CARE: No, I Cannot Regret to be a Girl!

Clothilde Mpawenimana and her son, Hughes

NGOZI PROVINCE, BURUNDI – My name is Clothilde Mpawenimana. I am 24 years old and the mother of a 4-year-old son named Hughes. I am a member of Ijukiribikorwa village savings and loan group, and I’m a supervising agent of CARE’s POWER Africa Project. I quit high school in the eighth grade because of an unwanted pregnancy that followed years of abuse at home. I was a victim.

I used to say, “Oh, my God, why did you create me a girl?” But today, I feel differently.

I have eight brothers, and I am the only girl. In sixth grade, I started having problems with my mother. She did not want me to continue my studies, because she wanted me to stay home and take care of the housework. When I refused to leave school, she tried several strategies to stop my studies by force. Every morning, I was forced to get up at 5 a.m. and work the fields until 6:30, before getting ready to go to school at 7:30. In addition, my mother forced me to help serve my brothers at every meal, but she would not allow me to eat. I had to secretly go to neighbors’ houses and beg for food. After some time, one of my brothers took mercy on me, and at each meal, he would hide a handful of food in his pocket for me.

I had always been first in my class at school, but that year, because of the trauma at home, I failed the national exam and had to repeat the grade. My God saw all that, and the following year, the World Food Programme initiated a school feeding program in our institution where all students were provided lunch at school. For me, it was my only meal of the day. With the help of the school lunch program, I passed the national exam that year. My father, who lived away from home in another community, sent me uniforms and books to start secondary school. But my mother continued to try to keep me away from school. In seventh grade, a friend who lived next-door knew my situation at home, so she conspired to send me food every night in secret. The next year, this girl asked me if I would be a girlfriend to her boyfriend’s friend, and I agreed. After a few months, the boy made me pregnant, and I was forced to leave school.

This pregnancy seemed to be a victory for my mother. She actually tried to persuade one of my brothers to take a pointed stick and poke my belly while I slept at night in hopes of making me lose the baby. One night, my mother quietly opened the door to my room so that a cow we owned, which was very mean, would hurt me while I was sleeping. When my father heard of this incident, he came and sold the cow so that it could not happen again. My mother punished me by making me sleep where the cow had slept before.

Finally, I left my family’s home to seek refuge at the neighbors’ house, where at least I could rest a little and have something to eat. When it came time to give birth, a young neighborhood girl was the only one to accompany me. My mother did not even come to visit during my hospitalization. Meanwhile, the boy who made me pregnant completed his studies and became a policeman. Sometimes, he would send me clothes for the baby. At first, he told me he would marry me someday and help me go back to school, but these promises faded over time.

When I heard that CARE had created a project specifically to work with the girls in our village, called Promoting Opportunities for Women’s Economic Empowerment in Rural Africa (POWER Africa), I was overcome with joy. I was so interested in the project, I helped recruit girls to join. When it came time to elect supervising agents for the project, I was chosen by all the members of the VSLA groups in our village. In our group, we started saving 100 Burundian francs (about 6 cents) a week, but after the first year, we increased the stake to 250 BFI (15 cents).

I was eager to take the first loan. My father had a small house in a commercial center close to our home, so I asked him to lend me the house as a site for selling doughnuts and tea. I asked for a loan of 10,000 BIF (less than $6) from my savings group to start my business. At the end of every month, I repaid the interest and continued to build capital. After three months of activity, I asked for another loan of 50,000 BIF ($30) to expand my business.

Once I had made 250,000 BIF ($148), I opened my own shop. Now, I am training a boy who will take care of the shop, while I continue making the doughnuts. From my profits, I have already bought all the necessary equipment, along with a mobile phone to communicate with my customers. In addition to my shop, I have also invested in farming and pig raising. I bought two pigs for 50,000 BIF ($30) and gave them to my neighbor to raise, with an agreement to share profits after their sale.

Within two years, I plan to reach 1 million BIF (about $595), an amount that is not within the reach of many people in our village. I will be a millionaire! Recently, my mother sent one of my brothers to come and steal my property, so I have started to consider leaving this place to settle in another community near a paved road to improve my business.

I make enough money to support myself and my son now, and also I have taken in an orphan. She had dropped out of school in third grade, but I have put her back in classes so that she will not grow up in the situation that I did.

Currently, many boys come to propose marriage to me, but business comes first, because it is never too late to get married.

Photo Credit: 
Tite Nyabenda / CARE