Hadja becomes an entrepreneur

Central African Republic, December 20, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Badawassou Aleka/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Hadja and one of her daughters. Photo: Badawassou Aleka/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Badawassou Aleka/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Hadja has improved her business — and her family's life — since joining a Mercy Corps-sponsored Village Savings and Loan program. Photo: Badawassou Aleka/Mercy Corps

Hadja Adama is a participant in Mercy Corps’ Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in the city of Bouar, Central African Republic (CAR). Before joining a VSLA, Hadja had never engaged in commerce, and had never had an opportunity to generate her own income.

Hadja is married and the mother of ten children, and her husband had always supported the entire family by paying for food, clothing, health care, schooling and other expenses. Until recently, he was a successful small-scale miner and salesman, but his business began to fail and he was no longer able to support the family.

Life became very difficult for the family, and Hadja felt obliged to join a traditional savings group called “Kelemba” with other women in her neighborhood. They tried this system for a while, but after a few months the club fell apart because some members did not respect the rules and failed to contribute to the pooled funds once they received their share of the group's income.

That is when Hadja and 22 other women joined Mercy Corps’ VSLA program, creating a new group whose name means “Solidarity” in the local language. They received training by Mercy Corps on the VSLA methodology and, within one month, they began saving as an association.

“My life has completely changed ever since we began our new savings and loan group," Hadja told me. "In the beginning of the program, I requested a loan for about $600 which allowed me to sell corn flour. This marked my first attempt to engage in commercial activities, and I was successful enough to repay my entire loan within one month.”

Today, group members continue saving and lending without Mercy Corps’ assistance, and continue to take out larger and larger loans. “We are able to manage our association independently because of the support we received from Mercy Corps,” Hadja explains.

“In this second cycle, I took a loan of $430 to expand my business. I bought eggs and apples in Cameroon and sold them in Bouar where the prices and demand are very high. My business was very profitable; for example I bought one apple for about 20 cents and re-sold it in Bouar for about 80 cents.

"Now I am able to support my family, help my husband invest in his business and even support my parents. My dream is to open a shop and employ a manager to oversee the shop, allowing me to start a new business and continue creating new enterprises across the area.

"I am much more independent as a result of my experience with our village savings and loan. I am much more useful to my whole family; I can buy food and clothing for my family and pay for my children’s schooling. I even give money to my husband which I never believed I could do. I am very happy and proud that today I can support my husband as he did for me in the past."