A Woman Who’s Not Waiting for Handouts — And Proud of It

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Susan, who knows the pride of self-sufficiency through hard work, and her daughter.

A giant drawing of St. George looms over visitors to Susan’s home, but she’s not waiting for heroes on horseback to save her family. She’s taking her fate into her own hands — she’s had to, since the artist, her husband, passed away two years ago.

When I first met Susan this August, she was still grieving for her husband. But, as she says, the time came when she had to decide how to support her 8-year-old daughter.

It wasn’t going to be easy, there in her marginalized neighborhood on the outskirts of Minya in Upper Egypt. From an already hardscrabble existence, her husband’s death dropped her down even farther on the economic ladder. For Susan’s family, some necessities quickly became luxuries.

Added to the economic blow of widowhood came the restrictions imposed on her by Egypt’s male-dominated society. Expectations are that widows will stick to the home and rely on charity to survive.

Certainly, the last thing anyone in Egypt expects a widow to do is to go into business. Better, the thinking goes, that they live on handouts. Yet, says Susan, “I knew I had to do something productive.”

It was an uphill battle to scrape together what remained of her savings, borrow bits and pieces here and there from family and friends, and turn a room of her house into a dry goods store. But Susan did it.

Today, people from the neighborhood pop in for their bags of detergent and other household needs. Their small purchases earn a thin margin of profit that helps put bread on the table for Susan’s daughter.

Talking to Susan, I came to understand the pride she takes in this achievement, and the depth of her drive to succeed despite huge, huge obstacles.

It’s for people like Susan that B’edaya, Coptic Orphans’ microfinance project, exists. I’m proud that we’ve begun the process of selecting a new group of 50 mothers to receive B’edaya loans of up to 7,000 Egyptian pounds (around US$1,000).

For those who have already started a business, the money may foot the bill for improvements that offer a competitive advantage in the market. For others, the loan may be the first step towards financial self-sufficiency, and fund the foundation of the enterprise they’re envisioning.

B’edaya mothers — all of them the widowed mothers of orphans in our Not Alone program — have successfully run everything from feed stores to photography studios to home furnishings outlets.

This next round of B’edaya builds on the achievements of 30 mothers in Sohag, Minya, Alexandria, Monofiyya, and Cairo who received the most recent round of loans in 2014. So thanks to generous support from all over the world, we’re getting closer to our goal of empowering Egypt’s women through microfinance!

The next round will begin in March 2016, and the widows selected to participate will receive ongoing coaching and skills-building to ensure that they can use their loans to best effect.

We hope that all of the Susans of Egypt will apply for B’edaya’s next round, and we’re encouraging them to do so. Because as she can tell you, there’s a difference between waiting for a handout and being your own boss.

The difference is pride.

 

*Names and personal details changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the family.

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn’t afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don’t have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.