The Women’s Capacity Building project is a program developed by Mercy Corps in Central African Republic. After a nine-month training on how to manage a small income-generating activity, 74 women’s associations were funded by Mercy Corps in different domains, according to their activities. Women (and some men) had certain resources, but the challenge was how to make them profitable. That is what brought Mercy Corps to set up a program to support women, train them and give them a way to contribute for the well-being of their families— as well as the development of their communities.
Micheline Mbotto, a 30-year-old mother of three children, is one of those who've benefited from Mercy Corps' training and funding.
Previously, Micheline was working with her husband in a quarry. In 2005, she joined an association called AMICAL DES FEMMES DE LA CITE JEAN XXIII, which was created in 2001. She had to contribute 3,500 Central African francs (FCFA, about 475 to the dollar) every two weeks for the tontine of the association. (A tontine is an investment or insurance plan, in which contributors pay equal amounts into a common fund and receive equal dividends and benefits from it.) According to a pre-established program for the association, she first got a loan of 80,000 FCFA (about US$150). With this money she had to buy kitchen utensils, given that the association had as its main goal the domestic autonomy of members.
“No member of the association has to borrow a kitchen utensil from her neighbor,” Micheline said proudly.
One year later, she received another loan more substantial than the first one. With it, she decided to buy her own small stone quarry.
“I could not save any money until 2009 when I attended the training held by Mercy Corps," Micheline explained. "Up to that time, I had never understood the difference between earnings and benefits. But, after the training, I was able to buy a new parcel of land thanks to the income that I saved.”
Mercy Corps facilitators taught participants like Micheline from training ten modules, which covered topics like creating an association, planning activities, preparing a budget, ensuring profitability and durability, and conducting effective financial operations.
Micheline is now a successful female entrepreneur with eleven employees. She prepares and reviews her accounts every day, according to what she has learned during the training. Her husband has gone back to school to continue his studies — a move fully supported by Micheline — so that he can take better care of his family. Micheline now provides all the food, clothes, medicine and school fees for her family. This gives her a feeling of power.
“I recently saved my brother’s life. He was in a coma when I was called on by my family to help. I paid the whole treatment and, when he got out from the coma, I felt proud. I now have a place in my family meetings,” Micheline said.
Today, her association is better organized. Members have set up new regulations: the amount of contribution is now 5,000 FCFA (about US$10.50) per member, instead of 3,500 FCFA (about US$7.40). Thirty members contribute every two weeks the total amount of 150,000 FCFA (about US$320), from which 120,000 FCFA (US$253) is given to one member as a loan. The rest is deposited in the association's bank account.
Micheline now has two sites from which she quarries stones that are used for the foundations of private houses, and by the Government and local companies for rehabilitation of public infrastructure. In addition, she and her 30 fellow members of the association have now a henhouse, which was funded by Mercy Corps after the training. The association also has other activities such as making soaps and calendars.
Many other members received loans from the association and, like Micheline, they're changing their lives for the better. “They all run their businesses with success,” she concluded.