Running their own lives

A woman sells smoked fish at a market in San Pedro, Côte d'Ivoire. UN Photo / Ky Chung

By Michele Learner

Rebuilding devastated communities for resilience also means strengthening governments so that they can meet the needs of their people. “That’s an important dimension of [our] work. We do work closely with governments to ensure that they’re providing the services that are ultimately required,” Michelle Nunn, chief executive officer of CARE USA says in a video, “Rebuilding for Resilience“.

Ultimately, governments and development agencies must ensure that families have ways of supporting themselves. Not just one, but several options. Nunn mentions, for example, a CARE program for smallholder women farmers in Ethiopia that trains and supports participants in cultivating honey and crops that are more resistant to drought. It also models how to start a group savings program that can provide credit for members to start their own businesses.

In Niger, a few dozen women started a similar lending program, Village Savings and Loan, 25 years ago.  “It’s grown to now 400,000 women in Niger,” Nunn says, “and half of the women that are elected to political office have been a participant in this program. That’s the kind of long-term change that we’re looking for.”

Ultimately, what enables countries to recover from hunger emergencies and famines, is the strength and perseverance of individuals, families, and communities. All over the world, most people, but particularly those who have survived severe hardship, will seize opportunities to improve their lives and “run with them.”

Nunn mentions a number of particularly determined people who were born in absolute poverty, but have nonetheless made a better life for themselves and in improving the lives of people around them.

One of these people is Salamatu, who lives in Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. She is from a poor rural family. At the age of 13 she was married to a man over 60. She had four children by the time she was 20. Nunn recalls, “she did not have enough to eat any day of her life, and she had one outfit that she would wash and wear wet the next day.”

Salamatu joined a village savings and loan program that CARE staff mentioned to her, and she soon started a very small business selling salt. Over time, she expanded her business into one that generates enough money to support herself and her children, and to send them to school. But beyond this, Salamatu went on to help start 3,000 additional savings and loan programs in Cote d’Ivoire.

“Think about the impact that Salamatu has had with just a tiny bit of support,” Nunn says. “I take heart in the belief that we have extraordinary people with resilience and strength around the world who, with a little bit of help, can become force multipliers.”

The world in 2017 is facing unprecedented numbers of people at risk of starvation, forced from their homes and farms, or both — at least 81 million, including millions in four countries facing the worst famines since World War II. Without question, the global community must respond to deaths and suffering on such an unimaginable scale — and prevent such catastrophes in the future.

Can we? Nunn is unequivocal: “We have the capacity to multiply our impact to realize the scale that’s before us in terms of ending hunger, and we can do it with the right investments and with the will.”

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

What enables countries to recover from crises is the strength and perseverance of individuals and communities.

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