Loans for Life

Christine's photos tell the Congolese micro-enterprise story so beautifully that I just want to add a few words of introduction. Hekima, the World Relief micro-enterprise project empowers 11,000 Congolese people (mostly women) to earn a living through small businesses: selling items like rice, potatoes, cornmeal, fabric, shoes, even spare auto parts! Forming community groups of approximately 40 members, the women guarantee each other's loans and hold each other accountable for saving a portion of their weekly earnings. The women receive loans from $50 to $1000, based on their past business success and level of savings. Loans are made in 16-week cycles; if a woman repays her loan within 16 weeks and saves consistently, she receives a larger loan for the next cycle.

We visited one micro-enterprise group—the women named the group "Miracle"—on the day the new loan cycle began. The forty women (and one man!) met together in a local church building. As each woman's name was called she came forward, signed her loan contract with two group members as witnesses, and received her designated cash loan. It was one of the most beautiful ceremonies of empowerment I have ever witnessed.

That same day we visited another community group named "Courage." While I interviewed one of the women in the group—a widow whose family was completely transformed through the Hekima program—Christine took photos of each of the remaining women in the group. The next morning on Christine’s computer we enjoyed an extraordinary slide show of beautiful, laughing, light-hearted Congolese women. You can see a few of those photos here, but we'll post more in the future.

I wrote in earlier blogs about the prevalence of rape in the Congo. When we asked the women in these community groups how many women in the groups had been raped, they replied, "None. We have our trading businesses so we don't have to go out in the woods to collect wood where the rapists hide. Our business income allows us to stay safe."