Empowerment is unstoppable, even during a pandemic.
Nashville, from Zimbabwe, designed his dream chart at his first Zoe Empowers meeting. This helped him create the vision to achieve the goals he set in his life. Following his vocational training, Nashville received his first micro-loan to start a small fruit stand. Soon after, he learned from his empowerment group, the importance of diversifying his future earnings by expanding his business model. This is when he decided to use what he had saved from his fruit stand to purchase goats, chickens and banana tree bulbs.
When all the markets in Zimbabwe were shut down because of COVID-19, unfortunately, Nashville lost his fruit stand. But because he had a diversified business plan that was thriving, this loss of income did not affect him.
Today, Nashville has 120 banana plants after three full harvests. He sells to buyers from the city earning about $180 per harvest. His goats have multiplied – because this is what goats do;) – to become nine goats. Nashville sold two of them and used the profits to purchase a sewing machine. In response to COVID-19, he began sewing face-masks for all Zoe empowerment groups and community members in his region. He even employed another community member as a sewing assistant to meet the tremendous demand.
Nashville is just one more example of how #unstoppable an empowered young person can become. Not even a pandemic like COVID-19 will get in the way of his dreams.
July 9, 2020
Small grants fuel business & confidence after COVID-19 lockdown
Although COVID-19 remains a threat, most of the countries Zoe Empowers serves have begun the process of re-opening its businesses. This is good news for Zoe children, especially first-year students who, given their limited time in the program prior to the pandemic, weren’t able to establish as much business agility, resilience and savings as their second-year and third-year peers and graduates.
Zoe’s COVID-19 recovery efforts will provide a top-up business grant to every first-year Zoe participant to re-start his or her business after social distancing lockdowns are lifted. With the top-up grants, these young people will be able to rebound quickly and continue lifting themselves and their communities with the work they do.
Two first-year students who are soon to be beneficiaries of a top-up grant include Vincent of Rwanda and Plaxedes of Zimbabwe.
Vincent (19) became head of household for his younger brother, Venuste (18), and sister, Florence (16), after his parents died due to illness. The family joined Zoe Empowers Rwanda in January 2019 and received a business grant to begin making and selling donuts and samosas.
After struggling in extreme poverty for many years, Vincent was overjoyed to finally have the opportunity to achieve his dream of supporting his siblings and buying a cow. He had established a regular clientele through his hard work, delicious food, and excellent customer service skills, earning enough income to meet his family’s basic needs while beginning to grow security for the future.
When COVID-19 hit, Vincent was forced to close his business and subsequently use up the small savings he had begun to accumulate. Through Zoe’s COVID recovery fund, Vincent is confident he will be able to rebound when he can restart his donut and samosa business. A grant will sustain him on his journey of becoming completely self-sufficient and bringing his family out of poverty forever.
When her father died, Plaxedes (16) had to drop out of school to care for her terminally ill mother and three younger siblings. The magnitude of her situation left her hopeless. However, Plaxedes’ hope was restored when she joined Zoe Empowers Zimbabwe in October 2019. Shortly after, she began farming corn. Because many farmers in her community were focused on tobacco, her competition was limited and her product was in high demand.
Prior to COVID-19, Plaxedes had established a customer base and was recording impressive achievements. She had begun to build financial security for her family with her farming income, allowing her to make improvements on their home, eat more meals per day, pay her siblings’ school fees and purchase school supplies. The corn she grew and harvested sold out so quickly, she expanded her business by traveling outside of her community to purchase corn from other farmers to resell within her area, earning a higher income through this second business.
However, due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 lockdown, Plaxedes could not restock her corn supply, which negatively affected her income generation and livelihood. The burden of care started to weigh heavily on the little savings she had accrued as her mother regularly needed medicine. Feeding a family of five became tougher and meals were reduced to two per day.
Plaxedes also grows watermelons on her farm for her family as a common dessert and then sells the excess harvest. Currently, Plaxedes has an abundance of watermelons but travel restrictions have hindered her from selling them in the market. They are perishable so she invites her neighbors and relatives to come and share them before they rot.
Once she is able to resume traveling, Plaxedes knows she will be able to salvage her business and regain the stability she had before the pandemic. Until then, she will utilize the top-up grant from Zoe’s COVID recovery fund to complete her home repairs, keep with her studies and provide adequate food and clothing for her family.
June 10, 2020
Although fighting the pandemic is far from over, the conversation within Zoe Empowers has already shifted to questions about the future: What new challenges will the most vulnerable children be facing now and in the future?
