Staying the Course in Burundi: While Many NGOs are Fleeing, Five Talents is Here to Stay

Following the national elections earlier this year, political violence in Burundi has contributed to an economic downturn and a loss of investment and aid.

 Over 200,000 residents have fled to neighboring countries and there is fear of ongoing violence and reprisals. As a result, many development agencies and nonprofits have scaled back or relocated their operations.

Meanwhile, the people of Burundi face increased insecurity, higher health costs, and a loss of jobs and business opportunities. Four out of five Burundians live on less than $1.25 a day and each job supports an average of 7 or more dependents. According to Unicef, "The potential impact of the current crisis and an economic downturn on children cannot be underestimated. It could be devastating."

Despite these challenges, Five Talents is committed to staying the course in Burundi. Five Talents works with over 25,000 savings group members in Burundi and is pursuing an ambitious plan to expand into another 230 communities. We work with local church partners and leaders, especially in rural communities.

Our savings groups continue to operate and expand and are bringing communities together to focus on local solutions. Through small group savings and loans, families are able to access capital in times of emergency and are cushioned against the impact of decreased government funding of social programs. These groups are very grateful for "friendship in times of trouble" and our regional program coordinator, Claudette appreciates the support and prayers of all those who she knows and those who she does not. The knowledge of people who are praying and committed to walking together gives them courage.

Join us in supporting families in Burundi. Your gift helps to build peace and creates hope and opportunity for the vulnerable poor.

The Power of Micro: A Mother's Testimony from Central Burundi

Virgnie has five children but until recently none were able to attend school.

Her eldest child never even set foot in a classroom because the family's financial conditions were so difficult. Like many in central Burundi, Virgnie faced extreme poverty. When Virgnie joined the Five Talents financial literacy program, however, things began to change.

"My status changed when I joined the savings and credit group. I am so glad because now I can send my children to school."

How did this happen?

After learning basic financial literacy and business skills, Virgnie was able to access a small loan of $14 from her savings group.

She used this loan combined with the knowledge she gained in her training to begin selling cassava, banana and vegetables. Eventually she began providing produce to two local restaurants.

"With the profit, I have improved my family life", Virgnie says.

During the first year of her new business she was able to send two of her children to school, covering the school fees as well as the cost of uniform, shoes, and stationaries from her profits.

(Above: Virgnie's neighbors and members of her savings group gather for a meeting)

Virgnie hopes to expand her business and plans for her other children to join school in the near future. Her neighbors have taken notice of the change and began asking her for advice.

"I am a role model in my community and even my neighbors have [now] joined savings groups", Virgnie says.

Walk with us and help more women like Virgnie build a brighter future for their families. Click here to donate now.

Growing Profit: How Small Scale Farmers in Burundi are Building Business

In our Burundi program, many women and men are learning how to read and write for the first time.

Once the literacy and business training is completed, these folks use their new skills to begin saving and lending money as a group. Each savings group creates its own constitution and sets its own interest rates and penalty fees.

Francois in Makamba was so impressed by his wife's transformation that he decided to join a savings group himself.

"My wife joined this association, and when she had saved enough, she leased a plot of land and asked me to cultivate rice with her. She encouraged me to join this association. I thought, 'What is she doing?' But I came along and saw what it was about and joined. Before, I didn't have 1,000 Burundian Francs ($0.64) to spare, but I managed to save and now I have a loan. I didn't have land, but I have been able to get some."

Land ownership has opened a whole new realm of opportunities for Francois. He is able to plant, grow, and harvest food for his family as well as sale in the market. Increased income means a better education for his children and improved health care.

Many other members of the savings group in Makamba are also experiencing growth and opportunity. Above, many of Francois' co-members gather at their local church.

Learn more about Five Talents' programs in Burundi and help an entrepreneur build a brighter future.

Jeanine: Rural Business Development for Mothers in Burundi

Jeanine is a mother of three from rural Burundi. For years, she struggled to provide an income for her family by selling green vegetables at a local market.

Before joining a savings group, Jeanine admits that "my business was not well planned."

She lacked basic business knowledge and didn't understand savings or credit or how to plan for business development or unexpected events. After joining Five Talents program, Jeanine gained skills in business management and changed her business. Read more of Jeanine's story in her own words:

What was life like before joining a savings group?

"My life situation before joining the program was vulnerable because I was discriminated and rejected by my neighbours. I was suffering from lack of money to buy food, clothing for my children and I was very poor and I feared to be with other persons."

What type of training have you received and how has it affected you?

"[I have] received training about how to do the savings, credit, [and] manage a good business in honouring God. I thank very much the program activities. My family and the community have changed [with] improving relationships, knowledge, Biblical skills and income generating activities. I am the leader in our community about resolving problems and my husband needs my advices before making decisions of household income and expenses; imagine!''

How has your life changed since joining the program?

"My life since joining the program has changed [through] increased household income for my family. I became a business mother."

"Now I sell banana juice and I get benefit in order to satisfy my family's [needs]. Now I can buy high quality clothes for my family. . .school materials. . .and even gifts [for] birthdays and Christmas. . .My family is able to plan for medical fees and [for] ceremonies and social activities in the community. . .My business is progressing and transforming the community."

What are your hopes and dream for the future?

"My hopes and dream for the future is to improve my business and become a shopkeeper. [I want to] continue to involve other women in business activities, and [help them] make decisions about household income and an efficient participation in family life."

