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“Tell us your story. How did you form your group?” 
Poverty was the driving force. The women realized that one person might not receive anything if they knock on a door, but a group with a unified vision is powerful. They formed in 1996 and secured their group registration papers in 2001. They worked hard for economic progress focusing their efforts on investing their modest profits from farming and working others’ farms into group small business ventures and school fees for their children. They were very proud to point out that there were no school-age children present because they were all in school. They said when Africare approached them in 2011 they were poised for growth and Africare made a difference in how fast they could progress by providing training, agricultural supplies, micro-credit financing, and most notably – in their minds – a grinding mill. 

“How do you feel Africare has helped you?” 
This group had an entrepreneurial spirit, so they made a lot of cognitive leaps of how immediate training and other inputs were tools for them to build their own futures. They were very excited about the mill in particular as they were able to employ two workers to run it – both of whom were proudly introduced to us – as well as generate income from milling for neighboring villages so that they were able to buy another mill. They were excited about agricultural yields increasing so that they had enough left after food supplies to set some dried items aside for themselves and sell either raw or transformed products in the market. They explained how they implemented the Africare marketing/pricing trainings when they sold their products at increasingly more profitable margins. We then asked them to share with us individual personal stories about how the Africare activities helped their families. They were eager to share about how they finally understood the connection between hygiene and illnesses. They described in detail the steps they took in their individual households to implement hygiene/WASH training. Some of them also described how excited they were to know how to store food, although they lamented that some still inevitably spoils including grains because of lack of adequate dry, protected food storage. An interesting note was that they specifically do not want cattle because the women can do their work and watch goats, but cattle require more full-time work. They were concerned that they would have to keep the children home to watch the cattle if they had cattle and they preferred their children in school. 

“If you were on your own without Africare, would you survive? How would you do it?” 
The group launched into a discussion about their dreams and how they would continue to survive because of these things: firm group unity – one vision; reinvestment of profits into both individual and collective projects; thinking ahead to new types of businesses they could create using existing resources and resources they believed they could purchase themselves; remarkable conflict resolution techniques; and their active process of engaging their daughters so that the group would continue as a multi-generational entity. The women very clearly stated that they wanted their success to be a legacy for their daughters, that they would be proud of their mothers and follow in their footsteps. 

“What are the external barriers preventing you from progressing?” 
They recognize they need more training and were eager for whatever could be given to them in that regard. They knew they still needed more technical knowledge regarding agriculture and harvested food storage – they very much wanted to hold some of their grains to sell during the rainy season when prices are higher. They requested supplies such as fertilizers and pesticides, but focused just as much on the desire to know more about how to use these supplies both for practical application and teaching others. They were humble when they explained that they try their best, but the land is still poor and they do not know enough to improve fertility long-term. They were also concerned about the technical aspects of seed storage, so that they could be sown the next year - they are very aware that while their seeds might spoil within 6 months, there are places where they store them properly and they can last 1-5 years. They felt confident however, that they could overcome obstacles and continue to grow.Questions for us: The women had questions for us about availability of additional agricultural supplies and food storage. They assured us that if Africare left, they would survive, but that their land is poor, so they do appreciate any agricultural assistance to increase crop yields. They caught us off guard by directly asking if Africare was leaving and stopping the program altogether. Again they reiterated they would survive, but expressed concern because the “mission isn’t over.”

Additional Comments: Overall, this group was impressive. They were consistently saving money and reinvesting. Their children were in school and the general appearance of the area where we visited with them near the mill was notably cleaner than in other villages we had seen thus far. They also noted that while they observed other nearby groups dying (non-Africare sponsored), they felt that they would continue to grow because they were focused on one vision and were strong in their unity. They had concerns about barriers, but overall were optimistic and enthusiastic.

Group Djarabe, Village Ndoromane – 27 women + 1 male secretary

"Tell us your story. How did you form your group?”
They advertised through word-of-mouth that they wanted to form a group to work others’ farms and raise money to establish themselves – in 1999 they aligned themselves. They split their earnings between school fees, saving for their government registration papers and saving for a well. At that point, they had to walk 5 km to draw water, so gardening was impossible and they were exhausted. In 2002, they earned their well with help from WorldVision. They were very excited that Africare gave them a mill in 2010, two years after their sponsorship began in 2008. 

“How do you feel Africare has helped you?” 
They discussed with us the benefits of the hygiene training and described how to apply it both for personal cleanliness and household and cooking applications. They pointed out their goats (that were enthusiastically attempting to eat the manioc drying in the sun). After chasing the goats away, they showed us what they were doing with the manioc and explained the transformation products they had learned to create, including the ability to dry vegetables for use up to six months later during the rainy season. They showed us their mill and explained how they could mill their own rice and millet and even charge others for milling. They were happy at the prospect of participating in the invitation to sell their goods in the Doba Platform, but daunted at how to get them there. They explained in detail what they had done with their micro-credit loans and how they engaged their daughters into the process so they could learn how to invest and pay back the loans. There was a younger woman there who had been trained in how to work with money in French and taught the others. They invested in buying and selling commodity products and dry goods to their neighbors. Their agricultural yields are increasing as a result of technical training regarding planting, fertilizing and general care of the fields. The mill was a major impetus for the children attending school because it was no longer necessary to have them walk 5 km to help mill the grains. Some of them learned to ride a motorcycle so that they could access markets (of course it would have to be someone else’s cycle). Qualitatively, they discussed other benefits such as the feeling of being “empowered” and how to get along with patience and focus. They were trained in how to welcome strangers and care for the village and each other as a unit as they functioned as a group. The secretary shared with us his managerial and basic literacy training and how that gave him the confidence to represent the group even among those who are more educated. The relationship between the secretary and women seemed very positive. 

