”Livestock rearing was everything to me, it was the only way me and my family could survive. But everything changed when Boko Haram attacked my community. I lost my livelihood, life became very difficult and tough at that moment”, Patience recounted.
Patience, a 39-year-old mother of seven, painfully narrates her ordeal after her family was displaced as a result of a Boko Haram insurgency in her community, Chibok. She says, ‘’I saw them killing anyone that dared to come their way. We had no time to take anything from the house, so I told the children to start running. It took us more than four days to arrive in the Biu community. I did not have any way of making money, my husband and I tried all we could to feed our seven children, we could not send them back to school.”
Patience had no other livelihood skills apart from livestock raising and farming. So, she and other women in the community sought ways to get loans to start up a business to help themselves and their families. She recalls, ” It was a very difficult search for us, the ones we found made us pay huge interest rates which hindered us from realizing profits. There were no means of livelihood, not until JRS came to our aid. JRS came exactly when we needed them the most because things were already getting out of hand.”
JRS, with support from Misean Cara and ALBOAN, introduced a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in the Bui community. VSLA is a savings cooperative formed to enable displaced women to develop a savings culture and achieve an internal lending support amongst themselves. It is also a formal learning setting where new business opportunities are introduced to women to support their household income generation.
Patience attests, “JRS provided us with start-up kits and a token of 20,000 naira after the training, that was how we started.”
As a member of the Kuana VSLA, Patience found ways to support women in her community to enable them to be self-sufficient by sharing life skills and key income-generating activities like crop and livestock production.
A meeting of the Kuana VSLA in Biu.
Today, the VSLA, which started with 25-30 members, has expanded to two different groups in Biu. Women in the community are now becoming self-sufficient: with the money they save from VSLA they are more independent and can afford the capital to start up their businesses, send their children to school, and cater for their needs.
”This is very important to us because it reduces the level of early child marriage in the community,” she continues, “The men like what we are doing, and they have also formed their own group as well. Initially, I thought that the VSLA was all about gathering money and doing whatever I want with it, but JRS trained us on how to establish businesses with the money in order for us to have a steady income. At the end of the saving circle, I save more and can live better.”
The VSLA programme goes beyond being a tool for economic empowerment as the meetings are also used for capacity building. It involves using limited resources around the community to encourage savings and knowledge sharing on key income generating activities. Patience is hopeful that they are going to sustain the initiative even in the absence of the JRS, and also reach out to other women in the community.