Microfinance is truly one of those things where you get back what you put into it. That's what makes it part of a transformational approach to development, as opposed to a "handouts" approach. This kind of approach is critically important when it comes to widows in Egypt. Historically, these women have experienced charitable approaches that have met their immediate needs without empowering them to break the cycle of poverty.
Every business-starting widow who takes out a loan with the B'edaya initiative commits to paying back the money so it can be ploughed back into the community. They also agree to save some of their profits to build a stable foundation for their family. In that sense, each entrepreneur is also agreeing to steer her own future, and that of her community.
Madame Nadia is one of the widows who's taken out a B'edaya loan, and she's out to prove that the headline of this update is not a typo. She's a seamstress. For the past 20 years, Madame Nadia has been supporting her family and caring for her ailing husband using a small sewing machine that she operates on the floor. She learned her trade by sewing her children’s undershirts and eventually their clothing. When her neighbors caught on to her work, she began to accumulate customers and has been making clothing for others ever since.
When her husband passed away, Madame Nadia continued to be the main provider for her family. Life didn't get any easier with the loss of her loved one, and since then she has been looking for ways to break the cycle of poverty.
That's where B'edaya comes in. With her micro-loan, Madame Nadia has purchased a new and larger sewing machine, one with a table. She has high hopes that her small business will grow.
And of course she has high hopes - otherwise, she wouldn't have taken out a loan of US$377, a large sum in her hometown of Minya in Upper Egypt. But this is the dynamic of B'edaya. It allows widows without any capital to mobilize resources for business projects that would otherwise be out of reach. It allows them to aim for a better life, in defiance of a world that arrays immense forces against them.
She's showed that she works hard and is not afraid to take calculated risks. Those are key ingredients of a successful entrepreneur. We're confident that Madame Nadia will reap what she sews, and we'll keep you updated.
“My husband use to have a photography studio together with his brother and I used to work with him. Now the brother wants to break up the partnership and open a new [studio] in a different city. He wants a sum of 4000EGP and the photography studio will only be for me.”
These were the words that widow Madame Nahed put in her Coptic Orphans Micro-Finance Project application. It was a simple plan to save her husband’s life work, and in September 2013, she was accepted for a loan and got her first check.
When our Area Program Manager met Madame Nahed two months later, she was busy. She was cutting the portraits of a young man, a customer she had photographed the previous day. As she handed him the neatly cut small square, he smiled and paid her the 10EGP ($1.44) before he was on his way. Around her, new equipment hummed: a new digital camera, an upgrade from her previous film camera, and a brand new computer screen.
While official data estimate that 16% of Egypt’s breadwinners are women, Mona Ezzat of the New Woman Foundation, says that independent sources put the figure closer to 30%. And these women brave a fierce economic market in Egypt today. Still, like Madame Nahed, so many are determined to beat the odds.
With the micro-loan from Coptic Orphans, Madame Nahed not only paid off her brother-in-law for complete ownership of the studio, but she also registered shop in her kids’ names. She even moved the studio to a better location, upgrading it with a new paint job to entice customers. Finally, she hung banners of her photographs outside of her shop as proof to her customers that she was up-to-date in her field, using programs like Photoshop. When the Area Program Manager asked her why she decided to apply for the loan, Madame Nahed replied that she was inspired because she saw an opportunity for herself to grow and to support her family. Despite the challenges --- a far commute from her home, a slumped market, and running the studio entirely along since her husband passed away four years ago--- she carries onward, forward, ready for the next customer.
“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.
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