“If you were on your own without Africare, would you survive? How would you do it?” 
This group provided a marvelous answer in the analogy of a new pregnant wife. If Africare and other NGOs are the parents, once a young man has a pregnant wife, he is responsible to care for her. It is his responsibility and so it is the responsibility of the group to capitalize on the benefits granted to them, but ultimately to fend for themselves. The women view themselves as successful because other groups were dying either literally or for lack of focus, but they continue to grow. Their growth is moderate compared to that of the Bedobnang village, but they are improving. They feel they have enough experience to warrant providing advice to other groups on how to be successful. They are very serious about conflict resolution – all conflicts are resolved in less than 30 minutes. Other groups may be suffering from hunger during the drought and wet seasons, but they have learned technical skills to preserve food. The most important thing they discussed was their mother-daughter training. The women made sure to include younger women and girls in their activities and meetings so that their knowledge and experience could be passed on and expanded through the next generations. They had an interesting micro-credit process where loans given to group individual members were split with their daughter(s), so that they could practice handling the loans and investing. 

“What are the external barriers preventing you from progressing?” 
They are concerned about their transportation options for getting products into Doba markets – again they mentioned they want to participate in the Doba Platform, but are struggling to get their products there. They work hard, but the land is not good, so while the training and fertilizers have helped they still struggle. They discussed at length their issues with storing dried food and seeds because of lack of proper facilities. They said they lost a lot less of it thanks to Africare training, but that they could do better with a proper housing. One thing they did not say, but we noticed, is the children did not look as clean and well-fed as in some of the other villages – training in these regards might be repeated here. 

Questions for us: They asked about transportation options for them to Doba and if a granary was possible for food and seed storage. 

Group Nangtikom, Village Djeun – 20 women + 1 male secretary

“Tell us your story. How did you form your group?” 
They recognized that they had barriers preventing them from moving forward and decided to band together into a group in 1999. Interestingly enough, the leader of this group is a woman who was married in from another village – she seemed much more self-assured than the others in her group. They built up their agriculture by working together and hiring themselves out to neighboring farms to raise money. Africare sponsored them in 2003.  

“How do you feel Africare has helped you?” 
They said that Africare could see they were doing their best and offered to sponsor them. Originally, Africare brought them seeds for a garden and an diesel water pump. However, they trained the women how to turn the pump on, but not the capacity of the pump so they burned it out in a year using it to draw too much water from the river for the garden. They were given goats, sheep, ducks and chickens, which seemed to be doing fine as there were a lot of them. Africare taught them to farm rice as their village is low and routinely floods every year, which means rice is the only consistent crop they can grow. They discussed the benefits of the hygiene/WASH program and how it helped their families in terms of illness. They said they were supposed to receive a mill, but they were told there were not enough to go around. They received training in small business enterprises, which they were trying to implement with purchases of dry goods and commodities they could then sell at higher prices. They received micro-credit financing which they were very excited about as they had a list of things in which they could invest. They told us that they saved the 20,000 CFA for their micro-credit application and gave it to the local Union representative for processing, for which they did not receive a receipt and were told to wait for the contact from the processing office, but when they eventually reached out, they were told their application fee had not been submitted to the Doba office for processing, so they are desperate for micro-credit. 

“If you were on your own without Africare, would you survive? How would you do it?”
This question worried them as they have very clear needs, but they proudly told us they are the local leaders in terms of groups. The president in particular seems resilient and is likely a key to their success in addition to the tools from Africare. They noted also that they were the first sponsored group from their village and that they are publicly acknowledged as leaders because they work together. They said that if necessity forced them to move forward they would do it, just as they have always done. They described their conflict resolution process and that they never end a day with an outstanding “misunderstanding.”

“What are the external barriers preventing you from progressing?”
This group has a lot of barriers. They are in a sizable, sprawling village, but it routinely floods, so their agriculture and food storage is limited. They are vulnerable without the micro-credit, but have clear plans on how to use it if they get it. They appreciated the hygiene training, but mentioned it takes money to buy some of the products necessary. Doba is far for them and there is no clinic nearby. They became angry and explained that sometimes their children die in their arms for lack of medical care nearby. They want very much to know more about how to store food through the rainy season so they can sell it at higher prices when the demand goes up. 

Questions for us: The women had questions for us about availability of additional agricultural supplies and food storage. They asked about tractor availability – because of the floods, planting has to happen on-time and quickly. They said sometimes they are told a tractor is coming, but then it never does and the women are struggling to get by without wandering about looking for a tractor. They worry about the health of their children and inquired again about a clinic and a school. They asked us to check on their micro-credit process. Additional Comments: This group is clearly struggling as their barriers are substantial. They are not to be underestimated however – they are clearly resilient with signs of motivation and tenacity that could turn to success if they are provided the right combination of assistance. They want to be self-sufficient. We wondered as well, if there are issues with the local cattle herders. Apparently, there are some political issues in the region where cattle are permitted to run free through farmers’ fields and the farmers’ are threatened if they protest. A bull and cow actually charged through the village while we were sitting there causing a major distraction.