Small Loans and Grocery Stores: A Tale of Two Widows
Poverty is persistent in many communities throughout Jordan, although the causes driving it are more complicated than is apparent on the surface. Despite hardworking attitudes, challenging circumstances force families into cycles of debt and destitution that worsen over time. JOHUD’s poverty alleviation program recognises the potential for families to raise themselves out of poverty if given the chance, providing loans that allow entrepreneurial individuals to create profit-making ventures that turn the tide.
The story of Soumaya(*) is a perfect example of someone who was able to turn the most challenging of circumstances around. At the age of 60, Soumaya was a widow who was tasked with caring for her three disabled daughters alone in the rural Jordan Valley region. With one daughter born with downs syndrome and two suffering from cerebral palsy, Soumaya quickly found herself having to manage spiralling costs whilst devoting every available minute to her vulnerable children. Her duties required her to take one daughter to the hospital for 20 days out of the month, and her late husband’s modest pension of 175 dinars was not enough to cover the costs of rent, medical expenses, and basic goods. Soumaya recalls being unable to purchase the incontinence pads her daughters required, robbing the entire family of the dignity and comfort they deserved.
Soumaya never stopped thinking of new ways to make money, but was extremely limited by her demanding hospital schedule and the need to stay close to her daughters. She fell upon the idea of running a grocery store next to the house, and approached JOHUD’s poverty alleviation program to see if she could borrow enough to bring in some initial stock.
As her idea was both viable and well thought out, she faced no problems in acquiring her first loan. It was to be the last she’d ever need. The grocery store became a source of success and convenience for the entire family; its location next to a local school ensured that the students kept the store busy. As the store is located on the side of the family home, Soumaya is able to leave it under the care of her son whilst she makes her frequent trips to the hospital, and she is able to remain close to her daughters at all other times. For the first time, she has been able to send one of her children to university, and can meet her family’s other needs with the remaining profits. More than anything, Soumaya has found the store to be a liberating way of solving the problems that weighed her down before; when asked, she described running it as “a happy life”.
Soumaya’s is not the only family that has been able to raise their standard of living by opening a grocery store with a JOHUD loan. In Mafraq governorate, another widow was also facing severe financial difficulties after the death of her husband. Eman(*) had been struggling to manage financially for a number of years, eventually looking after a family of 8 on a tiny income of 85JD per month plus other marginal amounts that could be gathered from regular loans. Eman’s family also had to deal with the rural character of their neighbourhood; their relative isolation meant that the nearest grocery store was miles away, costing the family more in transport and time wasted on purchasing necessities.
After years of struggle, Eman settled on the idea of turning this distinct negative into a positive for her family. She came upon the idea of earning extra money by opening the district’s first grocery store, and approached JOHUD’s poverty alleviation program to see if she could secure a loan to make the idea a reality.
Like Soumaya, Eman’s life has been significantly improved since she approached JOHUD. The family has been able to pay off the debts accrued on their utility bills for the first time in years, and can help the community more easily access the basic necessities that had been missing before. Eman has been particularly proud of her newfound ability to send her bright and hardworking daughter to university, complete with an extra 100 dinars in monthly pocket money to help manage the costs of living far from home. For both families, the ability to send their children to university could likely ensure that overall poverty is reduced for the future; with better educational attainment and more financially secure parents, these young people can lead lives that would otherwise have been denied to them completely.
*All names have been changed to protect the families’ confidentiality