ECHOPPE issues a series of small cash loans to women to start up and build their tiny businesses ( about $40 to start). First loans are given without group guarantees or prior savings. Many of the ECHOPPE beneficiaries are so poor that they don't want to guarantee loans of someone else, nor does anyone believe enough in them to guarantee a loan. But, the loans are key to helping individuals get on their feet and survive. Having cash-on-hand through ECHOPPE loans increases purchasing power and provides financial stability. Successive loans enable the women to expand their business ventures. Savings is integrated into the repayment process and acts as an apprenticeship for long term self help.
ECHOPPE loans put people into a "project mode". They help persons, often without hope, build long-term projects in life beyond the search for one's daily bread.
In conjunction with the small loans program, social workers make home visits and provide educational opportunities in health care, food preparation or AIDS prevention and family planning.
Practical matters like writing one's own name, getting an identity card, and setting up a savings account may seem easy, but for a woman who has never held a pencil, such small steps bring about a complete change in self-worth and esteem from one's family.
ECHOPPE encourages monthly group neighborhood meetings where women learn from one another's experiences as well as from outside interventions. Here subjects such as one's rights and responsibilities are discussed: What happens in a time of divorce or death in a family? What's the importance of marriage? How does one report abuse? Talk with one's children? Pay taxes? etc... These meetings often begin with scenes acted out by the women themselves and lively discussions follow. Women become actors in an apprenticeship of democracy in these meetings. Often women have come very timidly, but once chosen to act out a scene to expose a problem, they suddenly become actors and advocates for their rights. They gain courage through these meetings and slowly as they integrate their husbands in their workplaces (by employing them), the husbands often insist that the women not miss a single meeting. The exchanges are important.
Building a future becomes building a future together.
For those who have PayPal accounts, you may make contributions to ECHOPPE via this site, rubrique: "take action"