Category Archives: “The Widow’s Cause”

She’s Making Dignity a Family Tradition

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Ireney doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the words “take it easy,” which may explain how she’s built her business into a source of family pride and dignity.

You last heard about Ireney in 2014, when I visited her in Samalout. She overwhelmed me with hospitality then, and things hadn’t changed a bit around her livestock feedstore when I saw her this summer.

Except – that’s not strictly true. Since I last saw Ireney, she’s converted her hard work, intelligence, and B’edaya loans into more progress. She has expanded her line of animal feed, flour, and fertilizer.

There in the cool, cavernous “warehouse” that’s connected to her home, she meets customers and neighbors, closes her deals, and does one more extremely important thing: she passes on her values.

Ireney is very clear: She wants her kids grow up to be hard-working in their lives and occupations. To that end, she’s begin involving her young son in accounting and helping her with the business.

It’s important for her kids to have role models, because they’re already missing one. Ireney’s husband passed away many years ago, so her guidance is all the more crucial.

Together with a specially trained Coptic Orphans volunteer — a Church-based “Rep” who comes recommended by his bishop — she’s putting her children on the path to a quality education and solid values.

Ireney’s success demonstrates what widowed mothers can achieve with access to this type of microcredit initiative. Her goal is to grow the business because “the more I can buy, the more I can sell.”

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.

But beyond this, there is the foundation that’s being laid for a new generation. B’edaya mothers model the behaviors that give their family dignity and their children the keys to success.

To those who’ve never been there, it’s hard to grasp what Ireney is overcoming. In Samalout, and in Upper Egypt in general, traditions severely limit widows. Many end up taking charity for life.

But Ireney is breaking this mold, with your help. Two years from when I last visited her, she’s going strong. Her kids can see it, and you can feel it — in her manner, in her frequent laughter, in the prosperity of her household.

And it’s not only her household. In March, Coptic Orphans held ceremonies around Egypt honoring 42 widowed mothers. They received a total of LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for their income-generating projects.

All of us at Coptic Orphans see these mothers as heroes. By God’s grace, and through your generosity, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.

This is a great blessing to be part of, and the Coptic Orphans family is grateful that you’ve chosen walk with families like Ireney’s.

* The name of the B’edaya participant has been changed in this instance to protect her privacy

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.

‘It’s Made My Daughter Proud of Me’

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The mothers in B’edaya have more than money to smile about.

Money, money, money. It’s easy to think of microfinance only in those terms.

But the surprising thing is how our B’edaya microfinance initiative is changing lives in ways that go far beyond money.

No one explains this better than Salma. She’s the mother of a child in our Not Alone program for fatherless children. Of course, we’re constantly looking for ways to equip these mothers with the tools to achieve financial independence. B’edaya is one of those ways.

Salma was able to start an in-home grocery store thanks to a B’edaya loan. Like all the mothers who receive a loan, she’s also received training in how to plan, start, and run a small business. Today, her earnings put bread on her family’s table.

Being involved with B’edaya, she told me recently, has “meant the world” to her.

“It’s made my daughter proud of me,” were her exact words.

Salma’s words echo what I’ve heard from many others among the 30 mothers in Sohag, Minya, Alexandria, Monofiyya, and Cairo who received the most recent round of B’edaya loans in 2014.

Over and over, their descriptions of B’edaya reflect wider impacts on their lives: stronger family unity, greater self-worth, an increased sense of confidence and direction.

Salma reminds me that when you and I partner to equip these smart, strong mothers with the tools to break the cycle of poverty, the least we should hope for is financial success.

The ultimate outcome, God willing, is widowed mothers who — perhaps for the first time in their lives — feel fulfilled, valuable, and in control of their destiny.

In March of 2016, we will kick off a new round of B’edaya loans. We want to reach even more mothers in this round — a total of 50. We’re gearing up for that round, so that we achieve our goal of empowering these women and their families through microfinance.

I look forward to keeping you up to date on this exciting new round. And to everyone who’s gotten behind B’edaya, thank you, as always, for your support. As Salma says, it means the world.

*Name and image changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the participants in our programs.