"When you economically empower a woman, she becomes stronger and more confident."
When you economically empower a woman, she becomes stronger and more confident. She takes control of her choices to earn income and claims her dignified right to support herself and her children. This positive economic and social change is the aim of ERDO’s microfinance program, the Wezesha Project. The Wezesha Project provides women who are small business owners with access to financial services they are generally excluded from because lending to women is considered “too risky” and they are not deemed important in their communities.
The following are testimonies from women who have been empowered by the Wezesha Project in Burundi:
*Name changed for privacy
My name is Marie, and I live in Kinama. I have five children; three are my own and two are orphans that I am raising in my family. I am a widow and I live with my mother-in-law.
Before I met the Wezesha staff, I was trying to support my family with a small business selling vegetables by the side of the road. I did not have much capital, and it was hard. Some days I got no profit, but when I did, I would spend it straight away on new clothes or fellowship with my neighbours.
One day, someone from Wezesha came to the street where I was selling vegetables with other women and told us about the program. At first we thought it was a scam and they were cheating us. They told us to register in groups of five women and came to visit me at my house to answer any questions I had. Two weeks later, they contacted me again and invited me to come in for training. I discovered that it was a serious project and that they were not trying to cheat me, but would really lend me money for capital.
During the training, they taught us how to run a sustainable business; not to spend all the profit, but how to save and invest, and how to provide for our families. They also taught us how to expand our businesses and look for other opportunities. The training and the new ideas have really helped me improve my business.
With the first loan, I was able to rent table space in the market rather than by the side of the road. This was important because the police chased people who did not have an official place to sell. I also increased the stock in my existing business. With the extra profit and the second loan, I bought a goat. This goat had three kids, which gave me even more income. With a third loan, I expanded my business with new items of stock that I didn’t usually sell. Before, I just sold tomatoes, but now I sell all the ingredients that go together with tomatoes to make a sauce. This means customers don’t need to go somewhere else. Now I have received a fourth loan and have opened a small shop in Kinama market. In the future, I want to get products from nearby towns to sell and expand my business further.
I also opened my own bank account, and I am saving for my children’s school fees in the future. Before, I was desperate, afraid I would not find the money to pay for my children’s education. Now I have no fear. Before, my mother-in-law would ask me for things, like special food suitable for older people, and I couldn’t pay for it. My children would ask for clothes, and I couldn’t afford them, but now I can.
I thank the Wezesha Project for their support. I don’t know where I would be without Wezesha. I hope they keep on empowering other women because there are many who are still struggling to sell vegetables on the street like I was.
*Name changed for privacy
My name is Angela. I am a Christian who attends church and a married mother of four. Before joining Wezesha, I was hopeless. I used to sell second-hand clothes, and my business capital was very little. As a vendor in the streets, I faced tough times with police because it is against the law to sell on the streets. This business was very critical since my husband was jobless. I alone had to feed and take care of the whole family and pay rent for the house.
I used to fear joining microfinance organizations for their repayment system and their action when it comes to defaults. When I heard that the Wezesha Project was a Christian microfinance program that focused on women for the purpose of supporting hard-working businesswomen who have little capital for family welfare, I felt peace in my heart. I joined a team of five trustworthy women, as requested by the project leaders, and we received training.
My life has been totally transformed. I manage a capital of $485 (USD), and I bless the Lord for that. I am renting a place in Sioni market selling different kinds of shoes. My business is sustainable. Using the profit I get from my business, my family conditions have improved. I have started building my house in Gatumba, and I can take care of my family. I can now pay the school fees for my children.
My plan for the future is to start more business upcountry by identifying different locations, such as Muyinga and Kirundi, where I can provide shoes at an affordable price. God bless Wezesha Project for the support given to women in Burundi.
Samantha Burnside is the communications and marketing officer for Emergency Relief and Development Overseas, the humanitarian agency of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The Wezesha Project is run in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To make a difference in the life of a woman and her family, visit: www.erdo.ca/ microfinance-wezesha. You can also see more stories from women in the project by following the hashtag #WezeshaEmpowersWomen.
Image ©istockphoto.com. This article appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.