywed, Bertha and her husband Peter returned to their home after a trip away to find it burned to the ground. Peter fell into a deep depression. “He stopped eating,” says Bertha, “and said he would rather just die than live like this.” Three months later, he was dead of self-induced starvation. Afterward, Bertha discovered she was HIV-positive, and hoped to join him in death. How, she wondered, could she alone support a family of five children ages 14, 12, 10, 8 and 6?
The six of them were living in their burned-out shanty, the trusses charred and open to the sky. “When the rains, came,” says Bertha, raising both arms as if in supplication, “we’d all stand until it was finished, then sweep out the house.” The ABATAKA project resurrected her, with the sales of her jewelry providing an income that makes her the breadwinner in what now is an extended family of nine. “I want people to know that if you are HIV-positive, you don’t have to die,” she says. “You can live and do things and be happy.” Bertha’s dream is to return to school and finish Grades 10-12.
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