'I am very happy to have got this golden opportunity to change my life. When I got pregnant while in primary school, I was driven away by parents for what they referred to as “shame to the family”. I stayed with friends until I delivered and started selling food stuff for the upkeep of me and my daughter. The chief in my community recommended me to this programme and today, I have recognition in my family and my community. I can now earn income from my trade and my life is improved. My only challenge is that I don’t have a start-up kit to establish my own business .'
During 2016 our partner Future Focus Foundation in Kenema, delivered a project that aimed to improve families’ abilities to earn sufficient income to keep their children in school and improve the overall health and well-being of the family. One hundred and sixty five rural female-headed households benefited from the project.
The project had two main activities. Nine Group Savings and Credit Schemes (GSCS) for 135 female-headed households were established. These included financial literacy training, provision of the equipment needed to administer the scheme effectively, seed grants of £145 per group (once they had proven their capacity to save), a social fund for those in need/in times of emergency and loans for small businesses.
The second main activity was the provision of vocational training for thirty young mothers, provided through a partnership with the Women’s Empowerment and Skills Training Centre, who provided seven-month courses in tailoring, embroidery or hairdressing, depending on the choice of the young women themselves. Early assessments demonstrated that 60% of the young women were illiterate and the remaining 40% had very low education levels. Numeracy and literacy support, as well as life skills and business skills, therefore became a main part of the training programme.
The project supported 165 rural female-headed households in Kenema, Sierra Leone – 135 adult-headed families plus thirty young mothers. As a result, 660 children benefited from the two project activities (339 girls and 321 boys). One hundred and fifty (84 girls and 66 boys) are now able to attend school regularly because their school fees, uniforms and scholastic materials are paid for. The other children have benefited from improved access to health services, food, clothing and general welfare.
The project started by ensuring that important community members understood its aims and committed to support them. 265 community leaders (105 women, 160 men) from six communities attended the initial consultation meetings, which resulted in an agreement to extend the project to nine communities.
The project originally aimed to be all-women. However, because of low levels of literacy and numeracy, the women requested the support of some local teachers to assist the savings groups’ administrative tasks while they improved their skills in these areas, and some of these teachers were men. Literacy, numeracy and business skills were strong components of both aspects of the project, to build the women’s confidence in these areas.The women were very positive about these aspects of their training, which they said also enabled them to support their children with their own education.
In response to feedback from the participants about the need for some financial support to get started with their businesses, the project was able to identify some funding through exchange rate gains to dedicate to providing small £30 start-up kits.
All the young mothers in the scheme were able to complete their seven-month training and six-week placements, after which they started their own small businesses. While it is not long since they completed the project and therefore not yet possible to track long-term impact, they are all currently reporting an increase in income, which they are able to use to improve the education, health and well-being of their families.
Although this project was short and the grant relatively small, Future Focus Foundation’s focus on sustainability from the beginning, coupled with the community buy-in and the creation of local partnerships with schools and training institutions, have resulted in participants’ commitment to continue to learn, save and invest in their children’s education even though the project has now formally ended.
The children in the project were identified by community leaders as those in most need in their communities, whose parents had a commitment to improve their lives and increase their income through participation in one of the project’s two main activities. By increasing family income, confidence and basic skills, the project aims to improve the life chances of the children, through increased access to education and improved health and well-being.
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