In honor of Father’s Day, meet two dads from Project Concern International (PCI) programs who are redefining what it means to be a leading man. Like any demanding role, they’ve learned it requires a willingness to learn and the courage to step into unknown territory with conviction.
Lombola Sipolo: A Chief Among Men
In a culture steeped in tradition, Lombola Sipola has become an unlikely trendsetter.
With family as his inner compass, the father of seven has inspired men in his community to be more active as parents and to treat their wives as equal partners in marriage.
“Initially, doing household chores and helping take care of the children was difficult, both culturally and socially,” said Lombola, who lives in the Pangolani Village of Balaka district in Southern Malawi. “But whatever I do is for my family, and that’s what matters most to me.”
As part of PCI’s Njira project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Lombola is one of more than 140 men trained to serve as Male Champions in Malawi. Both individually and collectively, these men are transforming their communities’ perceptions around gender roles by promoting health and hygiene practices and encouraging joint decision-making between spouses.
In many communities across Balaka district, women are expected to shoulder the responsibility of childcare and household activities, while men are viewed as the ones who earn money and decide how that money is spent. Male Champions like Lombola are helping to raise awareness about the benefits of challenging those stereotypes and involving men in family health matters.
“He is very important to our family,” said Esime Siliya, Lombola’s wife. “I feel honored by his support during my last pregnancy when he would go with me to prenatal check-ups. There is an openness that our household has that is lacking in our community. … I feel free and our family feels safe.”
After constructing two improved toilet facilities at their house and taking other positive steps toward healthy living together, Lombola and Esime were recognized as a model couple and invited to speak at community gatherings. Even the local chief took note of the pair’s success and began adopting similar approaches to sanitation and hygiene.
“Our village is better because of the work that Lombola and Njira promotes,” Chief Thomas Kambenje said. “I was the first person to be transformed by this attitude, and if a chief can be transformed, anyone can.”
Written by Tanner Roark and Maureen Simpson
Antonio Cristóbal and Juan Marcos: Like Father, Like Son
Antonio Cristóbal’s job might keep him away from home for 15 days at a time, but he is far from an absent husband and father. He makes every visit count toward a better future for his wife and four children.
When PCI began working where Antonio’s family lives, in the Chival Chiquito community of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, he saw an opportunity to connect his family with an additional support system. A Women Empowered (WE) initiative formed that organizes women into savings groups where they can participate in life-skills training, discuss social and community issues, and pool their resources for maximum and mutual benefit.
Although Antonio was excited about the initiative, his wife, Margarita, was distrustful, having known of other credit groups with bad experiences. To ease her concerns and give WE a chance to be successful in his community, Antonio asked the group to take a chance on him.
He said he wanted “to give a good example to my family, my wife and the community” by participating in the initiative and becoming a WE member. The group, fittingly named “Nueva Alianza” or “New Alliance,” accepted his proposal.
Since joining Nueva Alianza, Antonio has actively championed the group in his community, inviting several other men and women to join and realize their financial goals in a sustainable, empowering and autonomous way.
In addition to inspiring his wife to join and build her financial and social confidence, Antonio paved the way for another family member to become part of Nueva Alianza—his eldest son, Juan Marcos, a fifth grader.
By involving him in the WE group and in household chores like collecting firewood and feeding the farm animals, Antonio hopes to shape his son into a well-rounded and capable member of society.
“In addition to his study, knowing different jobs will not cost him later,” Antonio said. “He will realize how important it is to save in life.”
Nueva Alianza is one of 785 WE groups that have formed in Guatemala since 2012 through PCI initiatives funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government and private partners. To date, WE members have collectively saved more than $767,000, of which more than $309,000 has been reinvested in the health, education and economic needs of their communities and families.
Written by Mailin Castañeda and Maureen Simpson