From potatoes to doughnuts, a path out of poverty

MCC-supported program helps Nigerian woman financially support her family

Oct 27, 2014 by and

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JOS, Nigeria — Too poor to get medical care in time to save her baby’s life, Rhoda Markos decided her life had to change.

Using MCC-supported job training and a small loan, Rhoda Markos started her own business and earned enough money to build the house with cement floors and tin roof behind her. — David Klassen/MCC

Using MCC-supported job training and a small loan, Rhoda Markos started her own business and earned enough money to build the house with cement floors and tin roof behind her. — David Klassen/MCC

A training program supported by Mennonite Central Committee helped her do it.

Three years ago, Markos lived in a rural village with her husband and three children. They worked as subsistence farmers, eating what they grew and selling what they could. Like 60 percent of Nigerians, they survived on less than $1 a day.

When Markos’ newborn baby developed a high fever, she had no money to buy medicine. Though she begged, the local pharmacist refused her credit. Half the village already owed the pharmacy money.

A kind person gave her enough money for transportation to the nearest hospital and back.
But at the hospital her child died.

In Nigeria, a dead body must be carried in a special hire vehicle. Markos could not afford that with the money remaining in her pocket. So she strapped her dead baby on her back and boarded the next public bus back to her village. The family buried the baby the next day.

Deeply troubled, Markos vowed she and her family would never have to go through anything like this again.

Markos learned a woman was coming to her village to teach income-generation skills. She was Margaret Ahmed, executive director of Home Makers, a longtime partner of Mennonite Central Committee.

Home Makers is an interfaith organization that empowers Nigerian women to financially support their families. MCC supports Home Makers financially, helping Ahmed and her staff offer income generation and business development training, cooperative savings groups and micro­loans. Group leaders train women to resolve conflicts and encourage religious cooperation in their neighborhoods.

Markos knew she needed this training. But she still had no money, and the training cost 200 niara ($1.22). She tried to sell the potatoes she had just harvested but found no buyers. She thought she was defeated again.

The next day Ahmed arrived in the village and began setting up for the five-day skills-training workshop. When Ahmed saw Markos hanging around the edges, Ahmed asked if she would be joining the group. When Markos explained her predicament, Ahmed responded by buying Markos’ potatoes.

During the next five days, Ahmed taught the women five business skills: making bread, doughnuts, pomade, soap and hair cream. Markos was inspired by making doughnuts, so she accepted the 10,000-niara ($61) start-up loan Ahmed offered.

During the next 10 months, Markos built a successful business selling doughnuts to the students of secondary and primary schools and was able to pay off the loan.

Three years later, Markos has expanded her business interests and is now raising pigs. She has vacated her leaky, thatched-roof, mud hut for a permanent cement floor and tin-roof house she built herself. She pays the school fees for her children. As a businesswoman, village leaders frequently consult with her.

She is determined to never again experience abject poverty.

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