After their jobs disappeared due to the coronavirus, savings group president Aïchatou, 33, (above) focussed the group on mask and soap production and started a mutual aid program to ensure families in her community had enough to eat.
Before COVID-19, Aïchatou’s life was simple. But with no work, no social life, her children out of school, and not enough money to feed her family three times a day, life became very complicated.
“What worries me the most is my children’s schooling,” Aïchatou said. “I’m concerned that all next school year will be cancelled. And I’m worried for my husband. He manages a store, but sales are practically nil.”
Aïchatou’s worries have spurred her to action. Before COVID-19, she worked as a seamstress, using a machine provided to her Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) by CARE and local partner Leadership Challenge. Aïchatou and other sewists from the VSLA quickly switched to producing masks in response to the pandemic.
They’ve made more than 10,000 so far, helping to stop the spread of the virus, and creating a new stream of income in the process.
“I’m able to help my husband with household finances. In fact, I’m now buying the family’s food, especially the rice. I give pocket money to my husband and can help my children with what they need.”
Aïchatou also came up with the idea of “mutual aid”, meaning that the VSLA group members “agreed to buy food in bulk, and redistribute it among the members.”
The group pooled their funds to buy enough rice, maize and millet and share it among members so that families could have three meals a day for the next 20 days to three months depending on the size of the family.
“This really helped, especially the group members who were most vulnerable financially. Some women’s families were scraping to make even two meals a day ,”Aïchatou says. “We also produced soap and ointment and distributed it among all members.”
Because the savings group’s members had shared history and trust, they were able to act quickly. “The capacity-building we’d received from CARE and Leadership Challenge early on, along with the sewing machines, has really helped us remain solid as a group, especially during difficult times like this one.”
An empowered woman, Aïchatou says, “will not stand by if anyone in her circle suffers.”