With Comic Relief’s Red Nose day today, Friday 18th March, Channel Eye has got together with the Comic Relief team to understand how some of the raised funds are used.
“When you see the problems your peers face, you find how you can help. So, I started to teach them sewing”
Faustine is 36. You’ll usually find her at the one-room workshop she and her husband built, with one or two of the women she’s teaching to sew. At lunch, she’ll head home to eat or one of her children will bring her something they’ve made. She has five children with her husband, a bricklayer, who sometimes struggles to find work.
Faustine fled the conflict in Burundi in August 2015. She is one of the women to have benefited from a Comic Relief funded programme that promotes financial inclusion among refugees and host communities in Mahama refugee camp.
Faustine joined the programme in 2021. After being trained on business, saving and investing, she decided to join the bank’s loan scheme to expand her tailoring business. Despite some challenges, including the impacts of Covid 19 on her business, the profits have increased and she now has three sewing machines. She’s formed a supportive group with other women in the project, and is planning to set up a tailoring school with them. Faustine is hopeful that the time will come when she no longer has to be a refugee.
Faustine tells us her story in her own words
“I cannot say that life here in Mahama is either good or bad. As you know, refugee life is difficult. Of course, no-one would be as happy to live in a refugee camp as they would be at home. When you are in your homeland, whatever you have – however small – it helps you.
The challenges we often face here in the camp are that women are poor. But when you have something that is generating income there is a difference. As a tailor I feel well – whatever else comes later.
“The challenges we often face here in the camp are that women are poor. But when you have something that is generating income there is a difference.”
I have tried to face poverty and its impacts because I was fortunate enough to be a refugee who has a vocational education. When I was in Burundi, I learned tailoring and that is what I am doing as an income generating activity here in the camp.
In the beginning, I had one sewing machine and a place to establish my workshop. The machine had a value of Rwf 65,000. I had about 10 kitenge cloth pieces valued at Rwf 100,000. Since I was using that capital from which I also had to support family, it was not easy.
One day, agents of Umutanguha Finance Company (UFC) came to the camp to educate us about financial services. They taught us how to use financial loans to do business.
The UFC first conducted campaigns in the camp, they educated us on how to use credit and after that they taught me personally on how I can improve my workshop. So, I was offered a loan that I paid in six months. I was able to use it effectively and it has uplifted me.
They gave me a loan of Rwf 350,000. I used to have one sewing machine, but now I’ve been able to add two sewing machines and I use them to train girls and women here in the camp.
As soon as I started working with the UFC I started to go up and down a little bit because my husband got sick at some point and I had to take care of him. In fact, working with the UFC has led to positive changes.
I remember I started working with this bank last year, but now I have moved from owning one sewing machine to three. Now things have changed a lot. When I got the loan, I started to do a lot and purchased more textiles to make clothes for my clients.
This job is very helpful to me; it really helps me as a tailor. It is good to have a profession. I can make Rwf 2000 or Rwf 1000 per day. I earn that money in addition to the refugee living allowance – in a family with little children, that allowance is insufficient. So, you can see that this profession helps me to be able to take care of the children and the whole family.
My husband supports us because he is a mason. Here in the camp there are rarely construction jobs but sometimes he gets a job and we work together to support our family.
My business is helping the refugee community, because customers come and tell me their child is naked and has no clothes. Then we agree that once the money is available, they will come and pay me. They can even have a financial problem and ask me to lend them some money. When I have some, I lend it.
After being able to buy two more sewing machines I started teaching people sewing. The idea of teaching them came when I realised that there were many women sitting at home doing nothing. When you see the problems your peers face, you find how you can help. So, I started to teach them sewing and up to now I have taught seven people – among them are women and girls. Those I teach pay Rwf 5,000 per month.
Our activities include meeting once a month and making savings! We are seven. Each month I save Rwf 1000. Beyond my own three sewing machines, as a group we have already purchased three sewing machines. We now plan that if we get the equipment, we will immediately set up a joint sewing school.
In the group we live in a good atmosphere. We meet and talk about our problems. If there is a person among us who has a problem, we lend her money and she pays later. That’s how we live as a group. There is a lot of communication between us because when someone has a problem we get together and talk on the phone and talk about how we are going to visit her. When we see a problem with her, we help.
Looking at how I used to be, it is now much better. I started working with the UFC with a small workshop but then they gave me a Rwf 350,000 loan which I have already paid back. I purchased two new sewing machines. As we speak now, I find that my business is worth Rwf 400,000.
Working with the UFC allows me to save the money I earn. Since their agents are here in the camp. When I get like Rwf 2000, I go to the agents and save the money in my Bank Account.
Savings in the Bank helps us. Now that the agent is close to us it protects us from misuse of money. We are women, when we come across something most of us immediately buy it… But when you use your mind and list all the needs, for instance buying food or something for a child, you realise you don’t have to buy everything. You think: let me save it for tomorrow.
