Last week Women Empowering Women with MEDA (WEW) groups in Lancaster and the Delaware Valley met for our first meeting of 2017. Several things have changed over the past year including the addition of a new WEW group meeting in Waterloo, ON and new event spaces in both Pennsylvania locations. In our first year, the WEW network raised a total of $33,000 to support women entrepreneurs around the world including women farmers and their families in Ghana and Ukraine. We heard the stories of MEDA clients and learned how MEDA’s work has helped them reach their full potential by overcoming barriers that stand in the way of business success and sustainable livelihoods. We also learned why the unique contributions of women are key to the creation of just, peaceful and prosperous communities and economies.
The women involved in MEDA's Libya Women Economic Empowerment (LWEE) project are perfect examples of this.
We featured LWEE in our meetings last week and learned what life is like for women in Libya. We learned more about the difficulties of living in a situation of ongoing conflict and how societies often respond to instability by becoming more insular and, as a result, oppressing their most vulnerable populations. In the meetings, we had the privilege of getting to know some Libyan women benefitting from MEDA's project and how they are using their new business skills and networks to restore their war-torn communities. Through the project, women are gaining the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to improve their incomes, provide needed services and create job opportunities for other members of their community. Most importantly, they are learning to, as one MEDA Project Manager said, "clear the trauma.” The LWEE project trainings and networking events provide a safe space for women to learn about business but also to support one another and grow as individuals. The following story of a LWEE project participant demonstrates why this is so important.
Fathia Imbarka left school once she reached the elementary level, but always took pleasure in making handicrafts. She decided to take courses in sewing, embroidery and painting on glass to develop her skills.
When Fathia joined LWEE, she wanted to expand her small home-based sewing business to a store that sells traditional costumes. When she realized it was over her budget, Fathia went on to open a small beauty salon in partnership with a close family friend.
"The LWEE program made me believe in my skills and ability to do what I want. The trainers showed us how to do our accounting and finances and how to deal with customers."
Each woman provided half of the start-up costs and rented a space in the Hadba area of Tripoli. Fathia and her partner serve the customers themselves and split the administrative work between them to save on costs.
"Sewing traditional costumes is my ultimate goal," Fathia notes. "I'm getting on my feet now and saving so I can open my dream store and show people how to wear them the original way."