Micro-finance Project in Egypt-Empower 200 women

by Coptic Orphans
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Ireney is showing her kids how hard work pays off.
Ireney is showing her kids how hard work pays off.

Ireney doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the words “take it easy,” which may explain how she’s built her business into a source of family pride and dignity.

You last heard about Ireney in 2014, when I visited her in Samalout. She overwhelmed me with hospitality then, and things hadn’t changed a bit around her livestock feedstore when I saw her this summer.

Except – that’s not strictly true. Since I last saw Ireney, she’s converted her hard work, intelligence, and B’edaya loans into more progress. She has expanded her line of animal feed, flour, and fertilizer.

There in the cool, cavernous “warehouse” that’s connected to her home, she meets customers and neighbors, closes her deals, and does one more extremely important thing: she passes on her values.

Ireney is very clear: She wants her kids grow up to be hard-working in their lives and occupations. To that end, she’s begun involving her young son in accounting and helping her with the business.

It’s important for her kids to have role models, because they’re already missing one. Ireney’s husband passed away many years ago, so her guidance is all the more crucial.

Together with a specially trained Coptic Orphans volunteer — a Church-based “Rep” who comes recommended by his bishop — she’s putting her children on the path to a quality education and solid values.

Ireney’s success demonstrates what widowed mothers can achieve with access to this type of microcredit initiative. Her goal is to grow her business because "the more I can buy, the more I can sell.”

B’edaya funds these women’s income-generating projects from the ground up until they become self-sufficient. Donations cover all aspects of the loan process from beginning to end, and the money is reinvested over and over to help multiple families.

But beyond this, there is the foundation that’s being laid for a new generation. B’edaya mothers model the behaviors that give their family dignity and their children the keys to success.

To those who’ve never been there, it’s hard to grasp what Ireney is overcoming. In Samalout, and in Upper Egypt in general, traditions severely limit widows. Many end up taking charity for life.

But Ireney is breaking this mold, with your help. Two years from when I last visited her, she’s going strong. Her kids can see it, and you can feel it — in her manner, in her frequent laughter, in the prosperity of her household.

And it’s not only her household. In March, Coptic Orphans held ceremonies around Egypt honoring 42 widowed mothers. They received a total of LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for their income-generating projects.

All of us at Coptic Orphans see these mothers as heroes. By God’s grace, and through your generosity, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.

This is a great blessing to be part of, and the Coptic Orphans family is grateful that you’ve chosen walk with families like Ireney’s.

* The name of the B’edaya participant has been changed in this instance to protect her privacy

A widow joins B
A widow joins B'edaya during the 3rd-round launch.

I wanted to share an inspiring story I just heard from one of our staff, who is visiting the villages in Egypt where your support is enabling widowed mothers run their own businesses. He told me:

I met a woman named Marina from a village near Sohag. When she was widowed three years ago, she was left alone to support four daughters.

Before her husband's death, she had been taking odd jobs tailoring clothes for friends and acquaintances. After her husband died, she started doing it full time.

In 2014, her daughters became enrolled in Not Alone, the Coptic Orphans program that works to remove every obstacle between fatherless children and their education. While the program focuses on offering the children love, encouragement, and mentoring aimed at meeting their specific needs, especially with regard to education, it also benefits the entire family.

One of the key benefits for mothers is the opportunity to become part of B'edaya, the Coptic Orphans microfinance initiative tailored specifically to widows' needs.

Marina was able to join the second round of B'edaya and obtain a loan to boost her small business. In her words, being part of Not Alone and B'edaya gave her a feeling of "stability, self confidence, and an opportunity to prove myself."

The B'edaya loan helped her to avoid having to reach out for handouts. It also meant she didn't have to work for someone else. In fact, for Marina, B'edaya "isn't just about the loan, it's about the advice, the follow-up, the guidance."

Today, two of Marina's daughters are in college. One is studying graphic design and the other studies business. Her advice for her daughters now is, "Learn a trade along with your degree; in Egypt's unstable economy, having a trade is something to fall back on."

Marina's dream is that her little home business grows into a small factory where she hopes to one day teach tailoring skills to young women, and then hire them.

This spring, Coptic Orphans held ceremonies around Egypt honoring 42 widowed mothers who received LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for income-generating projects in B'edaya's third round.

These mothers are heroes to all of us at Coptic Orphans, and by God’s grace, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.

Thank you for your continuing support, and for helping these mothers escape poverty and put their families on the path to economic self-sufficiency!

Widows receive their B
Widows receive their B'edaya microfinance loans.

I’m excited to share this important news: Thanks to your generous support, Round III of the B’edaya microfinance initiative for mothers has officially launched!  