After implementing a plan to support the children in the empowerment program who have been most impacted by Coronavirus and country-wide lockdowns (mostly first-year students), it is our responsibility to look to the areas we serve to determine how to prepare for what is to come.
History has shown that human trafficking rings target the most vulnerable.
Regardless, it is clear orphaned children and children in vulnerable families are especially in need of support post-pandemic. It is critical these children become aware of their human rights and stand up for themselves to avoid being lured or sold into trafficking or child labor. Empowerment can give them the tools to do so.
As we’ve shared in recent weeks, many Zoe children in their second and third years, as well as graduates, have reported their ability to maintain their livelihood and assist others in their community during Coronavirus.
Even in the most difficult of times, in the most volatile of economies, empowerment is the solution.
For the last year, Pilirani operated his tailoring business out of the local market. When COVID-19 incited the closure of crowded public places, including the market, Pilirani was forced to relocate his business to his home. Although he maintained some customers, his revenues were cut significantly.
But, Pilirani didn’t despair. Instead, he used the income diversification training he acquired from Zoe Empowers training and strategically bought six large bags of beans to sell, knowing the crop was in high demand in his community. Pilirani sold the beans out of his house for several weeks and generated a steady income. He is saving enough to reopen his tailoring business when it is safe to do so.
Pilirani is unstoppable as are the many Zoe children who have proven their ability over the last several weeks to maintain their livelihood and assist others in their community during Coronavirus.
May 27, 2020
On-line ordering and curbside pick-up with Planmore! We loved getting this update from Zimbabwe:)
Planmore is a member of the Wise Empowerment Group that began in 2017. As part of his program, he learned how to start a small poultry business while completing vocational training in the hotel and catering industry. His small business grew and he completed his vocational training which eventually led him to a job at a local hotel. Empowerment gave his life hope again.
We all know what has happened in recent months with the COVID lockdown. This past March Planmore found himself laid off from his job at the hotel. Because the Zoe Empowers program equips members with strategies to build a diverse income stream in preparation for an unexpected crisis, Planmore was able to quickly adapt his business to meet the needs in his community.
Using a popular app on his phone, Planmore began to post photos of the items he has for sale in his store. He sells everything from clothing to chickens. This innovative approach allows the local community to view his available items and make their purchase through a mobile banking app. Each day at a specific time, Planmore takes all of his sold items to a meeting spot where his customers can pick them up using recommended safety guidelines.
Planmore is blessed with a home and has invited a friend, Alouis to stay until he is allowed to travel back to his village after the lockdown.
Planmore was proud to tell us that during his spare time, he tutors a child in the community who is working to complete 7th grade.
Planmore is another incredible example of how empowerment creates crisis resilient young leaders who are simply unstoppable.
May 13, 2020
COVID-19 is putting our empowerment model to the test and the Zoe graduates are showing they are unstoppable even in the midst of a pandemic.
John Mwenda, a 2019 graduate, runs a mechanic shop in a rural village in Kenya. Although he was allowed to keep his shop open, the business has slowed significantly, leaving him especially grateful to have learned the importance of saving money while enrolled in the empowerment program.
The financial cushion John built before the pandemic hit has allowed him and his family to sustain their lifestyle in recent weeks and proactively support community members who are suffering, including two Zoe Empowers first-year students whom John is training on motorbike repair and mechanics.
John has also given other community members food and a small wage to assist him with farming chores at his home. “I’m grateful for the training and financial support I received from Zoe Empowers because I am able to have savings to help us pull through this difficult period and knowledge on how to protect myself and my family from COVID-19,” said John.
John has gained what thousands of orphans and vulnerable children are still waiting to experience: a changed perspective. They know how bad things could be because they lived that life, and they overcame that life. Today, they are empowered, equipped physically and psychologically, to never live that life again, even with the threat of Coronavirus.
They have become crisis resilient.
May 5, 2020
“When I first heard of Zoe Empowers, I thought it was a joke,” said Welsman, Zimbabwe Graduate. “Many organizations made promises and didn’t deliver. I was tired of going to those types of meetings.”
A lack of follow-through. This is a consistent theme heard when Zoe Empowers children compare the empowerment program to their past experience with other charity organizations. Many children arrive rightfully cynical to the first Zoe Empowers meeting. Trust in the process grows over time.
COVID-19 brings even more uncertainty to the children who recently enrolled in the empowerment program. Amidst the uncertainty, we know one thing is certain: We will continue to deliver on our promises to the Zoe children, no matter what it takes.
