Check out this excellent post from our friends at the International Rescue Committee, commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence:
MAKAMBA PROVINCE, BURUNDI – For Céline Mpitabakana and her husband, Jean, saving enough money to buy a small plot of land was always a fond but distant dream. In 1993, the couple had been forced to flee their home in Makamba Province in southern Burundi as civil war engulfed the country.
After 14 years living as refugees in neighboring Tanzania, in 2007, Céline, Jean and their six children, returned home, settling in a fishing village nestled on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Like everywhere in Burundi, the memories of crisis and turmoil remained fresh. All told, more than 200,000 people were killed and one million people displaced during Burundi’s 16-year long conflict that officially ended only this year
The Mpitabakana family faced the prospect of starting their lives over with little more than what they had brought back with them from exile. Then Céline heard about a unique project sponsored by the International Rescue Committee: a local village savings and loan association designed to offer low interest loans to members of the community. Each week members of the association gather together and agree to set aside small sums of money which are then used to make loans to members. The low percentage interest payments help the group build capital in the form of shares that are paid out after one year.
Céline initially joined her local association hoping to earn enough money to support her children. She came away with much more.
She used her “share-out” from the fund to buy the small patch of land she and her husband had always dreamed about. With the money left over she opened a small store where she sells bananas, flour and fish.
At the same time, Céline and her husband took part in discussions sponsored by the association that encouraged the couple to share more equally in household decisions and work.
“My husband started asking me more questions and now he listens to what I have to say,” Céline said. “Before he just did what he liked and wasted money on beer, which made him fight with me. Now, we make decisions together.”
Tamah Murfet, who manages the IRC’s program in Burundi, said that not only did the associations support women’s economic empowerment they also played a crucial role in encouraging women to take a bigger role in decision making.
The associations also create a strong sense of community. Members meet in each other’s homes, check in when someone misses a meeting, and contribute to an emergency fund in case someone needs extra help.
A village savings and loan association in Nyanza-Lac. Photo by Nadine Ntahuba/IRC.
For Céline, being part of an association helped ease the feelings of alienation and hopelessness she felt when she first returned home. “Now all our children are in school and our souls are calm.”
To learn more about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and the International Rescue Committee’s work, visit theIRC.org/endviolence.