How Microfinance Changed One Woman’s Life

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How Microfinance Changed One Woman’s Life

Goretti Nyabenda Shares Her Story

Readers of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's bestselling book Half the Sky might recognize the name Goretti Nyabenda: she was profiled in the book as an example of an empowered woman who was able to transform her status in her community, her economic situation, and her relationship with her husband after joining a CARE village savings and loan group in which she pooled her savings and took out a loan from the savings group to start her own business. At the 2010 National CARE conference in Washington, D.C., Goretti was the recipient of the "I am Powerful Award," which honors a woman who has worked with CARE programs to change her own life and the life of her family and community. IMOW's Vice President of Programs and Exhibitions Catherine King spoke with Goretti about what she has learned from microfinance.
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Goretti Nyabenda talks about the struggles she endured and overcame to become CARE's 2010 Recipient of the "I am Powerful" Award.


Goretty Nyabendi on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, August 2009
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David Snyder/CARE
Goretti with IMOW's Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs Catherine King View Larger >

This is the story of how economic independence changed Goretti Nyabenda's life, starting her down a path to owning a small business, providing for her family, and earning the respect of her husband.

Goretti lives in Burundi, Central Africa. As a 35-year-old mother of 6, Goretti's life consisted of cooking meals, taking care of her children and staying quiet. When she wasn't doing chores, her relationship with her husband took its toll on her as well; he rarely spoke to her and frequently beat her. Always required to ask her husband's permission to leave the house, and usually denied, Goretti describes herself back then as "sad and alone." While struggling to survive on her family's meager income, Goretti did not think she had the authority to tell her husband to stop spending 30% of their earnings on banana beer at the local bar three times a week.

One day, Goretti's mother-in-law told her about a CARE savings program that helped women pool their own savings--sometimes as little as 20 cents per week--and then provide loans to each other. Defying her husband and leaving the house without permission, Goretti and some women in her community went to learn more about the program, and decided to start their own village savings and loan group with the non-profit organization CARE, which aims to end global poverty with a special focus on women. Started in 1945, CARE has been helping poor communities in 72 countries globally, including Burundi.

With help from CARE and with the combined resources of her new business partners, Goretti started her own banana beer stand-the very stuff that her husband so frequently wasted their money on. Goretti's business took off quickly, and she began earning enough income to provide for her family, send her daughters to school, and pay for her husband's medical bills. Not only that, but Goretti finally gained some of the respect she deserved from her husband, who now allows her more freedom and who has even begun to help her with her business ventures. 

Goretti is now seen by her community as a "husband-tamer" and a smart businesswoman. She says "I am now respected by my husband and the community respects me, they ask me for their help. Other women ask me for credit."

Since joining CARE's program, Goretti has not only become an inspiration for other women in her community, but she serves as a prime example of how economic security can provide the right kind of aid for women and their children and even have a positive effect on marriages. She was profiled in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's "Half the Sky", appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine issue about women's rights, and, in her first international trip, flew to Washington, D.C., to accept CARE's "I Am Powerful" award, which honors a woman who has worked with CARE programs to change her own life and the life of her family and community.

Goretti says that she is most proud of "bringing something to the community and increasing communication between husbands and their wives." She adds, "I would like every woman to go ahead and come out of a life of violence, for women to have solidarity amongst themselves. Women need to be open-minded and speak out about what they think. My daughters have started to speak out, too. For example, I am abroad now traveling for this conference and my husband is taking care of the home and the children."

As for her future, she says, "I opened my own account in microfinance and I now have two businesses: I still produce banana beer because it is popular with the men and sells very well," she laughed, "and now I have a small shop."

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