FROM abusive relationships to job dissatisfaction, the plethora of problems facing women daily might at times seem insurmountable, but at least one all-female group is hoping to make these burdens lighter for women by providing an outlet for them to vent and seek advice from others who can relate to their challenges.
As its name suggests, the Sisters United for Prayer, Healing Empowerment and Restoration (SUPHER) ministry is essentially aimed at inspiring and empowering women who feel that they are at the end of their proverbial rope. The group was officially launched in March of this year, but even prior to this, founding member and facilitator Marie Berbick-Graham said they had been offering support to women from all walks of life.
"The support is through visiting, it's through talking on the phone, it's through meeting up with people if they want us to meet up with them and encouraging them and sharing our own stories and testimonies so that we can inspire women to rise above whatever challenges they are facing," she said.
"There are other women that we call upon who are resource persons, whether it is that they bring skills, in terms of legal advice, or persons who are professional counsellors, or persons who simply have amazing stories that we know will change lives."
Members of the group do not meet; in fact, they don't even know each other personally, and Berbick-Graham said this is necessary to protect the women's identities from each other. Instead, Berbick-Graham and the group's two other founding members Marcia Wright and Marie Azan speak to the women and channel them to the necessary resource persons based on their life stories.
"I know it makes a difference in their lives. People will call you from time to time and they are hesitant at first to tell you exactly what's going on and they just need somebody to listen to them for a few minutes and then they open up," she said.
Berbick-Graham, who is a communications specialist and a mother of three, said she often shares her own story with these women and this has in fact helped them to understand that they are not alone. She said a number of the women they speak to are professionals who are experiencing emotional and physical abuse but do not necessarily want to discuss these issues with others around them.
"From my own experience, I am a professional woman and there are many things that may happen in my life and I don't want anybody to know exactly what is going on. I may put on a bright face and go out there and do my work and I am strong in that way because God is with me and giving me that kind of mental and emotional strength, but there are women who are going through a lot and they internalise it because they don't want people to know their business, maybe because of their standing in society, but later on it becomes a huge problem, because they are carrying a burden," she said.
The communication specialist is currently going through a divorce battle which has at times seemed unbearable, but as a result of speaking to women within the group and maintaining her personal relationship with God, she said she has found a sense of peace through her emotional storm.
"It (my divorce) was filed in 2010 and it is still not yet finalised. Prior to my filing for a divorce, I remembered being told me that I had to be mentally prepared for something like this and when I was told that I practically laughed it off, because I was saying to myself, 'what could possibly be so hard about this', but how wrong I was," she lamented.
She found a confidante in Wright, who was at the same time going through her own divorce. In sharing her story with All Woman, Wright said she had got married and was looking forward to a lasting relationship with her husband. "Like other women in Jamaica, you get married with all these hopes and dreams," she said.
But the relationship eventually deteriorated, and frustrated with the course of her life, she "backslid" from the church. With time, however, and with the support of others, she was able to find hope again and renew her relationship with God.
"There were some difficult situations, unpleasant situations, but He allowed me to not be bitter, because at this point in time, I still speak to my husband," said Wright.
Because two of the central focuses of the group are healing and restoration, Azan said the aim is not to help women to dwell on their past, but helping them move beyond the hurt these men would have caused them.
"We don't bash men or come together to say, 'you know what he did to me'. It is to take the women from where they are and to bring them back on their feet," she said.
Azan, who is a minister, said this is not often easy, especially after a divorce, but this is necessary for restoration to take place.
"However, you used to live before, you are almost downsized financially, and you have to make a lot of adjustments. Now it's fine if it's just a financial and material effort, but then, when it goes into the emotional part and depression sets in and other emotional ailments, this is where we come in to help to encourage the women and pray for them," she said.
Berbick-Graham said they help women who are in the church as well as those who might have no religious affiliation.
"Some women are having problems managing with their children, whether it is a problem child or they are just going through a phase where they are a single mother and they have been having issues managing their children. It could be women who are in the church, but they are not married and they are having relationship problems; it can be women who are married and are just seeking some support because of challenges that they are having with their spouses, so there are different types of women with different challenges. In each situation, what we have found is that all of these women are looking for somebody who will listen to and support them," she said.
"We develop a type of rapport and sisterhood with these women. There is no one who has ever called me once and I have never spoken to them again. There is usually some relationship that is built from the initial stage and persons will call you all the time, to the point where you begin to feel like you are a family," she pointed out.
The three founding members said they hope to assist even more women in the coming months. But Berbick-Graham said in order to be even more effective, there is a need for more resource persons to come on board to give assistance, especially those with a legal background who will be better able to provide this sort of advice to the women who benefit from SUPHER. Those wanting someone to talk to or who feel they can lend their support to the group may email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.