Goudoula peels back a piece of woven cloth to reveal a mound of fresh avocados, shading from deep green to purple to black. “I’ve multiplied my initial investment by five,” Goudoula beams. Goudoula’s avocados represent more than a thriving business. They symbolize her reclamation of her life.
Goudoula lives in Burundi, where generations of ethnic conflict and over a decade of civil war have made the African country one of the poorest in the world. Almost 90% of the population lives on less than $1.90 daily, and youth unemployment is about 65%. Although women make up over half the labor force, cultural norms give men the final say about how money is spent in most households. These patriarchal traditions, coupled with soul-crushing poverty, fuel gender-based violence. In Burundi, over 48% of women experience physical or sexual abuse by their partners. Laws further disempower Burundian women, who cannot inherit property and lack access to credit.
Goudoula used to be trapped in a marriage scarred by violence. “I lived in constant fear, convinced that one day he [her husband] would kill me if he ever got the chance.” Despite her husband controlling all the household’s resources, Goudoula mustered the courage to take their children and leave him.
Like so many Burundians, Goudoula struggled to provide the basic necessities for her kids. Shoes were an unattainable luxury. Medical care for her children wiped out her nascent savings. “I spent sleepless nights wondering how long we could endure.” Trapped by poverty and disempowered by past violence, Goudoula went looking for hope.
Goudoula sits with 14 other women, raptly listening to a radio program about female entrepreneurs in Burundi and the adversities they have overcome. This listening club is part of Search for Common Ground’s Project Tuyage (Project Let’s Talk), a three-prong program focused on increasing access to information, encouraging economic development, and building social cohesion. The listening club empowers Burundi women by addressing cultural barriers and social norms that prevent women from participating in the economy. The other arms of Project Tuyage expand the number of journalists producing high-quality, non-political news (state-fun outlets dominate the media), and the third engages young people in economic issues such as entrepreneurship.
At first, Goudoula didn’t want to share her story with the other women. She feared being ridiculed and judged, but hearing stories of female resilience made her realize she wasn’t alone. “Others had experienced similar stories. It gave me new confidence,” she remembers. Nurtured by the strength of other women, she confronted the chains of her past violence by contacting her ex-husband. “I wanted him to see that I held no grudges. Today, even though I have no desire to return to him, I have established a bond that allows him to see our children, and the fear no longer consumes me.” Goudoula was finally able to break free from her past.
“I had regained my pride, and from that moment on, I began envisioning the projects I wanted to pursue.”
In the listening club, Goudoula heard stories that showed what was possible. “One woman shared how she had started a tomato business with just 2,500 francs and today had managed to accumulate 500,000 francs,” Goudoula recounts, her eyes lighting up. These stories triggered a domino effect of success. Hearing them reignited Goudoula’s ambition to create a better life for herself and her children.
Listening club members pool their resources through membership fees, which are used to finance economic initiatives, offering each member opportunities for financial growth and independence. Goudoula obtained a microloan of 25,000 francs to launch her avocado business. Now, she no longer worries about her children going to bed hungry. “I can provide them with shoes, buy their school clothes, and take care of them when they are ill.”
Goudoula’s new sense of freedom and security is a source of inspiration for those seeking guidance and support. “Those who know my background are amazed by my transformation. They come to me for advice, and I’m more than happy to help them find strength and peace in their own homes.”
Transforming your life takes courage and resilience, and sometimes the encouragement of others. So far, Project Tuyage has encouraged 3,935 people. If you’d like to support women like Goudoula reclaim their lives, consider making a donation today. Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about Search for Common Ground’s transformative programming. Sharing this post reaffirms female dignity.