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– Cecelia, Zoe Empowers Kenya
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As a young child in rural Malawi, Suki Makalani had a good life. Her mother was a housewife, while her dad worked hard to provide for the family. She attended school with her three younger siblings. The family could afford to eat regular meals, wear clean clothing and maintain a fine home.
Life changed in the blink of an eye when Suki’s father fell ill. After a two-month stay at the local hospital, he passed away. Not long after, her mother also became sick, forcing her to become the head of her household at age 14. In an effort to make ends meet, she dropped out of school to sell vegetables in the marketplace. “Community members use to mock me at the market,” Suki recalled. “They’d say things like, ‘Look at her. Her dad died and now she has to sell vegetables’. It hurt me to hear those things.”
Despite feeling alone and discouraged, Suki kept working. Her bravery and strong will to persevere powered her through the dark times, times of uncertainty and pain. She prayed for a better life, the one she remembered before her father’s passing. In 2013, she received the opportunity to create the life she envisioned when she was accepted into the inaugural Zoe Empowers Malawi program.
Suki excelled in the program curriculum and quickly bonded with her empowerment group. Her charisma and bubbly personality began to surface. One year later, in 2014, she started her hair salon naming it ‘Aunt Yankho Salon’, meaning ‘the aunt with the answers’. Her maternal nature and desire to help has led her to be a mentor to many children in her community and in the Zoe Empowers program. Profits from her salon allowed Suki and her siblings to go back to school and invest in pigs and tobacco.
Over 90% of Malawi graduates report having a savings in livestock or other assets.
By the time she graduated from the program in 2015, Suki had saved enough money to construct a new home for her mother, whose health had improved, given Suki’s ability to provide regular nutritious meals and medication. She completed her secondary education and went on to college at Lilongwe Technical College, in the country’s capital city located about one hour from her home village. To avoid the cost of on-campus housing and to keep her salon business growing, she commuted back and forth for two years.
Suki received a degree in Rural and Community development in 2019. She is proud to now call herself a college graduate. In the same year she also added onto her business by opening a cosmetic accessories shop right next door to her salon business. Her two businesses require the help of one full-time employee and all three of her siblings.
In 2019, Zoe Empowers Malawi staff agreed to bring Suki on as an intern. Her outgoing, positive spirit and love for life is apparent in every ounce of her being. The continuous cluster of community members gathered around her salon or shouting their well wishes as they pass by are a testament to their respect and admiration for her. As a 22-year old business woman and primary school dropout turned college graduate, she aims to be a source of light and voice of encouragement to children in the program and in the community.
“I want to remind them to not see themselves as down. They should see themselves as high, that they can do whatever they want,” said Suki. “Since I have suffered and changed, I want to encourage others to do the same.”
When she sees other orphans in her community, she prays that they, one day, can testify the way she can now testify. It is her wish to help more orphans by providing business capital. In the meantime, she will continue to run her businesses, intern for Zoe Empowers and seek out career opportunities in social work.
380 million children living in extreme poverty will rely on charity forever.
$8 a month can change that.
A monthly gift of $8 over 3 years empowers one orphan out of poverty. How many children like Suki can you give lasting sustainable change?
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As you may have heard, young entrepreneurs in the Zoe Empowers program in Kenya are determined to pay it forward and empower other orphans and vulnerable children through ZOE. These young people were living in desperate conditions themselves not too long ago, and now they have become financial partners!
We would like to introduce you to one of ZOE’s newest financial partners, Margaret. Margaret is a 21-year-old member of a third-year group in the Kenya program who donated to Zoe Empowers during the Thanksgiving celebration. We met Margaret in 2016, and she quickly impressed us with her joyful personality. She owned a hair salon at the time, and since then has opened a clothing boutique. Both businesses have grown since our visit.
What impressed us most about Margaret was her inner strength as a young woman. Her face lit up the room as she spoke with immense confidence. She shared that her parents died when she was only nine years old and she suddenly became the mother to her two younger siblings. She said, “I was always praying for someone to come and hold my hand.”
Margaret proudly noted that Zoe Empowers was instrumental to transforming her health and giving her confidence. Through ZOE’s program, she learned about her rights as a young woman and how to enforce them – this seemed to be especially important to her. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to protect herself and her siblings while living on the street. Today, Margaret feels strong and she is respected in her community. She holds her head high and is so proud of her accomplishments.
