Action: No ordinary woman

You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm a liar. And that the improbable account you're about to read is a fairy tale dreamt up after another sleepless night (yes, my baby son detests night-time).

But it's not. And that's what makes Joyce's story all the more incredible.

It began with a 30-year-old mum of five. She achieved a record-breaking three treks around the world. She adopted an orphan boy, addressed the world's most powerful leaders, saw her community battle malevolent spirits up a mountain and rounded off with a visit from the BBC's Songs of Praise.

Joyce is no ordinary woman.

And yet in her village, diocese and country there are many, many other women, men, young people and grandparents who daily complete outstanding feats just like she did. And they do this just to survive.

Where it all began

I first met Joyce in 2004. Her two-room home sat comfortably in the dusty village of Uhambingeto, Tanzania. Out of it poured her five children – two girls, two boys and an adopted son – to welcome me.

"We have been living here since I was born," Joyce said with a smile.

For someone who'd never travelled more than 20 miles from her birthplace, Joyce seemed remarkably aware of the world she lived in. As we talked, she shared her perceptions on education, the local economy – even what the UK government could do to assist her country.

This impressive grasp of Uhambingeto's situation could be traced back to the day Christine first arrived.

As Development Officer for the Diocese of Ruaha Integrated Development Programme, Christine drove through scrub and bush to reach this detached rural village.

"The people had never seen a Land Rover," Christine explains. "Slowly we built relationships of trust with the villagers."

A road, a clinic and water…

Christine mobilised the people and a road was created. Funded by Tearfund, a dispensary was also built and staffed.

The impact of this was huge: pregnant women no longer had to cycle 10 miles to the nearest hospital; children could be treated for malaria and diarrhoea; villagers education about HIV and Aids.

As I talked with Joyce she explained how, for 25 years of her life, she has left her home at midnight to make a 14-mile round trip. Carrying 18 litres of water in a bucket on her head, Joyce would journey back home, arriving at 10 each morning. In total, she had walked more than three circuits of the globe to keep her family alive.

Then, with funding from Tearfund, the Diocese suggested a water pipe.

Up the mountain

Towering over the village stood Uhambingeto mountain from which flowed several springs. Village tradition stated that anyone who set foot on the mountain risked inciting the wrath of the spirits who dwelt there – and bringing great misfortune upon their family.

After fervent prayer and much persuasion, Christine led a group of petrified villagers up the mountain. "Halfway up I stood on a rock to rest," she explains. "I felt someone push me off but there was no one behind me."

Christine felt her landing was ‘cushioned' and stood up, unharmed. She prayed, and claimed the mountain for the villagers' use.

Water piping, paid for by Tearfund supporters, was laid along with a collection tank. The day water first flowed through the village tap was the last day Joyce walked 14 miles for water.

"Impossible things are happening in my village," she says. "We have clean water and a clinic. That gives me hope in the Lord for our future."

Songs of Praise

So impressed were the BBC by Joyce that they sent a film crew to meet her and tell her story. From there, through a recorded message, she addressed a crowd of 225,000 marching through Edinburgh before the meeting of the G8 in June 2005.

With the eyes of world leaders fixed on Edinburgh, Joyce said: "If I could talk to the heads of the G8, I would ask them to put themselves in our shoes – not able to send our children to school."

Hope for the future

Tearfund's work in Joyce's village has made further development possible. Thanks to the water supply and dispensary, the government has chosen Uhambingeto as the site for a secondary school – bringing Joyce's hope that her children will be able to attend secondary school one step closer.

"I believe that the Lord is with us," Joyce says. "I just look back to the villagers and some of the things that were impossible to happen, but now they are happening. I have been given hope that through relying in the Lord, one day he will answer even the more difficult prayers – especially the education of my children. The Lord is in control for our future."

For more information about Tearfund call 0845 355 8355 or go to

Steve Adams is a writer with Tearfund.

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