The women needed instant capitalization to bring more earnings home that improve their daily lives, as well as save. Soon, 40 more traders were added, 20 of them “fish mongers,” like Marie left, who buy dried fish from fishing villages to sell in Rotifunk.
“This program can change the lives of these women,” Chief Caulker says.
“In another year, some can reach what for us is a middleclass income level, and stand on their own using capital they produce themselves,” he said. Women still come thanking him for the opportunity to grow – or pleading for the chance to be included.
A steady business, no matter how small, has a broad ripple effect on the women’s community. They spend their earnings where they live.
First, children are fed two if not three meals a day. This includes wards many women take in from village relatives so they can attend school in town. Girls stay in school longer, avoiding early marriages and dangerous early pregnancies, and gain more promising futures.
With a little savings, women can seek early medical care for kids with malaria or other diseases that take the lives of twenty percent of children under 5.
One invigorated trader is Zainab, left, who had to drop out of school at the 9th grade. She was forced into an early marriage because her family could no longer feed her at home.
Zainab was a good student. She is now selling fresh fish at the weekly market and manages her business well. She’s one of the best savers in the group. In nine months, she saved $175.
Sherbro Foundation Executive Director Arlene Golembiewski sees better prospects for Zainab and others with more training and support.
“The fact is, market trading is the main business in Rotifunk,’’ she said. There are no local wage-paying jobs. “Trading should be seen as a career opportunity, not just a default for those with no other options.”
And the market looks destined to grow soon because a neglected road between Rotifunk and Moyamba, the district capital 17 miles away, is finally being upgraded. Traffic from across the district is expected to soon pass through town on their way to the capital.
Paramount Chief Caulker and the rest of the CCET Board are now evaluating the program, planning improvements for its second year.
Adama, left, works very hard at her new opportunity. One of her husband’s two wives, she was forced to provide for her five children alone. The four oldest were married off young because she couldn’t afford to support them.
But now Adama – who walks to market with two tubs on her head — is succeeding at trading and has saved more than 1 million Leones, or $100.
At the end of the year, she withdrew her savings. It was like getting a second grant – one she paid herself.
If she and her friends could meet you, we know they’d thank you from the bottom of their hearts for providing a way to better futures with new hope.
We hope their stories bring you some joy and happiness in this strangest of years.
— Chris Golembiewski, Vice President, Sherbro Foundation
Emma Sesay used to take out a loan at a high interest rate to send her children to school. Emma is the mother of six children. Six survive of the eight she gave birth to. Getting six children through school is tough for a poor rice farmer in Mobainda village.
Arlene Golembiewski, SFSL, Emma Sesay, Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Charles Caulker
Emma was part of Sherbro Foundation’s Women’s Vegetable Growing project last year that helped her grow peanuts. Asked how the project helped her, she said, “I usually need to take loans. I no longer need a loan at high interest to pay for my children to go to school. I sold my peanuts when I needed to pay the school fees.”
Sherbro Foundation just funded a third group of women vegetable growers for the spring 2017 growing season with money raised in our year-end fundraising.
Rice farming is traditional in Mobainda village. It’s a labor intensive, taking 10 months of back breaking toil, but you make little money.
Rice farmers are often forced to take a loan from a local lender at interest rates of 50% and more to send their children to school. These informal village lenders can charge this much because villagers usually have no other option for a loan.
Lenders collect as soon as a farmer harvests. To pay off the loan, farmers are forced to sell their rice at low prices when the market is flooded with lots of other newly harvested rice.
The family then eats what’s left of the rice harvest as their staple food in the coming months, leaving little to nothing as seed for the next crop. They often run out of rice before the next harvest. It’s called the “hungry time.”
Junior high is when most children drop out of school. By this age, eating must take priority over paying for a child to continue in school.
The family may need to take out another loan just to buy rice seed to plant their next crop. And so the cycle of debt and poverty continues.
The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is starting to break this cycle of poverty.
This year’s project again supplied 75 women with 2 bushels of peanut seed, 100 lb. of rice as food before the harvest, and a drying tarp to improve their crop yield. With these supplies worth about $80 each, women are producing income double and triple what they make in rice farming. And they can continue to grow rice and fish in local rivers and streams.
Emma harvested twelve bushels of peanuts from her two bushels of seed last year. She saved a bushel as seed to plant this year. She is still doing her normal rice farming, so she could wait until the price of peanuts went up after the harvest, and then sold hers to pay her children’s school fees.
Asked how they spent money earned growing peanuts, each woman in the program immediately said, I can pay for my children’s education.
Yata Williams, left, shows the two bushels of peanuts she saved for seed from her ten bushel harvest. She said, “The project helped with many things. It solved our problem of paying school fees. There was money left to buy a market.” Yatta buys things she sells as a small front porch business or neighborhood “market.” Soft drinks, sweets, soap, cigarettes – small luxuries you’d have to travel to a bigger town to buy. The family now has a another income source.
Fula Musu Mansaray, below, in Nyundahun village joined the 2016 project and had a good harvest. She and husband, Musa, also sold peanuts to pay for their children’s education.
L to R, Lupe Bendu, village chief, Fula Musu, Chief Caulker, Musa, Arlene
They are making the most of Fula Musu’s participation in the Women’s Vegetable Growing program. They saved eight bushels of peanut seed from their harvest. They will plant four times as many peanuts in 2017 as she received last year, and grow their small business.
Fula Musa was one of eight women in the project from this small village of 25 houses.
The project will expand to cover another 20 families this spring. So every family in Nyundahun will benefit, a huge economic boost for a tiny village like this.
The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is teaching villages they can diversify their farming by adding peanuts and make more money.
Last year was a bad year for growing rice with prolonged drought and grasshoppers eating crops. Families could fall back on their peanut harvest and have some money to spare.
Before the Vegetable Growing project, a $30 bale of peanut seed was out of the reach of these women.
Now, they’re showing what they can do with this small investment and taking their first steps to self-sufficiency. It only took peanuts.