Coptic Orphans recently held ceremonies around Egypt honoring the 42 widowed mothers who will receive LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for income-generating projects.  These mothers are heroes to all of us at Coptic Orphans, and by God’s grace, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.  

An Egyptian woman who wants to start a business faces barriers that would make Donald Trump cry. But Egypt’s widows face even huger challenges. How they dress, who they talk to, where they go — all of these are subject to scrutiny and control based on tradition. Frequently, they can’t even leave the house to work, even if their children are malnourished.  

It’s exactly these hostile conditions that B’edaya is designed to handle — the everyday life of some of the most disadvantaged widows in Egypt, particularly those in remote villages. It tailors small loans to the needs of the mothers of orphans. The aim is to give them an opportunity to generate income, more ability to feed their children, and more control of their lives.  

The 42 mothers were selected from among a pool of 143 widows whose children are enrolled in Coptic Orphans’ education-focused Not Alone program. Seven of the mothers are receiving B’edaya loans for the second time, after running and expanding their income-generating projects, and one is receiving a loan for the third time.  

“When my husband died, I felt alone and helpless. I was about to sell his photography studio, because according to the traditions in my village, as a widow, I can’t run the business and deal with the public,” one B’edaya client from Kom El Dab’, Menoufeya said at the ceremony.  

“After I enrolled my kids with Not Alone, Coptic Orphans representatives encouraged me not to sell the business, but instead to stand up for my right to work and raise my kids with pride and dignity,” she said. “So I re-opened the studio and ran the business to ensure a dignified life for my kids. With this new loan, I’m going to buy a digital camera so I can photograph weddings, which is very profitable in our area.”  

Coptic Orphans launched B’edaya Round III in March, in order to honor International Women’s Day (March 8) and Egypt’s Mother’s Day (March 21), with the following three ceremonies:  

• Ma3adi, March 4, to honor 12 mothers from Lower Egypt and Greater Cairo
• Bani Mazar, Minya, March 11, to honor 18 mothers from Middle Egypt
• Luxor, March 18, to honor 12 mothers from Upper Egypt  

The ceremonies represent the culmination of nine months of preparatory work to ensure proper planning, training, and an effective selection process. At the events, loan recipients received their checks, took part in basic financial training, and were familiarized with additional details about B’edaya. The events also provided an opportunity for the mothers to network, share experiences, and trade contact information.

Previous loan recipients appeared onstage to present their advice and experiences to the Round III participants.  “This is my second time taking out a B’edaya loan,” said a client from Ezbet El Nakhl, Cairo. “I started my first project two years ago with a B’edaya loan to sell bedding and bed sheets.”  

“Back then, I was so shy and afraid to take the risk, but the Coptic Orphans representative encouraged me and I succeeded in overcoming my fears and establishing a strong network of clients,” she said. “From the income I generated, I was able to pay back my first loan, and renovate my kitchen, bathroom, and living room. This made me feel proud of myself for the first time. I’m taking out the second loan to expand my business by adding the sale of women’s accessories. I’m much better now at marketing and communicating with my customers, so they’ve ask me to sell them these things.”  

B’edaya microloans are offered at 0% interest for 26 months, with the first six months considered a grace period for loan repayment, followed by six equal installments spaced four months apart. The loans disbursed to each recipient vary in size according to the amount requested in the application process, up to a maximum of LE7,000. The amount is also subject to the assessment of the selection committee, which is made up of the Coptic Orphans program management team.  

The LE7,000 ceiling is a significant increase compared to Round II, when the total amount of loans dispersed was LE91,000 disbursed to 29 mothers, with a maximum sum of LE4,000 and a 14-month repayment period.  

B’edaya Round III encompasses 13 types of projects ranging from selling livestock feed (4), selling groceries (11), selling women’s accessories (2), selling fabrics, bedding, and sheets (1), selling cleaning products (1), raising and selling cattle (5), raising and selling poultry (3), selling machine-sewn products (8) running a photo studio (1), selling upholstery (1), selling shoes and accessories (2), running an ironing service (1), and styling hair (2).  

B’edaya Round III activities in 2016 and beyond will include quarterly home visits to the entrepreneurial mother by Coptic Orphans staff and volunteers, who will monitor the progress of the projects and provide regular coaching.  B’edaya shows what we can do when we pull together, as a community, and set our minds on achieving dignity and self-sufficiency — not dependence on charity — for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Children who grow up in a household where B’edaya is working can see their mother in a whole new light, as a creative, hard-working businesswoman. This can make a huge difference for the whole family. I’ll keep you posted as B’edaya unfolds further, and once again, thank you for making this work possible.

