Imagine walking five hours to make a deposit at a bank. After about ten minutes into the walk, many of us would turn back. But Leonie, a mother of eight children in the African country of Burundi, kept walking and walking until she finally reached her savings group’s credit co-operative (bank). Those five hours changed her life.
No ordinary bank would have given someone like Leonie a loan to help start a business. After all, she had almost nothing. She could not even afford to pay for her children's education, which cost about $25 per year for books, two uniforms and other materials. But then Leonie heard about the work Five Talents was doing in Matana, and she joined 15 others to form a savings and loan association they called "Nyarumanga", which means, "Let's pray for each other." (Leonie's association is pictured here; she is in the middle row, third from the right.)
None in the group had ever saved or borrowed, so in order to create some capital for their group, they all labored together by carrying construction materials for a builder. With Leonie's first loan of $7, she bought salt, which is used in almost every Burundian dish. Few women in her community work, and so Leonie immediately found a demand for her product.
Eventually, she began making a profit. But the primary beneficiaries of her success have been her children. "I can pay for school fees so my children can go to school," she said. "All will go to school -- I won't keep any at home because I was kept at home and I don't want that."
Nowadays, Leonie spends most of her time outside the home, delivering salt to her customers and, yes, walking five hours to attend her group meetings. That may seem like an impossible distance for us, but for Leonie it is a walk that has paid unfathomable dividends.