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Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, One Woman at a Time

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Given a chance, enterprising women can achieve their dreams. With loans from the World Vision WILFund, poor women in developing countries are given this chance, and they’re using it to forge better lives for their families and for their communities.

Onkemetse's Story

Onkemetse Tlhako counts her money three times each night to be certain she's made no mistake in her calculations. In the flickering glow of a paraffin lamp, the 34-year-old mother fondly fingers the coins and notes, hardly believing that she earns so much money in a single day.

Beaming, Onkemetse discloses, "I feel strong and powerful making profits of P60 ($20) a day baking bread. That's what I used to make in a whole month working as a housemaid!"

Onkemetse lives in the village of Babonong, 275 miles northeast of the Botswana capital, Gaborone. This eastern region is home to most of the nearly 1.4 million people who make up the southern African nation.

It's a country that boasts a rich diamond mining industry, yet still suffers an unemployment rate of 25 percent. The economic situation in Botswana is further weakened by the HIV/AIDS crisis, infecting one in four adults. Onkemetse is thankful for her income. Good jobs are hard to come by.

The Gift of Self-Reliance

Onkemetse is among the beneficiaries of grants from World Vision's microfinance institution in Botswana. The program, launched in the Bobirwa sub-district of eastern Botswana, has gone far beyond moving women out of a state of abject poverty. It has given them the gift of self-reliance.

"The businesswomen have become outspoken, as opposed to in the past where they had no voice -- as our culture demands of women," Onkemetse explains.

"The other women beneficiaries and I now enjoy new respect from society. Having money in my purse makes a difference to how people see me, for example. Before, people saw me as a nobody; now I'm a somebody."

In Botswana, women run the majority of households. In Onkemetse's town, the percentage of female-led households is 75 percent. Men are frequently absent from the picture, spending their time in larger towns or in South Africa to earn a better living. Women are left to raise, on average, between seven and ten children on their own.

Yet even though men are rarely present, the monna, or man in a woman's life, whether a committed husband or casual lover, is considered the head of her household and has the last word on how a woman spends her money.

Loans Give Women a Say

Onkemetse says all that has changed with the loans women have received from World Vision: "In homes, women with money now make decisions that men go along with. Previously men would not bother listening to women, and would treat them as children. Now the men not only listen to women, they help them, knowing they stand to benefit in many ways. Dependency on men has declined. Women insist on getting help from the men, and actually get it."

For Onkemetse, this has meant help with her growing bakery business. "Previously I had no financial help from my monna. Now he assists without being asked. He replenished my stock, buying flour, sugar and yeast to support my bakery; and hired a vehicle to transport the goods."

And she can sure use the help. People have been flocking to the kiosk where Onkemetse sells groceries and the 30 loaves of bread she bakes daily. Some even ask her to lend money -- a thought that makes her laugh. With the success of her business, she plans more exciting expansions for her bakery.

"Currently I have an oven with a capacity for ten loaves only, but I'd like one with a 40-loaf capacity or more. My long-term dream is to supply most of the bread in my village instead of the bulk of it coming from a nearby town."

Dreaming Big for the Future

Onkemetse continues to dream big for her future. She recently purchased goats and is applying for an additional loan from World Vision. "Now that I've bought goats with profits, I feel I'm half rich. Since the bakery business is improving and the goats are multiplying, next year I'll be rich!"

About the WILFund

The WILFund is designed to provide a vital foundation that would otherwise be unattainable to women with no established credit. The WILFund pools individual, group, and corporate contributions and distributes the funds through World Vision’s network of microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.

The MFIs issue loans to women starting or expanding cottage businesses, like sewing or raising poultry. When the business is up and running, the woman repays the loan with interest to the MFI. The MFI repays the WILFund with interest, increasing WILFund lending capital. The WILFund then selects another MFI, perhaps in a different part of the world, to help other entrepreneurs.

How to Help Women like Onkemetse
To help build a future of dignity and hope for a woman and her family, or to get your company or organization involved in transforming a community, visit www.wilfund.org or call (800) 532-8922.

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