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Fiona’s Fight for Family

Days before Fiona’s mother passed away, she made one last request of her eldest daughter: take care of her three younger siblings. Despite being thirteen and still a child herself, Fiona promised her mother she would honor this request. 

Shortly after her mother’s death, Moussa, Fiona’s seven-month-old brother, had a seizure. The episode scared Fiona badly, so she packed up the family and moved in with their father, who’d never provided for his wife and children. 

Unfortunately, Fiona’s father still wasn’t interested in helping. He quickly remarried another woman and forced his children out of his home. Devastated and desperate, the four siblings moved in with their elderly and disabled grandparents. 

Fiona dropped out of school to care for her siblings and grandparents. She found work in the community, hauling manure, fetching water, and weeding crops. The pay couldn’t sustain and nourish a family of six or provide proper medical care for Moussa, who continued to have seizures. 

Misery turned to panic when Fiona’s aunt arrived at the house. Ostensibly, the aunt wanted to introduce the family to Kenny, her one-year-old son, but after a couple of days, she disappeared, leaving Kenny behind with Fiona. Suddenly, the family grew to seven.

At night, as Fiona lulled herself to sleep to the rumble of an empty stomach, she thought of the promise she’d made to her mother. Was it even possible to keep it? 

For five years, Fiona struggled to keep her family alive. Finally, in 2022, Fiona, then 18, experienced a spark of hope: She joined Zoe Empowers Rwanda. The timing was an answered prayer as Moussa’s condition had worsened. With swift help from Zoe, Moussa was hospitalized and diagnosed with epilepsy. She finally had an answer to his condition with a treatment plan. 

Meanwhile, Fiona dutifully attended the Zoe Empowers group meetings and soon received her first grant. She knew the grant’s purpose was to start a business but couldn’t resist spending the money on food for her family. The group eventually provided Fiona with a second grant. But, again, Fiona spent it on food. 

Ashamed of her behavior, Fiona stopped attending her group  meetings  and fled to another city, where she found a job as a housekeeper. It wasn’t until she received word that Moussa was no longer receiving proper medical care and was on the verge of death that Fiona returned home. 

The mentor of Fiona’s former empowerment group discovered Fiona was back in town and asked the group if they would welcome her back. They agreed. 

Luise, Fiona’s group mate, said the group understood Fiona’s challenges and empathized with her struggles. “We saw how big her responsibilities were,” Luise explained. “We loved her and wanted to be a part of her life.”

Also, by this point in the program, many of Fiona’s peers had experienced significant changes in their lives. Seeing this, Fiona recalls feeling hopeful.

“I started to believe that I could do it like my group mates  had done,” Fiona said. “I wanted to be like them.” Accepting a third grant, Fiona promised her group that she wouldn’t disappoint them.

Fiona used the grant to start a business selling vegetables. Her profits afforded the medical attention Moussa needed to survive. She also paid back the grant money she had misspent with interest. Eventually, she earned enough to provide adequate food and medical insurance for her entire family. 

A major turning point was when Fiona bought a goat. With a smile, Fiona noted that this particular purchase gave her a rush of confidence. She began to walk more proudly through her community, feeling smart, strong, and capable.

Rearing livestock amplified Fiona’s earning potential. She reintegrated her siblings into school and purchased materials to build a house. The entire empowerment group worked together to help Fiona construct a new home. 

“Witnessing my empowerment group come together to build my home filled me with love and worthiness,” Fiona said. 

Today, Fiona operates a third business weaving shopping bags. A skill she learned through a vocational training program provided by Zoe. Fiona recently helped her sister start a business selling sweet potatoes. Now, they both can provide for the family. 

Though her mother’s spirit fueled perseverance, Fiona still mourns her loss. She often wishes to share her accomplishments with her—show her the goats, chickens, and gardens, the house where her siblings are happy and healthy. This is their life now. Thanks to Zoe, Fiona’s painful past has become a memory. A dark cloud that lifted, parting its seams to let the sun shine through.