Before the Project: I used to be a National Champion in academic rowing. When I finished my education, I moved back to the Zaporizhzhya oblast to work as a kindergarten and gym teacher, but I felt that there was no room to grow in this field. When my greatgrandfather moved to Zaporizhzhya years ago, he said he was “bringing his family to abundance” and I feel as though it is the wish of my ancestors for me to work this land! A friend told me about the many opportunities of the Project. I took it as a sign to start cultivating medicinal herbs, which had always been a part of my life as a child, athlete, and caretaker.
“I am successfully managing a working group of 35 experienced embellishers who I link with different buyers and get orders from them,” says the emphatic 45-year-old, Farida Yasmeen.
A year ago, Farida was grappling with life’s misfortunes when she lost her husband in a suicide attack. Every year scores of people lose their lives in heinous attacks on communities leaving those who’re left behind without a sustainable source of income. Soon after, tragedy befell once again and Farida’s two children succumbed to diabetes. In an attempt to pick up the pieces, she migrated from Peshawar a few months ago, and now lives in Kanju Chowk, Mingora.
She is a 27-year-old woman who lives in a remote area within Upper Dir - Batal Bala, a small village situated on a harsh, hilly terrain. Her name is Bakht Bibi, and a perfect life, with no worries of tomorrow, is a distant dream for her and her four children. The 2010 flash floods washed away Bakht Bibi’s only source of income: the medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) she collects in the wild as well as her collection tools. With no money and no means to stand on her feet, she felt helpless.
Ma-ion Akosie is a lead farmer in the far northwest corner of Ghana participating in MEDA’s GROW project. A couple of years ago her husband died, leaving her and her six children to support themselves. This past year she grew nine 50-kg bags of soybeans despite poor rainfall. She is excited because even with a poor growing season, she achieved her best year ever using the right seeds, inputs, and technical assistance. She desires to give her kids the opportunity to become educated and sees her participation in GROW as the best way to achieve that. She is in the process of selling her soybeans and despite already receiving an offer to sell them at a good rate, she is exploring her options with other potential buyers as well.
Anorboy Piremqul presents a cautionary tale of how credit can go wrong if not administered well. As head of a collective farm a decade ago, he signed a group loan for 70 farm members to invest in an irrigation system. A corrupt government official confiscated the property and it was not returned. Anorboy fought in court but was forced to repay the group loan because it was all in his name. After three years and selling off assets like his house and some land, he paid off the sum and was debt free. Much of his income is from agriculture, but he and his family also depend on the migrant remittances that his son sends from Russia.
Samehon Naviev lives in Isfara, Tajikistan with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and daughter. In addition to farming, he is the accountant for the collective farm in his area and his wife works as a seamstress. Despite these activities, they depend on agriculture for almost three-quarters of their income. Though the land reform process has not yet happened in his area, he has access to land for farming. He shares six hectares between 6 people. They work together to plant and harvest wheat and apricots. If they wanted to turn away from cultivating wheat the group would have to agree to present a letter to the committee and they would decide to accept the petition or not. The state used to help with farming inputs, but does not anymore. There are few people left to work the land because they've all gone to seek employment elsewhere, mainly in Russia. Rising costs of input and labour are making it increasingly difficult for his group to profit from the land.
Trader Ranow Mirzoeva has seen ups and downs in her business over the years. She used to import goods from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan, selling it to retailers and making up to USD 1000 a week. During these years of plenty she learned to drive, becoming one of the first female drivers in her district. She noticed the timesaving benefits of going to and from Uzbekistan with her own truck. However, her livelihood was put at risk when the Tajik-Uzbek border was closed in 2010. Unfavourable relations between the two countries made a huge dent in her income. Life at home isn't easy either. Ranow claims to stay with her husband only for the sake of their children. She says, "He's not successful and has a hard character." Her husband, traditionally the breadwinner in Tajik society, sat at home and didn't provide for his family. This was what motivated her to do something.
