Empowering Youth with Economic Security
Seven years ago, Theresa, a single mother of 2, left her hometown of Kamakue and moved to the capitol, Freetown, in search of a better life. When she arrived, things weren’t as easy as she had hoped. She found it extremely difficult to make ends meet and plan for her children’s future.
“I came to Freetown from Kamakue in the northern part of Sierra Leone 7 years ago. I was not doing anything apart from sometimes doing household chores for my neighbors. Things were so difficult for me and I didn’t have a plan. Then Plan’s Youth Economic Empowerment project started in our area.”
The Economic Empowerment Project
Launched in 2010, the Youth Economic Empowerment project increases economic opportunities for impoverished 15-25-year-olds, 70 percent of whom are women, through financial and life-skills training, improving access to banking and building on skills through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs).
Savings groups pool their savings together to provide loans, support, and opportunities for members.
“I met other girls from my area that I didn’t know before. Together, we developed a group named Unity. Through training, I have learned how to save, organize my finances better, and make my money work for me,” Theresa says.
Theresa's New Start-Up Business
Theresa's group, like many others, is made up of 20 people who pool their savings together and provide interest free short-term loans. The loans provide an opportunity for members of the group to create start-up businesses. A facility such as this would not be available from mainstream lenders like banks or building societies.
“I took out a loan of 70 dollars. It was the first time that I had held that kind of money. I used it to buy a bag of rice, 5 gallons of palm oil and other cooking equipment, and I started to sell rice meals by the street.” Theresa said.
With the profit, she was able to set up a small eatery. “With more profit coming in, I made monthly contributions to my group’s savings program. At the first share-out, I received 148 dollars. There were tears of joy in my eyes. I now have enough to take care of myself and my 2 children, both of whom are now attending private school. I have no need to work for the neighbors. I no longer need to rely on others."
She continues,“I had lost hope and self-esteem, but this project brought them back. I am now respected in my community and people even come to borrow money from me. I encourage youth to join the project which is really good for young people.”
Since the Youth Economic Empowerment project began, over 7,000 young people have been able to earn enough money to put themselves back through school and over 8,000 have been able to create their own start-up businesses.