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.
B’edaya (Arabic for “with my own hands”) has gained sustainability in 2012 as the culture of entrepreneurship has spread from training workshops for widowed mothers into the very culture of 400 village-based volunteers who visit the homes of orphaned families.
So what does that mean? Here’s an example that should show how the effects of B’edaya are spreading beyond its implementation periods.
In the village of Deir Reefa in Assuit, village volunteer Mariam was a part of B’edaya during the 2011 cycle. Since then, she has kept her eyes open to find widowed mothers with the greatest potential to generate their own income.
One of those was Hala. Through a Coptic Orphans partnership with the local NGO, Assuit Businessman’s Association, Mariam connected Hala to micro-credit grant funds beyond the B’edaya budget in her area.
Hala got a loan for 1,000 Egyptian pounds to start a convenience store in her village. There were other stores in her area, but because of her strong relationships with others and shrewd eye for scouting deals around the village to create a wide-ranging inventory, she was able to overcome the stiff competition and attract more customers than the stores around her.
At the beginning, she began by selling candy bars and staples such as soap, sugar, and tea. Eventually, she was able to buy a refrigerator and freezer that enabled her to add meats to her stock. She also started selling rice, pasta, phone cards, and oil to the village.
Hala has paid back her loan in full, and now has 3,000 Egyptian pounds in capital. Her income ranges between 400- 500 pounds every month, compared to the standard Government widow pension of 13 pounds, on which she struggled to feed her family before.
The most remarkable thing is that she has done all of this within nine months.
In a village culture that expects widows to wear black and stay at home, she has become a highly visible example of an industrious, independent business woman not only among other widows, but to all the women of her village.
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