Fatou sits at the busy marketplace in the town of Tamba, Senegal; baskets of mangoes laid out before her. She buys them from her village and transports them to the market early every morning. A shopper haggling with her over the mangoes would not know that earnings from the fruit supports 11 children, waiting for her back at home.
Fatou is 35 years old and married when she was 15. She has not had any formal education, and neither had eight of her nine siblings. Her father had not wanted them to go to school, and they had only ever received lessons in reading and learning the Qu’ran in Arabic. She says that if she had the choice, she would not have married so young and would have liked to have been educated, but her family had financial difficulties and all the children were expected to help with running the household.
Fatou’s husband works as a driver and does not earn much, and their small home struggles to accommodate the entire family. Two beds are laid out under a makeshift awning just outside the house. They have no electricity. When Fatou is away at the market, the eldest children do the cooking and take care of the young ones. Fatou says that their four eldest had to drop out of school to support the family, but that six of her children are still in school. One of her daughters runs a small shop from their home; in which they sell dried hibiscus flowers, monkey-bread fruit, coffee and candy. Another daughter sells soup and fish on the roadside. Fatou’s sister cares for some goats that they rear.
Microfinance loans from VisionFund helped Fatou’s family with the many small businesses that they have. She has taken three consecutive loans; to support small-trade, to invest in growing groundnuts, and also to buy stocks of groundnut for re-selling. She has also used a part of her loans to purchase bricks to renovate her shop.
It is clear that Fatou carries the bulk of the work to provide for the family’s daily needs. She says that although she was unable to attend school herself, she wants to see her daughters and sons go to school, get good jobs, and be able to support the family when their parents were no longer able to work.
Seventeen-year old Jeneba is still in school and wants to be a teacher of Arabic. “Our mother works very hard. We see her struggling a lot to provide a better life for us. We are going to do our best to pay her back in the future,” she says.
Fourteen-year old Mariama wants to be a doctor. “We’ve seen our mother struggle to support us; going to the market, coming home late in the evening, making food and taking care of all the children. There is no one to help her. I do not want to get married very young. I want to study,” she says, adding that they just wanted their mother to hold onto these jobs for now, and that soon, they would be able to support her; and that everything would then be alright.
In many rural villages in Senegal, girls are married at a young age due to financial difficulties within families. Often uneducated, women end up having large families of their own and are often left to bear the bulk of work in providing for the many children, with little or no help.
Access to financial inclusion products and business training opens opportunities and possibilities for vulnerable women such as Fatou, enabling them to create avenues of income and overcome financial struggles.