“I will buy 100 hens that weigh 1KG, two sacks of corn and five drinking containers. I will let the veterinarian [oversee] my poultry but I will buy the medications. The hen lays eggs after two months so I will have at least 50 eggs every day. I will sell the eggs for 25 EGP per day. That is 750 EGP per month. [My family] Mariam and Samiha will help me and I will sell the eggs to the merchant.” ----Ekbal
It begins like this: a dream, a plan. In their applications to our B’edaya Program, each mother outlines her project idea. She imagines the kind of change this small business will bring to her life and the kind of support it will bring to her family. At Coptic Orphans, we empower each participating mother to bring her dream to reality: by providing an interest-free, micro-finance loan and helping her to develop a sustainable form of income. As of this month, Ekbal’s project is underway. She has already purchased the chickens, their medicine, and containers for them to drink. She’s consulted a veterinarian. And, she has already separated the larger chickens from the smaller ones to protect them and elongate their life. Now she waits for them to grow, produce eggs, and finally, make a profit! It is a small beginning to another beginning.
In September 2013, Coptic Orphans began another 18-month cycle of the B’edaya Program. Despite security concerns and Egypt’s contemporary political turbulence, a total of 30 mothers have received their loan checks and started their businesses. In Upper Egypt, 12 projects are up and running; Middle Egypt boasts 9; and both Greater Cairo and Lower Egypt proudly host another 9 small businesses combined. The projects include a photography studio, a small upholstery services, 5 grocery kiosks, two beauty salons, and 6 others like Ekbal’s ambitious enterprise: raising small farm animals for profit.
All it takes is some seed money. That is it. And that is how change begins.
Shadia had no savings and only seven Egyptian pounds (about $1 USD) in her pocket. She was an illiterate widow living with her only son in Alexandria. What could she do with that money?
For seven Egyptian pounds, she could buy bread for four days. Or, she could spend it all on one meal of beans or lentils.
But Shadia had her eye on something much more valuable: she wanted to educate her son. She needed that money —and much more — to pay his school fees.
So here is what she did.
She applied for a microcredit loan to start a mini-mart in her small village. When her application was approved, she gained access to resources that empowered her to start and run a successful business. Shadia can't forget the first day villagers swarmed her store to to buy their staples. Through this small project, Shadia took her first sturdy step towards financial independence earning about 200 pounds a month.
This project turned life around for Shadia and her son. It was the perfect choice.
The truth is that there are countless widows in Egypt barely scraping by. Many have the creativity to do a lot with a little, but they still need that extra bit of help that will lift themselves and their children out of poverty.
In Iman’s village near Assuit in Southern Egypt, it is not considered acceptable for a woman, let alone a widow to start a public business. But for Iman, depending on someone to support her family was not an option.
Since her husband’s death, Iman had struggled to provide the basic necessities for her family. She rarely had money left for the books and uniforms that her daughter, Mary, needed for school. When Iman applied for a loan to start her own project and began participating in the trainings offered things changed. She started gaining the skills and resources she needed to become a self-sufficient provider. Soon, she was ready to start her own business.
Iman set up a makeshift stand with crates for selling vegetables in front of her house. One by one, Iman’s neighbors started to accept the situation. Soon, she was earning enough income to support Mary’s education. But it wasn’t long before Iman recognized an opportunity for growth.
Her strategy involved a simple blue wheel-barrow that she purchased with the support of Coptic Orphans. Now she doesn’t sit around waiting for customers to come to her. Each day, Iman walks the small streets of Manfalout, pushing a load of fresh coriander, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips, and other vegetables. Her door-to-door service gives her a strong advantage in the local vegetable market.
Iman started saving money to use for medical expenses and other needs. Having savings means that Iman and her daughter, who previously lived hand-to-mouth, are now better prepared for whatever life hands them.
Through your support, many widows like Iman, are gaining financial independence.
Our B'edaya* projects help fatherless households gain self-suffiency they lost with the death of their provider, in a country with little support for female-headed households.
Here is a story from one mother we have helped take charge of her family's livelihood.
In 2001 Om Youssef’s** husband died of Meningitis leaving an illiterate wife with 2 helpless children. Om Youssef vowed that her children will get an education no matter the cost. She was willing to do whatever it takes, but did not know where or how to start. B’edaya helped Om Youssef start raising livestock, and to date she has made 450 Egyptian Pounds in income all while paying back her loan in full. That's about 6 times the government widow pension that Om Youssef and her family had to live on before.
*"B'edaya" is Arabic for "with my own hands."
**"Om" is Arabic for "mother of." In Egypt, it is common to refer to women by the name of their oldest sons.
Inflation and insecurity have driven Egypt's markets to become more local, and more focused on the basics. The result has been hard-hitting for Egypt's widowed households, who already struggle for life's necessities. But the new, more informal local economies has also opened up new market opportunities for household businesses who could not compete with larger, more regional retailers before the current crises.
The Problem: Inflation, Insecurity Drive Market Changes in Egypt
The government has already begun easing Egypt's heavy food and fuel subsidies. While so far only fuel has been first, the cost of food has also already gone up. Egyptians are beginning to hoard rice and other staples as a hedge against the future. The Egyptian pound has fallen to its lowest value in eight years, and imports on grains and other necessities are increasing.
The soaring cost of transportation is putting local economies at an advantage by making it more difficult to ship goods across larger areas. Meanwhile, the lack of police presence in many Egypt neighborhoods and villages, and rising crime rates, are also shifting the economic advantage to neighborhood-based businesses. Local residents throughout the country have responded by blockading roads and forming neighborhood watches, making it even more difficult to bring goods to market from outside local areas.
The 2013 Opportunity: Widowed Mothers Strategically Positioned in New Neighborhood Economies
Inflation in the cost of food staples and fuel always hit the poor hardest, including widowed households. Yet as these changes unfold in Egypt, there is also an opportunity for widows.
Last year, B'edaya offered widows the opportunity to open small mini-marts from their homes or other places in their local neighborhoods. But it was difficult to compete with larger, more regionally connected merchants.
Widows in Egypt tend to travel much less than other groups, because of poverty and because of the social stigma of widowhood. Recent market changes in Egypt have turned this to an advantage for widowed mothers who start small grocery shops from their homes or sell livestock that they raise. These female-owned village shops are now poised to become neighborhood mainstays for daily goods in increasingly closed and self-contained villages.
Timeline for B'edaya 2013
January starts a new business cycle for B'edaya, (Arabic for "with my own hands") Coptic Orphans' microcredit program for widowed mothers in Egypt.
We are accepting applications this month from widowed mothers who will benefit from Egypt's new, more local market space in order to break the cycle of poverty and finally reach the dream of self-sufficiency for their families.
On March 25, 2013, we will choose finalist projects that will begin thereafter.
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