This article was originally published in the World Orphans Spring Insight Magazine 2019.

Imagine living in a constant state of stress because there is never enough. Unexpected expenses are always emergencies. Your sickness or injury means you can’t work; therefore, your family won’t eat. If another family member is sick or injured, you may have to choose between medical care or rent. Choices are few, your options are limited, and every day is consumed with attempting to survive. You have little time and even less energy to consider the future or imagine alternatives. You struggle to fully engage with little moments of joy. You are enslaved to your daily responsibilities.

Those living in extreme poverty know this reality all too well.

Our Economic Empowerment Program is designed to give families an opportunity to move from surviving to thriving. The program is comprised of three parts. First, all of the caregivers in the program are part of local savings groups which include other members of the Home Based Care groups at their churches. These groups give them an opportunity to save money and be surrounded by other women in similar situations. They meet regularly to share their successes and their burdens. Second, once caregivers are selected to receive microloans, they also receive basic business training to prepare them to use their loans in ways that will help them be successful. Finally, after being part of the savings group and receiving business trainings, the caregivers receive their loans.

Our loan program has succeeded beyond our expectations. Nearly all of the loans are being repaid, and we are consistently seeing lives changed in the process. Women are successfully breaking free from the chains of poverty and opening the door to a new future for their families. We are in the midst of our third round of loans, and we anticipate that every caregiver in this program will have received at least one loan by the end of 2019.

What happens when a caregiver receives a loan?

1) Caregivers are given the freedom to choose.

Instead of being forced to accept any job they can find, our caregivers are able to start businesses of their own. They are able to use their experiences, knowledge, and talents to provide for their families instead of being forced to work as day laborers and domestic servants—physically demanding jobs that keep them separated from their families. These caregivers are able to identify needs in the local market, and they can buy the materials to fill those needs instead of buying and selling the same products everyone else is selling. Their increased income allows them the freedom to choose what they will feed their families instead of being limited to what they can afford based on that day’s sales.

2) Caregivers are given freedom from worry.

Caregivers are able to stop buying product on credit, allowing them to grow their small businesses. They are also able to negotiate better prices, thus improving their margins. The increased cash flow allows families to save because they do not depend on today’s profit for tomorrow’s meal, and their savings equips them to withstand emergencies or changing market conditions. Having this cushion means life is not as stressful; therefore, less energy is spent worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

3) Caregivers are given the freedom to dream.

Instead of being consumed with the business of surviving today, our caregivers are increasingly able to make plans for the future. They have the opportunity to improve and expand their businesses. They are able to set their own schedules, and they can make sure their children are receiving an education. Additionally, as they learn, they are able to share their new knowledge with their children, passing on both valuable and practical skills for life and business. These caregivers feel more confident in their ability to handle emergencies; therefore, they begin to make plans for a better future for their families. The additional time with their families, combined with their increased confidence, and affirmed sense of dignity has strengthened the most important relationships in their lives.

This freedom is contagious, overflowing throughout the community. Several of the women who have taken loans have been so successful with their businesses that they no longer need our assistance. When they graduate from the program, it provides an opening for another family in need. Our most successful entrepreneurs are training others, and some have even hired employees as they have successfully expanded their businesses. The ripple effect of freedom is tangible, life-changing, and inspiring.