Sarah Severns | Humanitarian Photographer

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Microfinance in Democratic Republic of Congo

in 1993 Kajili was commissioned to pastor a church in a difficult part of town on the outskirts of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the next decade Kajili and his wife had 4 children and adopted 3 more. It was a dream to see his children succeed. After sending all 7 children to school, he saw the enormous value in a high-quality education. With the heart of a pastor, Kajili could not help feeling like the other children in his community were missing out. He had big dreams in mind and got to work.

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In 2008, 15 years after his arrival in Lubumbashi, he took out his first micro-loan from HOPE International so he could generate additional income by growing maize and ground nuts. After repaying the first loan, he took out a second one to expand the plot. Kajili diligently saved the earnings from his crops. With his accumulated savings and the help of a third HOPE loan, Kijili broke ground on the first two classrooms of his dream school, Messidor Academy.

Messidor opened enrollment for first and second-grade primary students, and the response was overwhelming in the community. With excitement in his heart and a strategy in place, Kajili took out 9 more loans over the next 10 years, funding the addition of 6 more classrooms and common areas.

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Kajili smiled. "It has become evident that as HOPE helps me, I can help other people".

Today, primary students attend school during the first half of the day. In the afternoon, secondary students attend classes in the same rooms. With the help of HOPE loans, Kajili is moving forward with plans to build 4 more classrooms to allow primary and secondary students to attend class at the same time. Soon the school plans to add nighttime vocational training classes to teach women how to sew, enabling them to provide for their families.

Students could be heard reciting their spelling exercises in unison. Kajili beamed, "People in the community are talking about this and becoming inspired. I can see things changing here".

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Photographs and story produced on assignment for HOPE International.

Sarah SevernsComment
Good Future - Savings in Muyinga
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"We decided to name our group 'Good Future' because we believe that only good things are coming for us."

The twelve members of Good Future, a community savings and credit association in northern Burundi, gathered to finish some work on their collective farming project at dusk on a Sunday evening. Afterwards, they collected chairs from their homes and carried them to the church for their weekly meeting.

The group, made up of church members, formed after watching others succeed with this type of community savings. Gabrial, the leader of the group, shared, "Before our group formed, when I looked at the livelihood of people in associations like this, you could see a marked improvement in their households. I knew that if I wanted the means to develop myself and my family I had to join a credit and savings group."

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When the group began, they decided to use their savings to collaborate on farming projects. After two months of saving together, they were able to buy 13 chickens. Each person contributes 150 Burundian Francs to the group fund on a weekly basis (the equivalent of 85 cents). The money is divided into two portions: the first portion is used to buy chicken feed, and the remainder is used as an emergency fund should anyone in the group fall ill. As the hens begin to multiply, the group plans to continue their endeavor by purchasing goats and renting land to cultivate crops.

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For years Burundi has been classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, continually landing in the bottom 3 slots for GDP per capita. For many Burundians, saving 85 cents per week is a difficult, yet achievable task. However, at this rate, it takes a long time to accumulate the capital needed to make larger investments. By pooling savings together, the members can save over $10 each week. As a result, the entire group is able to reap the profits of an investment such as Good Future's farming project.

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Members are full of camaraderie and hopefulness as they discuss how they will use the profits from their newfound investment. Anne Marie says, "I know that whenever I save for these hens, I am not losing. In the future I expect to get a share from these hens. When I get that share, I plan to use the money to buy a piece of land that I can cultivate to continue to profit for my family." Claudine adds, "When we share our savings, I will buy a plot to cultivate maize. This will become a source of food for my four children and income for my family."

The strategy of community savings allows people to be stronger together than they could ever be apart, securing a good future for them and their families.

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Photographs and story produced on assignment for HOPE International.

Sarah SevernsComment
Gerard Bigirimana

Gerard led the way as we traveled along a winding path, over hills, deep in the mountains of Burundi. We arrived at a production facility hidden among the trees of a dense palm forest. The air was thick with the rich smell of palm oil. Steam rose up from the ground and deep orange oil dripped off the forearms of the workers, each playing a different role in the production process. With pride, Gerard picked up a small brown seed and began explaining how he had finally managed to join the palm industry in his village.

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Large clusters of fruit are picked from trees and then separated from the bark like fiber that holds them together. The juicy palm fruits get pressed, releasing the oil and removing a brown seed. As the oil is refined, the inner seeds are dried in the sun and sold as a bi-product. A week ago, Gerard took out a $22 loan from his community savings and credit association to buy 8 small kegs of these palm seeds.

Months before, Gerard heard that people in his village were collectively saving their money in an unfamiliar way. A group had come together to pool their savings each month, taking turns to receive the lump sum that was accumulated to use as capital infusion in their businesses. The idea of working together in this way was appealing, and Gerard joined them. The savings and credit association they had formed was called Terimbere, which means "Go Ahead" in Kirundi. He was excited to share ideas with group members and to have enough capital to start a new business.

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In the coming days, Gerard will break open the brown palm seeds with two rocks, revealing a chalky white layer. This portion will be ground down to a powder and re-sold to a soap factory for a profit. Gerard plans to reinvest the money into his new business, with the hope of eventually buying the palm fruit itself to produce palm oil rather than just palm seeds.

Gerard supports his wife, Flora, daughter, Belyse, and mother, Genevieve. This new endeavor has given them all a better sense of security and newfound optimism for the future.

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Photographs and story produced on assignment for HOPE International.

Sarah SevernsComment