I have hope for my children’s well-being. Of course, it is difficult to be a refugee but the only hope I have and what I always ask God for is to give me strength and keep working my best to generate more revenue. I also hope that if I continue working with the UFC, I know I will achieve the best. Once the movement of people becomes stable, I will go again to apply for a loan and keep looking for a better life for my children.
What we always ask the UFC is to continue to provide us with basic training in business and project management.”
Emmanuel, 38, project manager
“I am in charge of coordinating activities of Umutanguha Finance in Mahama refugee camp and Kirehe district.
We started to work with the UNCDF program in July 2019. UNCDF is partnering with Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd to help refugees and their neighbours access financial services.
Through the UNCDF project, I am a loan officer, but I also do branch management. In the Mahama branch, my job is to provide loans and follow up on repayments. I am in charge of daily monitoring, mobilisation, clients, project management, advising them in case of failure and all the work related to the support is in my hands.
First of all, because refugees have little or no means, some lack the basic skills in creating and managing financial resources. So, we start by offering them a financial literacy training. This training is available to all of our clients in refugee and host communities.
After training them, we show them the different banking services that are customised for their needs and make them feel there is a way to save, invest, and run a business that would lift them out of poverty. The bigger banks are reluctant to allow them to open accounts due to the lack of identification papers, so we have helped them to open accounts with only refugee registration proof.
We also introduce them to the different loan products that are tailored to their means. They are our customers and as a development focused financial institution, we do not want our client to be poor. We teach them about loan access and its management and when someone needs a loan, we approach them and help them to learn the basics, give them a small loan related to their capacity and even monitor them, from the beginning to the end of the loan to see if the loan is well used and repaid.
We started a digital banking (push and pull mobile banking) system to help our clients connect their mobile phones with their bank accounts, enabling them to use their mobile phones to save, withdraw, and transfer money without leaving their businesses or homes. Withdrawing money from the account is free and saving money is free.
With the technology that we use, people can save, withdraw, and get a message on their phone, whether it’s from the action they’ve done right at the moment, whether it’s from their accounts.
We use the PUSH AND PULL Mobile banking system so that when someone has a phone they can withdraw money from their account and do it all with camp based agents instead of going to the branch.”
“The services of Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd are appreciated: we have solved a lot of problems in this camp. Refugees have always had problems with the law enforcements in the camp due to stolen money and cases of destroyed banknotes due to lack of bank saving facilities – in addition to a lot of cash mismanagement and wastage. Such problems have declined thanks to our financial services among these refugee communities.
We have had more than 3,000 customers in a year and a half”.
Challenges and changes
“In the beginning, people outside the camp claimed that the bank was a refugee bank, but citizens were not denied access to the services we provided, and as soon as we realised that there could be a conflict, we immediately set up a branch outside the camp – refugees were allowed to come to the branch and local citizens as well.
But for sure the poor Telecom networks sometimes affect our services”
Some refugees are not using mobile banking because many people in this camp do not have a refugee ID, only proof papers. To get a sim card for the mobile phones they should get a refugee ID.
So, you can see that this is a challenge – for telecommunications companies and licensors to face – so we can offer everyone all services.”
Jersey Overseas Aid and United Nations Capital Development Fund
One of the areas United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) focuses on is achieving promoting inclusive digital economies.
Through the partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid, funding has been provided to UNCDF under the Branching Out: Financial Inclusion at the Margins programme to deliver basic financial services and provide financial and digital education to displaced people in refugee camps in Rwanda like Mahama, the largest refugee camp in the country. Men are also invited to participate but the particular focus is on empowering women and young people through this work.
Comic Relief and Jersey Overseas Aid, Jersey’s official, publicly funded relief and development agency, joined forces in 2017 to address financial exclusion in Sub-Sharan Africa through a multi-year programme, ‘Branching Out’. The partnership committed to driving forward frontline financial inclusion which aims to bank the unbanked, invest in digital financial services that reach last-mile communities without access to financial services, and to increase the capacity of the regulatory authorities responsible for overseeing financial services. This partnership operates in three countries; Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
“Roughly 1.7billion people around the world are ‘unbanked’ and do not have access to financial services. They cannot easily save for their children’s education, take out a loan to buy seeds and fertilisers or buy insurance to protect them from medical or natural hazards. Greater financial inclusion means that people save more, spend more on healthcare and education, start to invest in enterprises, and insure themselves against unexpected financial difficulties that have potentially devastating consequences.
“We are pleased to have been able to provide funding to support this incredibly important programme, providing essential services to people in some of the world’s poorest countries,” said Deputy Carolyn Labey, Jersey’s Minister for International Development and Chair of the JOA Commission.
UNCDF introduce refugees to standardised practices for saving groups in humanitarian contexts, and empowers them to use digital saving platforms to improve their financial management activities. Through four implementing partners, they also provide business and entrepreneurship training to refugees.
The aim of this programme is to increase access to and usage of safe, affordable and convenient financial services by refugees in these camps. By increasing refugees digital and financial literacy, the project aims to increase confidence in using digital financial services and ultimately works towards reducing poverty, supporting local economic development and increasing financial inclusion.
Images credit Serrah Galos, Comic Relief.
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