April 29, 2020
Stanley from the Tamandani Chakhaza empowerment group in Malawi started a farming project and tailoring business after joining a Zoe in 2019. A few weeks ago, he had just finished harvesting his soy-bean crop when the government in Malawi made a declaration for the COVID-19 lockdown. This was bad news for two of his neighbors who could no longer work. Stanley, on the other hand, has been busy processing his soy-bean harvest for storage so he hired both neighbors as temporary workers to assist him with his crop. He is smiling because he feels blessed to pay them a fair wage that will provide for their family during this time of COVID-19.
Stanley’s message to his friends in the United States is, ” Do not waiver in your hope that very soon COVID-19 will be history.”
April 21, 2020
Crisis resilient – This is a term we use to describe the young group members who have become empowered through the Zoe Empowers program. This means that even if everything is lost to the young people because of some external crisis, they know how to rebuild their lives and businesses because the program has helped them discover how to pull themselves out of poverty.
Many of you have read about Moses from Kenya. Moses is one of the first Kenyan program graduates. Today, he is a college graduate and full time teacher who manages a large farm.
We decided to check in with Moses given the recent changes and school closures due to COVID-19. We learned that because Moses has maintained a diverse income stream, the change in his employment as a teacher is not affecting his ability to care for his family. His farm is not only providing tomatoes to the community during a food shortage, it is also generating enough income to employ one additional community member who lost their job because of COVID-19.
When we visited Moses in 2016, he shared that he is a self-taught carpenter. He learned much of what he knows from local friends and the internet. Today, he is using those skills while at home to help serve his community. Truly these young people not only bounce back from what once would have been devastating challenges, they also help others in their communities to weather life’s challenges.
You can read more about Moses when our story-telling team paid him a visit in 2016.
April 20, 2020
Street children have become isolated from survival. When the streets are empty and businesses are closed, street children are unable to find work or food for themselves or their siblings. They are unable to beg or steal from sellers at open markets. They are unable to turn to local shelters for basic services. Now more than ever, orphaned and vulnerable children who lack shelter and/or an adult caregiver are vulnerable to abuse, violations, hunger and illness. Programs using a holistic approach that include immediate intervention and long-term solutions are necessary.
“Stay home” is a simple concept – unless you have no home.
On April 12, International Day for Street Children, numerous social justice organizations rallied online using the hashtag #SafeSpacesforStreetChildren to draw attention to the inequality faced by homeless children during the COVID-19 crisis.
By law, street children deserve the right to acquire a safe space to protect themselves. But, when implementing plans to keep their populations safe, many vulnerable children have been overlooked making this vulnerable group more exposed than ever before.
Titus, from Kenya recalls sleeping on a tree branch before he joined a Zoe empowerment group. Read his full story here and how the order to “stay home” is affecting orphaned and vulnerable children who have no home.
April 15, 2020
When new Zoe empowerment groups formed this past January, training to start the first small business began immediately. They quickly thrived, laying the ground work for a stable income and even a savings account. Pictured below are three such businesses started a few months ago in Vizag, India.
We all know what has happened in recent weeks to businesses around the world. As the newest Zoe Empowers group members are forced to close their shops for the COVID-19 quarantine, we have been told, the children are doing what they can to care for their families using the little they saved in a few short months. They are trying to not lose hope and yet grateful for their savings account during such a crisis, no matter how small.
Looking ahead, we know, the money children would have reinvested back into their business during normal times, will be mostly depleted for food and other necessities during the lock down.
As governments allow for countries like India to reopen, critical funds will be needed to reinvest back into the businesses for first year empowerment groups who lost critical time during the shelter-in-place period.
We have created a fund for this purpose and the first $26,000 will be matched by generous friends of Zoe. Please consider joining this effort.
April 7, 2020
Today is #WorldHealthDay. The children enrolled with Zoe Empowers Zimbabwe are doing their part to help communities stay healthy by producing short educational videos about #COVID19 prevention. These videos become life-saving with important information that can be shared quickly, efficiently and safely via mobile phones through a platform widely used around the world called What’s App. Empowered young men and women are creating impact in the world that can’t be measured.
In this video, Tinashe from the 2019 St. Francis empowerment group welcomes his group members, Tavengwa and Nyasha into his village – but not before they wash their hands and greet each other with safe social distancing.
