Ice-cold orange juice crackles through my taste buds like lightning, taking the edge off the fiery Egyptian heat. Thank goodness for our relentless host, who’s deaf to our protests of “No, please don’t bother… no, really, we just had something to drink…”
Defeated by Egyptian hospitality, I settle back comfortably in a folding chair as our host, Ireney, explains how a widow like herself could beat the odds to become a prosperous trader.
It’s a vast, shady room attached to her house here on the outskirts of Samalout. All around me are great, heaped-up sacks of animal feed. A heavy handful of pellets trickles through my fingers and tickles my nose, sweet and musty.
Standing by the street door, her children bustling underfoot like loose chicks, Ireney describes how a microloan from B’edaya gave her the boost to get started as an entrepreneur.
It’s been a lot of work to break into the animal feed business, she concedes, and it’s taken her time and sweat and persistence to stay afloat. She started small, built up her inventory in the last few months, and has begun to welcome more customers. Now she sees a monthly profit – not a huge amount, but enough to cover some of the costs racked up by her three small kids.
I listen and contemplate what Ireney’s been up against. Traditions are strong here in Upper Egypt, and while some of them promote community and cooperation, others box in widows, limiting their options and even their ability to leave the house. Many mothers, lacking a male breadwinner, end up taking charity for life.
But Ireney has politely but firmly refused to follow the script: stay hopeless, stay helpless, stay house-bound.
What does she hope to do instead? Grow the business.
This is what B’edaya was meant to do.
“With my own hands.” That’s the meaning of “B’edaya,”and the program demonstrates what the hands of widowed mothers can accomplish if they have access to start-up money. As a microcredit initiative, 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.
As I listen to Ireney, I can run the numbers in my head. In the last six months, of the 29 mothers who’ve taken out loans, only one hasn’t been able to turn a profit. Bad luck with the livestock she bought. The other 28 mothers generated about 40,165 Egyptian pounds (US$5,617) as a net profit.
What were the widows able to do with their profits? I know that our team in the field has asked that very question, and the answers have come back: Buying new goods to build up inventory. Paying their kids’ expenses. Socking away cash in savings accounts.
And this in the face of power failures, soaring inflation, and other challenges. Can you imagine? These women are overcoming things each day that would give Fortune 500 CEOs various kinds of cold sweats. They’re not on the cover of Forbes. Yet. But for courage and ingenuity, they could be.
I turn my full attention back to Ireney, who’s been providing some details on the animal feed market. Probably nuances I can’t begin to grasp, but that’s OK. What’s happened here is not an organization taking responsibility for Ireney’s life. On the contrary, she’s taken responsibility for her own family, her own fate. I get a kick out of that. It’s an incredible thing to see. It’s transformative.
In my next report to you, I look forward laying out some of the obstacles that have faced widows in the B’edaya project, as well as some of the training needs they’ve expressed.
* Image and name of B’edaya participant have been changed in this instance to protect her privacy.
We feel incredibly blessed that His Holiness Pope Tawadros II will be coming in person to accept the Coptic Orphans Leading by Example award at our 25th Anniversary Gala in Canada this Sept. 28! You are invited, and if you’re not in the neighborhood, you are welcome at our Oct. 11 Gala the United States or the Nov.9 Gala in Australia! Please see the Gala details to learn about times, venues, and tickets.