With the help of a small micro-loan from Zoe Empowers, group members purchased rice seeds from a rural farmer and got to work – planting multiple plots of land they had acquired. Growing rice not only fulfilled their need for a staple food product, but it also served as a reliable source of income.
With each growing season came more confidence. And with more confidence came the ability for these young people to assert themselves into the community that once marginalized their existence. The community’s acceptance of their gifts and talents wasn’t instant, but as the rice farm continued to turn a profit and group members ventured into starting new businesses that catered to local needs, the concept of empowerment began to catch on. Respect for group members as leaders in the community began to take hold.
Today, the Ibyishimo Group’s rice farm operation employs more than 50 community members. Some of the Ibyishimo Group members still work their own plots, while others proudly hire out help for a fair wage.
When asked about the success of the rice farm project, Samuel said, “When we stand on our plots of rice, we feel resurrected. We thought we were going to die, but now, we are alive.”
Through the energetic demeanor and glittering eyes of Samuel and his group members, it’s clear the rice farm has produced much more than food, it has created purpose. And with purpose, has come both hope and expectation for an even better future.
Henry – Zoe Empowers mentor and 2016 graduate. Trainer to countless orphans in Liberia.
“I am thankful to now know my rights so I can be equipped to stand up for myself and teach others.”
There have been 72,270 children impacted by the Zoe Empowers empowerment model since it began in 2007. That number represents individual lives — lives that have been transformed in ways you and I can only try to imagine.
One of the greatest parts of my job is meeting the Zoe Empowers children and hearing their stories. They share stories of hope, transformation and incredible perseverance that inspires me. Zoe Empowers kids are seriously strong.
The part of their story that will forever bring me to my knees in humility is when they share what they are grateful for. They are most thankful for simple things I take for granted. They are thankful for the things I just plain miss as I go throughout my day. I will forever choke up each and every time I sit in front of a young man or young woman and watch their eyes light up as they express their gratitude.
How Maggie found the strength to keep going is a miracle. After the death of her father, it seemed every day brought another hardship. First, it was simply getting enough to eat. Soon, her four siblings stopped attending school. Then the family’s shelter collapsed and an uncle took their ancestral land. No one was able to assist them as they spiraled downward. Living in a “house” they constructed from tattered cloth and working for nominal wages they merely existed.
Fortunately, those days are behind her, and Maggie offers this advice to those who want to help others: “Do not focus on our poverty but focus on our future.”
This is ZOE’s approach. First, guide the children to create a vision of their future and then provide tangible support so that vision becomes a reality.
ZOE taught Maggie about her land inheritance rights and helped her regain ownership of her property. She has learned the power of sharing her blessings and now employs a widow to help farm the land. She also raises pigs, chickens and rabbits. With supplies from Zoe Empowers and help from her working group, Maggie constructed a new home. By the end of her second year, she had three businesses: a barbershop, a salon and a grocery stand. This enables her to employ several young people from her community. Her siblings have returned to school and one sister will soon attend university.
Maggie is grateful for the resources and training, but she reflects, “The biggest thing the Zoe Empowers program has given me is respect and confidence.” Assets she will never lack again.
“The happiest day of my life was meeting the Zoe Empowers staff and my group because that is the day I began to become human again.” – Consolee, Zoe Empowers Rwanda
You will find Consolee and her empowerment group in rural Rwanda once a month working the soil at their vast banana farm. The formal training from Zoe Empowers is now a thing of their past for the Igihozo Empowerment Group since graduating in 2015. What remains strong is their bond as a family along with the massive banana farm they have cultivated together as a group. The farm is so massive in fact that a private company built a banana manufacturing factory directly across the road.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Consolee and her three younger siblings were living on the streets begging for food not far from where they now harvest bananas yielding them about $800 USD each year as a family. Although they are now empowered leaders who are respected in their community, they will never forget where they once were. The memories of exploitation and abuse from their desperate need for a single meal will be etched in their memory forever.
Today Consolee’s dreams have become a bigger reality than she even dared to hope for. Consolee is the proud owner of a large restaurant and coffee shop in the busiest area among her urban community. Her prime location earns her a monthly profit of about $250 USD. She is also a newlywed and beams with pride for her siblings.
The success of Zoe Empowers graduates long after they complete their three-year program prove the lasting results that empowerment brings.