Imagine the sense accomplishment you’d feel at being able to buy blankets for your children when before they’d shivered on chilly nights. Furthermore, imagine being able to buy your kids a new mattress to keep them off the cold tiled floor of your home.
That’s the sense of accomplishment that Salma has — and she’s a widow who’s never before experienced economic empowerment.
Salma, a mother of two young children, lost her husband eight years ago in a traffic accident. Her troubles were compounded by health problems.
I met Salma in the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag, where up until recently, she and her family endured the brief but chilly winter nights as best they could. Her sense of what she had to put up with in life, though, has changed since six years ago. That’s when she got involved with B’edaya.
Using a small loan provided by the project, she started a hairdressing business in her home. B’edaya allowed her to develop her enterprise by buying modern equipment. With that boost, she went from having to travel to her clients, to having them come to her house for appointments.
“The equipment is what attracts the ladies to come to me,” she told me, showing off the neat wooden shelves where she stacks her hair dryer, combs, and hair care supplies.
“Salma is very wise in how she manages the profits from her business,” said Susan, the Coptic Orphans staff member who oversees Salma’s loan. Indeed, the money from styling her neighbors’ hair has purchased the new mattress and blankets that keep Salma’s kids warm at night.
This is all part of the B’edaya strategy, which emphasizes empowerment over handouts. For all of the widows who take out loans, the capital and the income it helps generate are good things. But the loan is only a catalyst — a means for Salma to harness her inner drive and latent abilities, and in the process, be transformed.
It’s especially important to focus on transformation in the society where Salma is from, because traditions about widowhood in Upper Egypt are piled on top of other patriarchal constraints. The end result is that widows are often house-bound and kept helpless. To see a widow in this situation evolve into a businesswoman, therefore, is quite extraordinary. The blankets and mattress, in this context, are the smallest wonders I can see in Salma’s home.
As is proper, B’edaya can’t take credit for this transformation. That credit goes to Salma herself. And that’s how it should be.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of B’edaya participant.