Back in business

Back in business

11/16/17

Village savings and loan associations lend a ray of hope in North Kivu, DRC.

 

A few years ago, life was not so good for Kavira* - a 32 year old mother of five children. They were living on their own after being abandoned by their father four years ago. During that period, it was not safe for a young woman like Kavira to live alone especially with her five children in Kipese village in North Kivu Province, DRC. As in most villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), war and ethnic conflicts have raged on for more than twenty years: “Every night, I could not sleep well. I was worried about my children. I was most worried about my two daughters because of rape that happened frequently when bandits get in your house”.

 

Worsening poverty from war and population displacements            

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 1,800,000 people were displaced in May 2016 due to armed group conflicts in many areas of DRC.

“My husband abandoned us while we were in displacement. As we left our home without any time to take anything in the house, we had to struggle to provide food for our five children. So he decided to leave us and take another woman”, says Kavira. In 2006, armed conflict in North Kivu intensified. Kavira’s village was also attacked and they fled to an area about 12 miles from their village. When they returned home, life became even more complicated for them. Their house had been destroyed and the land taken by her husband’s family. Eventually the growing financial problems forced her to take her two children out of school, with her eldest being in grade two at the time and the other one in grade one. “Eating was not easy, even my neighbors and family were tired of helping us with food. My children and I were ill all the time, we were weak”, explained Kavira while shaking her head in despair. She was deeply worried about her children’s future.

 

The VSLA approach changes women’s lives and their roles

In 2011, Kavira came to know about CARE’s VSLAs in her local community, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She immediately joined a group with 30 other women and men. Through her VSLA group, she learned to save money jointly with other members and to take small loans from those savings. She also received training in gender awareness and equality in addition to the rules, regulations, functioning, and management of VSLA groups.

At the end of the first cycle, accumulated savings and loan profits are shared members. With the money Kavira received, she managed to cover her family’s basic needs, rebuild her house and send her two children back to school. By the second cycle, Kavira was able to start running a small business selling salted fish and saving her income in her VSLA group, eventually also being voted group leader by the other members.

 

VSLAs help reduce domestic violence, help keep children in school

“By using the VSLA approach, CARE seeks to empower women in micro-financing activities, reduce their vulnerabilities, support their empowerment, and increase their role in local governance structures and collective decision-making”, says Johannes Schoors, Country Director, CARE DRC.

Seeing her business become more successful, Kavira’s husband contacted her.

“He came to me and negotiated to come back home. I could not believe him. I could not even believe my ears or imagine him coming back to me as he used to say that I was not a woman but that I was only bad luck for him.” Kavira continues to explain that her children were not too comfortable with letting their father back in their home. After mediation of the two families with some involvement of VSLA group members, Kavira and her children accepted him back in their home and life became even better. “Through the VSLA group, I learned that regular meetings are a good strategy for developing positive relationships with other people. I used this same strategy in my family. At the end of each month, I organize a meeting with all my children and other members of my large family, where we exchange ideas on what went well and what went wrong during the month,” confirmed Kavira.

Kavira affirmed that, due to her contribution to their household, her husband now respects her and they now live very well as they have become self-sufficient.  She concluded by saying: “CARE has given me a spirit of leadership that has inspired me to help guide my family and reduce our suffering. I am no longer that woman nobody wants to live with. I am proud of this, and I am confident that I will continue to successfully lead my family to a better life.”

 

Originally published 6/24/16 at www.care.org.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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