Help us empower more women like Jeanine. Learn how you can impact families across Eastern Africa.

Denise in Burundi: 'I Feel Empowered and Confident'

The power of giving is truly remarkable.

I recently returned from a trip to Burundi, where donations from folks like you have been put to work, forming savings groups, providing loan capital for micro-businesses and training micro-entrepreneurs in core business skills.

To be sure, the need in the communities I visited was palpable. But the power of your generosity – and God's blessing on your donations – is far, far greater.

Without supporters like you, many of the huts I visited would not have roofs or windows. Fewer meals would be served. Fewer children would be learning to read and write. Hope would be virtually non-existent.

I think of Lea, who had hardly a penny to her name when she joined a savings group. After attending regular meetings, receiving training, and taking out a small loan, she launched a tiny enterprise selling tomatoes.

"Now, we eat two times a day while we were eating once or less a day before," she told us. "We are able to provide school materials to our children. While I had no income, now I am financially autonomous. And with my profits, I can even provide some gifts."

Isn't that amazing? Lea, who was directly touched by the support of Five Talents donors, is now giving out of her own profits, small though they may be.

Indeed, the needs of folks who join our programs are great. But the power of your gift is greater.

Without you, micro-businesses would not be turning a profit and helping to fund the education of children.

Without you, women would not feel – often for the first time in their lives – that they have value, that God loves them, that they have skills and gifts and something to offer their families.

Denise's story, if you heard her tell it, might just bring you to tears. Ostracized in her community, she literally had no clothes or home when she first joined the program.

But other women in her savings group saw her need and surrounded her, encouraged her and helped her to get back on her feet. She learned from them and slowly began to re-build her life.

"Being in a savings and credit association has contributed to my changing social status," she said. "I feel empowered and confident. Now, I am the one to provide food and take care of my children, to build a dwelling, and to buy clothes for myself and my children. I've also gained new relationships through the group."

These are just two of the scores of stories I heard when I was in Burundi, where we estimate 40,000 women and men are still waiting to join our program.

That's not a typo: 40,000 people in Burundi – one of the world's most impoverished countries – are in great need of financial services, training and support.

Tens of thousands more wait to join our programs in communities across South Sudan, Myanmar, Bolivia and Indonesia.

We simply cannot meet this challenge without your support.

Although the need is great, the collective generosity of people like you is far greater.

A donation made today will change the life-course of a savings group member and their dependents.

Your gift will provide business skills training workshops, micro-business loans, and savings group formation – all before the end of our current fiscal year.

As we celebrate the birth of the greatest Gift the world has ever seen, Christ Our Lord, let us each prayerfully consider how we can give out of our own great wealth.

No matter where you find yourself this holiday season – whether at home in front of a familiar tree strung with lights and ornaments, or enjoying a well-deserved vacation – please know that your generosity has the power to lift up women like Lea and Denise, along with their families, from the pit of poverty and despair.

A Roof Over My Head: How Microfinance Changed Mary's Life

Mary's husband passed away years ago. Like many widows in the villages of Buye, Mary struggled to maintain her home and meet her daily physical needs.

Friends from church prayed with Mary. They also invited her to join a Five Talents program providing training in financial literacy and business skills. Mary learned biblical principles of financial management. She also heard stories from friends who had developed successful small businesses.

Mary was encouraged to identify her God-given talents, explore her available assets and resources, and put them to wise use. Mary learned the discipline of saving and joined a small savings group.

With the encouragement of friends in her group, Mary used her first loan to buy and sell avocadoes. Her business grew over time. By developing a sustainable business Mary was able to provide a steady income for herself. She also saved and was able to use her profits to install a new roof for her home.

Helping widows like Mary is why we are here.

Five Talents continues to help women and men across Burundi and in low-income communities around the world.

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Photo Essay: Inside a Savings Group Meeting in Burundi

This week, a small group of Five Talents advocates and supporters are in Burundi to visit with some of the women and men who have joined savings groups and are receiving training in basic business skills, thanks to Five Talents' local partner in the country, Mothers' Union Burundi.

Here, photographer Ross Oscar Knight captures a few moments before, after and during a savings group meeting that he and others on the trip were able to observe.

Many of Five Talents and Mothers' Union's savings groups in Burundi hold their meetings in community churches like this one.

At every meeting, group members add to their savings. It is from this collective savings that group members may, in turn, access micro-business loans to support and expand their income-generating activities, such as buying salt in bulk and selling it to members of their community. The size of the microloans and the interest charged on the loans are agreed upon by the individual groups, which adopt a group "constitution."

One of the benefits of Five Talents' group savings model is that members have peers who can encourage them, advise them and support them both emotionally and spiritually. Every group member also receives training in core business skills, like accounting and marketing. Many of the women and men who are part of these groups, never had the opportunity for an education. Before joining the savings groups, these women and men are taught how to read and write as well as how to do math for small businesses. This training is coordinated by Five Talents' partner Mothers' Union.

For every savings group member served, up to seven people in their household benefit: financial management skills are passed on to children and spouses; living conditions improve when savings group members use their profits to install a new roof; parents are able to send their children to school.

Want to find out more about Five Talents' micro-savings, lending and training program in Burundi? Click here to learn about the difference you can make.

All photography by Ross Oscar Knight for Five Talents