December 6, 2012 — For nearly 10 years, many women in West Africa have been meeting together to pool small amounts of their income and invest in each other’s small businesses.
But when drought wiped out their crops, it also threatened to wipe out the capital these women had worked so hard to save.
Brenda works with women in a microfinance program in West Africa.
Thanks to food from World Renew (formerly the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee), these women were able to leave their savings untouched and still feed their families.
“In times of disaster, there is always a concern that those with small businesses will deplete their capital,” said Hans Helleman, who serves with his wife, Henni, as international relief managers with World Renew in West Africa. “When it comes to providing food for your children, there really is no other choice.”
Brenda, a World Renew program manager in West Africa, is familiar with the situations the women face. Some are widows. Others are raising families while their husbands look for work. All want to support their families and send their children to school. The microfinance program was helping them stay solvent.
The women would meet weekly and contribute small amounts of money. As the savings increased, the funds would be matched by a World Renew partner organization, and group members would begin to take out small loans to purchase supplies or equipment for small business activities.
As a woman’s income increased, she would repay the loan and the pool of funds would grow.
But when severe drought struck earlier this year, causing food prices to skyrocket, all that changed. The women needed loans simply to purchase food. Because these loans wouldn’t be invested, the women would struggle to repay them and the entire program was threatened.
With this in mind, Brenda and the staff of World Renew’s partner proposed that the 226 participants in the microfinance program receive two months of food rations, thereby protecting their capital and enabling them to continue with their businesses.
“One lady told us, ‘When we get help, we must help others,’” said Henni.
The biggest surprise came in the form of increased interest in the program.
“At the food distributions, many community women came and began to talk to group members,” Hans said. “Soon more women were realizing that they could support their families by the profit of businesses that they ran themselves.”
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed or withheld for security reasons.