April 3, 2020
Preparations continue to be made across Africa. An update from Zoe Empowers Kenyan facilitator, Ann Karanja:
The month of April is a special month for the children living on the streets. It is the month we commemorate the International Day for Street Children (April 12th). However, during this time they are facing the grim challenge of COVID-19 survival. Just like any other child worldwide, they are experiencing worry, anxiety, fear of contracting the virus, and loosing their lives or their loved ones. It is absolutely clear they are shaken. However, children from Zoe Empowers Kenya, have taken efforts to recognize the need of these children during this time. They went to the streets of Maua to teach their peers on the streets simple ways to protect themselves from the virus: the proper way to wash hands regularly with running water and soap, social distancing and how to take care of “men” (mouth eyes and nose). They also provided them with hand washing stations and soap. This will go a long way in preventing the spread of COVID – 19 amongst this population.
April 2, 2020
To prevent the spread of #COVID19 Belinda and Caroline from the Future Empowerment Group in Zimbabwe added hand sanitizer and liquid soap to their cleaning supply business. Their products are now sold in local communities and distributed among Zoe Empowers group members.
April 1, 2020
Although Zoe Empowers staff has limited travel and meetings to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in the areas we serve, group facilitators have stayed in touch with all groups via phone. During these phone exchanges, you might be surprised to learn that the children have been asking how YOU, their U.S. friends and partners, are doing.
Even in this unprecedented hardship, the children are grateful for the opportunity to participate in Zoe Empowers. Many have offered to help by sharing their knowledge and abundance with others in their community.
Below is a letter written by Justa Kianira, the secretary of the Blessing Muili Group in Kenya. In it, she shares a brief group update and well wishes to all.
To our friends in USA,
Greetings in the Name of the Almighty God. We hope this message finds you well and engraved in the palm of God’s hands.
We, as Blessing Muili Group, are still doing great in our group activities and we thank God for your prayers and support as well. During this difficult moment in life, that the entire world is facing the Coronavirus problems, we as the group members are trying to give support to each other through giving food from our food banks to the needy in the community and also prayers being the most important thing in life, we hope and pray that God may victoriously enable us [to] all find happiness and liveliness again with you, your families and relatives and the world at large.
We hope soonest possible you all will visit us as we joyfully celebrate the mercies and grace of our Mighty God. May God protect you and bless you in your endeavors. Pass our greetings to your families, relatives and friends.
Yours faithfully, Justa Secretary – Blessing Muili Group 2nd year, Kenya
March 31, 2020
Billions of people occupy the Earth, separated by oceans, borders, language, and culture. Although it is easy to feel…
As the world adjusts for COVID-19, many systems that have been part of the Zoe Empowers program for years have made preparations efficient and effective in each community where we work. For example:
Mobile phone communication using platforms like What’s App have been part of daily life for each empowerment group, community mentor and most child headed households long before COVID-19. Throughout the program, communication chains have quickly been set up to efficiently share accurate information about prevention and protection against coronavirus.
Mobile bank accounts have been part of Zoe’s empowerment program for many years. Every empowerment group and most households have active bank accounts. This has made the purchase of needed supplies a safe and efficient process as social distancing practices are followed.
Health and hygiene has been a main area of training and education throughout the Zoe Empowers program, therefore proper hand-washing along with other important hygiene and sanitation practices are familiar to the Zoe Empowers children. Therefore, new CDC recommendations for COVID-19 have been swiftly implemented, as well as shared by the group members with others in their communities.
Many of you have asked how the young people in Zoe Empowers’ program are doing as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. Thank you both for thinking of these young people and for your prayers. There have been identified coronavirus cases in Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Liberia and India. We also believe there are likely cases in Malawi and Tanzania as well, although these latter countries have not been confirmed.
Reegan Kaberia, Zoe Empowers’ Chief Program Officer and Kenya Country Director, has been working with all the programs during this time, and the following steps are currently implemented to keep both the children and the staff safe:
Meetings have been halted in all areas where this action is recommended
Most programs are using social media and SMS texts sent to the young people and group leadership on how to avoid catching the virus and other helpful safety protocols; Zoe Empowers program staff are receiving special instruction so they are knowledgeable about how to advise the young people
While the program staff are limiting travel and meetings, they are in touch regularly with all the groups via phone to monitor the groups progress.
As the situation continues to develop, we will keep you informed about how the young people are coping with this additional hurdle as they pull themselves permanently out of extreme poverty. We rely upon your prayers for the children’s immediate safety and for Zoe Empowers’ ability to weather this time and continue to meet the needs of these amazing young people. Thank you for thinking of these vulnerable young people as you attend to keeping yourself and those you love safe.