Two years ago, Sophia Stevens stood on the dusty path at the edge of her pineapple garden proudly showing off her quarter-acre plot. Every day she would walk the steep path to the garden from her house atop the hill to tend to her pineapples and other fruits and vegetables that grow on the surrounding land. Her garden and house were new, both made possible because of Sophia’s new-found economic freedom.
But just a few years before, in 2011, Sophia’s life was vastly different. Then, at 36 years old, she was married, a stepmother to four children, and living in someone else’s house because she couldn’t afford her own. When her two oldest stepchildren passed their exams and prepared to enter secondary school, she couldn’t pay the fees.
Then she met Genegeva Johaness, an empowerment worker for Pact’s Pamoja Tuwalee project in Kituntu, a small village in Tanzania’s northern Kagera region. Genegeva was working with local communities in the area to support children who are vulnerable because of HIV and AIDS and their caregivers. She encouraged Sophia to join a local WORTH group that helps members become economically independent and learn how to care for vulnerable children.
That year, Sophia joined WORTH. She learned how to earn and manage money and began saving small amounts of money each week. As her savings and her financial knowledge grew, she began taking loans from her fellow members in the Juhudi WORTH group.
Sophia dreamed of living in her own home, but she knew she needed a way to earn a living. With her first loan, she bought a plot of land and hired people to help plant her pineapple crop. She also planted other fruits and vegetables – mangoes, papaya, avocado – to sell at the market and provide nutritious food for her family while she waited for her pineapples to mature.
As her business thrived, she was able to pay back her initial loan, continue to save for a rainy day and take out additional loans.
Today, she lives under her own roof, which she built from a group loan. As her family has expanded to include four children of her own, she is able to provide nutritious food for everyone. And when her children pass their exams, she no longer worries about whether she can pay the school fees.
In addition to expanding her pineapple plot, Sophia has continued on her entrepreneurial journey by starting a business selling shoes and cloth. She sells the shoes at a local market for a profit of 3,000 shillings per pair, and sells the cloth to local tailors and women for making clothes and household items.
Her family recognizes the value of her participation in the project. Her husband is grateful for the opportunities it has opened up for his wife and family. He’s seen the positive changes in their lives since his wife joined WORTH.
“WORTH helps me live a happy life,” says Sophia. “It has given me the strength to bring up my children.”
But Sophia isn’t done yet. She wants to continue her success and provide more for her family. She plans to buy a machine that makes it easier to juice her pineapples for selling the juice and wants to buy a cow that will provide milk for the family.
“I know what I need to provide my kids to remain healthy,” says Sophia. Now she has the means to deliver.