Xiao Lihua, 38, is the leader of the Huang Ying Ling women’s self-help group (SHG)–an appointment she is still surprised by. “I didn’t know anything about it at that time,” she said. “Others selected me. I wasn’t sure why I accepted it.”
With responsibilities that include directing project activities and effectively communicating with 40 families, the role of SHG leader is not an easy one to fill. The biggest challenge for Lihua has been handling family complaints about too much farm work, which is their main excuse for not actively participating in meetings and other group activities. Many times she heard, “Why should we attend so many meetings for the Heifer project?” As leader, her job was to motivate them to attend group activities. Project partner staff commented on the low meeting participation, and Lihua, feeling helpless, considered stepping down.
Somehow Lihua was able to work through her frustration and, day by day, she grew into a very capable leader. She took every opportunity she could to learn how to improve her skills, even traveling to Beijing in October 2012 to attend the Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Training. Facilitated by Qingshen County Women and Children Development Organization, Heifer’s local project partner, the two-week workshop aimed to teach women SHG members how to broaden their vision and successfully run their own businesses.
After Beijing, Lihua was a changed woman. With confidence and optimism, she easily convinced the women in her group of the great benefits of participating in all of the activities the project has to offer. Lihua became an inspiration among the SHG members. Like them, her household responsibilities kept her extremely busy, but she still managed to complete every project assignment that came her way. For this reason, they quickly accepted her as their leader.
Her leadership skills really shined this year during her community’s International Women’s Day celebration, where she organized the livestock technology competition. Many say she will soon be elected to the Village Executive Committee.
Before the project, Lihua was introverted and quite shy. Since then, she has gone through a significant transformation. When asked about her journey to empowerment, she said, “Since you (Heifer and Qingshen County Women and Children Development Organization) are helping our village, we, as village members, must do our fair share of work, too. Furthermore, we have sufficient training to do so.”