A Mother at 15. A Business Owner at 26.

A mother at 15. A business owner at 26.

Mariam had her first child when she was 15. Growing up, she had five siblings; three brothers and two sisters, all whom married at a young age. In their village near Fatik in Senegal, it was just the way of life. It also helped to reduce the burden of running a big household.

Mariam’s daughter Absa was born with disabilities, and for the past 11 years, Mariam has spent a good part of her time taking Absa from hospital to hospital in the capital city of Dakar for various treatments. Costs for transportation and treatment are expensive. Absa also needs the use of a wheelchair and has communication difficulties that prevent her from being able to attend school.

Having separated from her first husband and married again, Mariam also has a second daughter Katie, who is four years old. But caring for Absa takes first place for Mariam, and ensuring her quality of life. Having had to give up school herself, she is determined to pull together enough money to send Absa to a private school that specialises in helping children with disabilities. Her husband is a trader, and helps, but keeping up with the expenses that come with caring for a child that falls ill frequently is no easy task.

When VisionFund came to the village in 2015 and introduced loans for animal-rearing, Mariam applied and received a loan of 150,000 XOF ($258). She was able to buy two sheep, sell them at a higher price and even set aside some savings. She continued to take loans for animal rearing and is now on her fifth loan of 200,000 XOF ($344), and currently owns five sheep and a cow.

Having completed a hair and beauty course at the age of 20, Mariam used the profits that came from animal rearing to open a small hairdressing salon in the village. She says that business is best during the Eid festival days. Although she is always busy with the children and work, she is also taking the time to train four young girls from her extended family on hair and beauty techniques at her salon.

Mariam’s dream is to open a salon and tailoring shop in the city of Bambay, where she says she will have more business. More income means getting closer to her bigger dream of being able to send Absa to a school that will give her the special care and attention she needs; something which she herself struggles with while ensuring she had constant sources of income by taking care of her animals and salon. “Absa cannot speak. Everything has to be done for her,” says Mariam, adding that the school will be able to help her. If she works hard enough she knows she can attain both dreams.

For many women in this community, who, like Mariam, marry at a very young age and bear most of the weight of caring for children, access to finance not only serves as a source of support but opens up opportunities and new possibilities. VisionFund’s ‘Women’s Empowerment Fund’ aims to serve and empower such vulnerable women to overcome financial and communal barriers; creating hope and brighter futures.