Hafiza lives in Kanibadam, Tajikistan with her husband and four children. In what was still Soviet times, she graduated from secondary school and after she was married, went to work on a collective cotton farm with her husband. As her family was growing quickly the support from Soviet Russia was suddenly swept away with the collapse of the USSR. A few years later, things had degenerated to the point where Hafiza and her husband were compensated in apricots, the primary fruit of the region. They were forced to work for a product for which there was no ready market. Those were hard times, as she had many small children to feed in a tiny house. Describing their situation Hafiza says, "It was like slave labour, we had to work hard but weren't getting paid in useable tender."
A woman contracting in the glass bangles sector in Pakistan reports that previously her husband did not want her to even look out the window. After participating in MEDA's Pathways and Pursestrings project, Reshma's success has changed her husband's attitude. Now that he sees the benefit of her work, he is comfortable with her attending the monthly group meetings. Reshma, the glass bangles contractor, observes, "Almost everyone here is of the opinion that women should be locked up at home like show pieces. But one needs to overcome that to move forward. I have left that behind without fear."
Saleem Bukari is a social entrepreneur. But this wasn't always the case. She lives in an isolated and conservative village in Pakistan with her husband and five daughters. For years she made a small income embroidering fabric that her husband sold in the local market. In 2004 Saleem joined a MEDA training course, called Behind the Veil, to become a sales agent. She began bringing the embroidery of her neighbours to the market, which required her to leave her home and travel to Karachi, the nearest large city market where higher value was placed on these products.
The Pathways and Pursestrings project focused on increasing the income women earn from the work they were already doing within their homes. The project was based on the premise that with greater economic resources, women would gain more value within the family and community, improving their status and expanding their control over the income they earned and increasing their participation in family decisions. These results have been achieved. The project's independent evaluation team concluded, "The assumption that improved economic well-being leads to relatively stronger social and even political capital (defined as the power to influence decisions) seems to hold true on this project." Critical to pushing beyond the initial gains experienced by these women will be their ability to build on these successes. Money in their hands provides women the opportunity to take additional steps in creating the social, legal, and cultural changes they want to see.
Marcia is a long-time client of MiCrédito, a local microfinance institution, in the rural area of Teustepe. Marcia has been running a pulperia (small store) based in her home for over 30 years.
Marcia is currently using MiCrédito's debit card and savings account product, offered in partnership with BAC, one of the largest regional banks in Central America. This initiative is part of MEDA's TechnoLinks project which aims to use technology to increase access to financial services for MiCrédito clients in Nicaragua. Marcia has never had a debit card before, so it has taken time for her to become comfortable using the product: "At the beginning I didn't like the card. I liked having money in cash, but now I am used to the card and will go and take out money when I need to buy things."
Johnny is a father of four and the owner of a photography business in Managua, Nicaragua. A client of local microfinance institution MiCrédito for two years, he recently received his Banco de America Central (BAC) debit card.
As part of MEDA's Techno-Links project, MiCredito offers members faster loan approval times, savings accounts and more efficient disbursement of electronic loans. These benefits are especially valuable in areas where basic financial services and bank branches can't be easily accessed.
Pablo Arlejo Arquil Lopez has been a loyal MiCrédito client for the last three years, running a store in the rural community of San Jeronimo in Teustepe, Nicaragua. Pablo sells rice, beans, flour, and more recently, solar panels.
Pablo is just one of MiCrédito's partner distributors in Teustepe. Rather than providing solar panels directly to clients, MiCrédito is offering its clients the opportunity to expand their businesses and make a positive impact on their communities by becoming local providers of solar products.
Through support from USAID, MEDA is establishing a Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development program in Libya. Women face numerous obstacles in the business sector, from accessing credit and markets, to cultural restrictions and a lack of business expertise or encouragement for innovation. The SME program offers training in capacity building, coaching and mentoring for women entrepreneurs to better equip them in growing their own businesses.
Baala Ajara has many titles. She is a mother, a wife, a seamstress, a farmer, and a businesswoman. Recently she added best soybean farmer in the Lambussie/Karni district to the list.
Based on the criteria of record keeping, acreage cultivated, and farmer adoption and contribution towards agricultural extension, Ajara was nominated by MoFA (Ministry of Food and Agriculture) as the 2013 Best District Soybean Farmer on the 29th Farmers Day Celebration. She received a bicycle, two machetes, a pair of Wellington boots, a bar of key soap, a certificate, and two sacks in prizes.