All of us are grateful to God for the blessing of working alongside these strong, determined mothers. They are role models for their kids! 

Micro-loans benefit mothers and daughters alike
Micro-loans benefit mothers and daughters alike
“This [microfinance project] has had a big impact on my life; it makes me feel that I'm not a burden on my kids, and I'm able to manage my household finances and prepare for my daughter’s marriage.”
 
When Shereen, a budding small businesswoman and micro-loan recipient, said these words to our staff, what stood out was her mention of preparing for her daughter's marriage. 

As Coptic Orphans looks ahead to launching a new round of micro-loans in March, I'm struck by how her words show that just a bit of capital can change the life of a female entrepreneur. Her family members also feel the positive impact, with potentially life-changing results.

Shereen's observation particularly sticks in my mind because, with economic hardships rising sharply in Egypt, Coptic Orphans field staff have noticed a serious increase in young girls being married off early. They usually end up in that situation because families - particularly those without male heads of household, whom this project serves - can't cope with feeding "extra" mouths.

Early marriage, as anyone who's familiar with it knows, can devastate the life of a child. The repercussions for a girl's health, education, economic security, and happiness can be impossible to overcome. 

As just one example of early marriage's traumatic outcomes, a 2014 study by the American University in Cairo’s Social Research Center, in partnership with the Ford Foundation, found that 27% of women who were married before they turned 18 had been physically abused by their husbands.

So the ability to prepare for a daughter's marriage, as Shereen points to with pride, is hugely important.

Widowed mothers who are able to start or build up their small business with the micro-loans you're helping to provide are able to do something that's almost impossible without financial stability: prepare for the future.

In Shereen's case, that translates into being able to prepare for her daughter's marriage, rather than being pushed headlong into arrangements that her whole family may later regret.

These are the kinds of results we count on from the micro-loans. As important as they are to filling stomachs with food and bank accounts with savings, the biggest changes often become apparent over time. The girl who doesn't get forced into early marriage, the mother who feels her own self-worth - those are the real payoffs.

We've had fantastic applications for the upcoming round of this project, and we plan to disburse these 0% interest micro-loans to coincide with Mothers Day and International Women's Day in March. I look forward to sharing details of some of the new business projects we'll be supporting in the months ahead.  

For now, we're grateful for your support, and we continue to count on it to achieve the results Shereen speaks of. We believe in mothers who can prepare for the future, and in freeing young girls from early marriage!

Imagine the sense accomplishment you'd feel at being able to buy blankets for your children when before they'd shivered on chilly nights. Furthermore, imagine being able to buy your kids a new mattress to keep them off the cold tiled floor of your home.

That's the sense of accomplishment that Salma has — and she's a widow who's never before experienced economic empowerment.

Salma, a mother of two young children, lost her husband eight years ago in a traffic accident. Her troubles were compounded by health problems.

I met Salma in the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag, where up until recently, she and her family endured the brief but chilly winter nights as best they could. Her sense of what she had to put up with in life, though, has changed since six years ago. That's when she got involved with B'edaya.

Using a small loan provided by the project, she started a hairdressing business in her home. B'edaya allowed her to develop her enterprise by buying modern equipment. With that boost, she went from having to travel to her clients, to having them come to her house for appointments.

"The equipment is what attracts the ladies to come to me," she told me, showing off the neat wooden shelves where she stacks her hair dryer, combs, and hair care supplies.

"Salma is very wise in how she manages the profits from her business," said Susan, the Coptic Orphans staff member who oversees Salma's loan. Indeed, the money from styling her neighbors' hair has purchased the new mattress and blankets that keep Salma's kids warm at night.

This is all part of the B'edaya strategy, which emphasizes empowerment over handouts. For all of the widows who take out loans, the capital and the income it helps generate are good things. But the loan is only a catalyst — a means for Salma to harness her inner drive and latent abilities, and in the process, be transformed.

It's especially important to focus on transformation in the society where Salma is from, because traditions about widowhood in Upper Egypt are piled on top of other patriarchal constraints. The end result is that widows are often house-bound and kept helpless. To see a widow in this situation evolve into a businesswoman, therefore, is quite extraordinary. The blankets and mattress, in this context, are the smallest wonders I can see in Salma's home.

As is proper, B'edaya can't take credit for this transformation. That credit goes to Salma herself. And that's how it should be.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of B'edaya participant.

 

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Organization Information

Coptic Orphans

Location: Merrifield, Virginia - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.copticorphans.org
Project Leader:
Kirollos Barsoum
Merrifield, VA United States

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