What is the Wezesha Project?
The Wezesha Project is a microfinance program of ERDO (Emergency, Relief and Development Overseas). ERDO works in two of the world’s poorest countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi, empowering women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
This church-based program provides small business owners with access to financial services from which they would otherwise be excluded. Traditional banks do not want to lend money to this segment of the economy as it is considered too risky, too administratively-intensive, and without sufficient profit. Microloans allow these borrowers the opportunity to expand their businesses, and increase their income and strengthen their personal capacity. The program works exclusively with female business owners because they are primary caregivers for their families and have the least amount of access to financial services in developing countries.
In Swahili (one of the main languages in the region) “wezesha” means “empower” – and this is the work of the Wezesha Project.
WEZESHA PROJECT FAQs
Where is the Wezesha Project located?
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi
You are likely familiar with news stories about some of the challenges in this region. The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo borders on Burundi and Rwanda. Longstanding ethnic and civil conflict and a plethora of independent militia groups which roam the rural areas, have caused internal displacement of large numbers of people within these countries as well as migration across borders into neighbouring states. People just want to be safe, so they move to flee the violence, crime and sexual assault.
Microfinance comes to the aid of these marginalized people. By lending to women, we empower people who have survived sexual violence and who have been forced to leave everything behind in search of safety, to support their families through the provision of loans. The Wezesha Project provides needed financial services, a pathway to a safer life and an opportunity to for these women to begin a faith journey for eternity.
How does it work?
With guidance from local program staff, women form lending groups of 5 people each. These groups provide accountability and support throughout the lending and repayment process. Once approved, each member receives a home and business visit and goes through a pre-loan training process. After this, they receive their first loans which range from $75-100 (local currency equivalent). The principal amount is based on per capita income and the economy in the specific local context. Each borrower repays their loan at a Wezesha Project Lending Post (located at a local church) on a weekly basis, which enables project staff to track progress easily. Once they repay, borrowers are eligible for another, larger loan (up to a maximum ceiling). And of course, as loans are repaid, that loan capital goes back to work in the form of a new loan to another borrower.
The Wezesha Project encourages borrowers to expand their businesses, but only to the degree to which they feel comfortable. The goal is not simply to lend money. The goal is to meet needs and to enable these borrowers to tangibly improve their quality of life.
Who qualifies for a loan?
Women who are in desperate need and who are currently working in some type of business to generate income in order to better support their children.
How do you know that the loans are being used by the women for business?
Once a woman qualifies for a loan, she becomes part of a lending group made up of other women who have loans with the project. The group ensures that each woman uses the funds as agreed and that the group pays their individual loans back on schedule. This group also meets with project workers on a regular basis to discuss the progress that each woman is making and how the group is functioning.
What happens if a woman defaults on her loan?
If a woman defaults without extenuating circumstances, she is no longer allowed to borrow from the project and the entire lending group will not be able to borrow again. It is the responsibility of the group to ensure that each member repays.
It sounds like a lot of responsibility for the borrower and her lending group. Do they know what they are getting into?
Before a woman is approved for a loan there are interviews and she must explain her plan for the use of the money. Each woman then attends six training sessions held over two weeks before actually borrowing the money. Borrowing is strictly on a voluntary basis though. The goal is to assist a woman to strengthen her livelihood, not to burden her with debt.
With no end to the availability of debt in the West, it is sometimes hard for us to appreciate the context of these women borrowers. One indicator of the need for this type of program is the huge waiting list of loan applicants in Burundi. As of today, there are 780 borrowers in the program, but 2,500 loan applicants on the waiting list.
Are there levels of loans?
Yes. The initial loan is for an amount of $75-100. Successive loans are usually for higher amounts (although they could be for the same amounts if the borrower prefers) and for longer terms. The maximum loan ceiling is also dependent on the specific economic context.
What type of businesses are loans used for?
The businesses are all very small, and can take the following forms (with associated product offerings):
- Mobile (walking) vendors - prepared foods, pop, water, shoes
- Roadside vendors - vegetables, sugar, oil, flour, beans
- Owners of small kiosks - a variety of food and non-food items
- Market stalls - food, hardware, clothing
- Street cooks - deep fried bread, cooked eggs
How can I provide a loan to a woman?
By giving a donation of $75 or more, you can equip a woman with a basic loan.