Cash and the family goat: Sifa’s story of survival

DR Congo, May 17, 2016

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  • When Sifa was forced to flee her home, all she had to her name was the family goat. With Mercy Corps' help, Sifa was able to invest in her home and restart her small business. Photo: Sara Murray/Mercy Corps

The threat of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of life’s constants. After a brutal civil war from 1998-2003 that killed five million people, the country is still mired in fighting between the government and various rebel groups.

When the violence came to Sifa’s village last year, she knew what she had to do. The single mother gathered her four children, the family goat and ran — just as she had done several times before. She and tens of thousands of others headed toward a displacement camp in Goma, the capital city in eastern Congo, which has become a maze of camps for displaced people.

“We left very quickly for Goma when the fighting reached the village,” said Sifa. “I thank God that we had a goat to take with us — that saved our life. In the camps, we had nothing.”

Sifa sold the goat for some money to help her family survive. Because she had no bank account or access to any savings, the family goat represented Sifa’s entire life savings. And without it, she would have had no supplies or food to provide for her children until they could return home.

Thankfully, Sifa and her children were able to return to their home in Mujoga. But they’d lost nearly everything, and because she had to sell her only asset — the goat — just to survive, Sifa had no way of starting over.

That’s where Mercy Corps’ cash assistance comes in. Not only does it help families through emergencies so they don’t have to sell off their assets, it helps after the crisis to get people like Sifa back on their feet.

The critical difference between a goat and cash is the flexibility — having a more liquid form of financial security allowed Sifa to make her own choices and invest where she felt she needed to most. And of course, she didn’t have to spend it all at once.

Sifa bought basic household items, some small livestock and also restarted her small business selling cooking oil. Now, she is rebuilding her life, providing for her children and planning for the future.

Sifa’s story is not unusual. Through our work in DR Congo and other challenging places around the world, we’ve discovered that cash assistance is often a more effective solution than handouts of food or other items.

When people receive cash assistance, they are able to determine their needs and make their own choices. In areas of violent conflict and displacement, the ability to make those choices can help a family regain the dignity they have lost in their suffering.

While we look for opportunities to help people around the world with cash assistance, our team in DR Congo has been studying exactly how to provide that assistance most effectively.

There are three different ways that we can provide assistance: physical cash, an e-voucher system or mobile money. Our new study examines how those three ways differ and makes recommendations for the best way to help the most people. Read the study to find out more ▸