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As you may have heard, young entrepreneurs in the ZOE 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 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 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.
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 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 program has given me is respect and confidence.” Assets she will never lack again.
Henry – ZOE 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 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 children and hearing their stories. They share stories of hope, transformation and incredible perseverance that inspires me. ZOE 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.
With the help of a small micro-loan from ZOE, 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.
“The happiest day of my life was meeting the ZOE staff and my group because that is the day I began to become human again.” – Consolee, ZOE 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 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 graduates long after they complete their three-year program prove the lasting results that empowerment brings.