Exploring Gender Dynamics of CARE Rwanda’s Village Savings and Loan Programming
Bringing Hope Back to Life
Bringing Hope Back to Life
Looking around her modest one-bedroom home currently under construction, Fadwa Hassan Al Shawaf notes, “On March 8, 2011, I was selected to participate in a project with CARE. I will never forget this date because it’s when I felt like I was alive again.”
Fadwa has been struggling to provide a good life for her children for as long as she can remember, especially for her eldest son who struggles with a mental disability. The weight of this burden is evident from the cracked lines on her face, which makes her appear much older than her 41 years. She gestures to her ravaged neighborhood of Asassan Kabeera in the eastern part of Khan Younis, one of the worst hit areas during the Gaza War of December 2008-January 2009, and sighs.
“I have many skills,” she says emphatically, “I am a good dressmaker. I also do embroidery and raise chickens, doves and sheep.” Formerly a dressmaker in a factory in Israel, Fadwa once earned a good salary. She was married with four children at the time, and contributed most of her salary towards building a new house. “I even helped mix the concrete and build the columns for our home! But when the home was finished, my husband moved with his other wife into the main house and gave me a small, separate shed with just corrugated iron for the walls and roof.” She was forced to live in this one-room shed with her four children.
Fadwa eventually found the courage to divorce her husband and moved back into her father’s home with her children. To make matters worse, at that time she lost her job and only source of income due to the upsurge in the conflict, with the resulting border closures between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Like many Palestinians in Gaza, Fadwa faced unemployment, deepening poverty and increasing living costs due to the worsening economic situation of life under siege. Unable to provide for her children, her financial desperation combined with social pressure forced her to marry again. But her new husband refused to raise her children, forcing Fadwa to leave them to live with her parents once again.
Two years and two children later, Fadwa found herself filing for divorce yet again. As if nothing had improved, she was back living in her father’s home with six children, all under 10 years of age. “My family was in poverty, my father was sick and retired and unable to support us all. Our community strongly disapproved of me being a divorcee. I did not feel free to move around or do anything. I was really suffering.”
In spite of these difficult years, Fadwa was determined to find a way to provide for her children. To help make ends meet, she scraped enough together to start a small livestock farm. She was in the process of turning this small initiative into a business when she heard about CARE’s income generating project ‘Supporting Agricultural Livelihoods,’ part of CARE’s Economic Empowerment program. In response to the growing crisis in Gaza, CARE supports vulnerable women, who have the least opportunity to compete in the limited job market, with income-generating projects. The continuing violence and limitations on access to resources in Gaza have destroyed livelihoods, forcing households and individuals like Fadwa to make risky choices.
“A neighbor told me about the project, and I applied and was selected. I received three sheep, one ram and some fodder, and I received training on animal care, farm management and financial management. The project gave me the strength to confront my situation and really take care of my children.”
Building on CARE’s support over time, Fadwa was able to increase her number of sheep. She recently sold five sheep and is currently expanding her rabbit farm. She now also raises pigeons and chickens, as well as selling some of the livestock on the meat market. She also sells sheep milk to make cheese and yogurt, staples of the Palestinian diet. Fadwa meticulously records every detail of her business, both financial and other in a blue notebook. She explained that, “It is very useful for me to know what I buy and sell, and what my expenses are so that I can follow my financial status and revenues”.
Because of the farm, she has been able to start building a home for her family. Fadwa proudly explains, “I was able to save $1,070 of profit so far, and have used it to start building a small home of my own. I had always dreamed of owning my own home where I could live with all of my children together, and I’m finally able to build one.” First, Fadwa was able to build a room for her and her children using second-hand tiles, and then she managed to build the first stages of a bathroom and kitchen. “The next step is to finish the kitchen and bathroom,” she states proudly.
Little by little, with each dollar saved, Fadwa is meeting her family’s needs and investing in a home for their future.
The farm has given Fadwa’s family a source of both food and income, and just as importantly, it has given her confidence in her abilities. “I feel stable and powerful. I don’t need any more emergency projects to help me. Now I can expand my farm activities and rely on myself to take care of my children.”
With eyes full of determination, Fadwa says that her dream is to expand her farm and continue providing for her family. “I want to thank all the CARE staff, from the lowest employee up to the highest; this project brings my hope back to life.”