Women’s History Month story series | Building a new home: Jebbeh’s story
“I was already good at business, but being able to borrow money and grow my business gave me confidence and made me stronger.” -Jebbeh, small business owner
BY BRAC USA
Editor’s note: This story is the third in a series of stories celebrating the incredible triumphs of women that will be published throughout Women’s History Month. This month, we will feature four inspiring stories of women from Liberia who were photographed by Alison Wright in 2022. Alison Wright was an acclaimed documentary photographer, author, and speaker, and a dear friend of BRAC. An inspiring woman herself, she was a champion for women’s rights and opportunities around the world. This series is dedicated to her memory.
Jebbeh has always had a knack for entrepreneurship, but she didn’t always have the opportunity to make the most of her potential. As the daughter of rubber farmers, Jebbeh grew up in poverty. But she sees a different future for her three beautiful, bright-eyed children.
Jebbeh lives with her family in a small two-room mud house that she inherited from her parents after they passed away. Her husband, a sheriff in town, works long days outside the house and earns a modest income, while Jebbeh takes care of the home and their three children and runs a small dry goods shop out of their home. Their two young sons are in primary school, while their daughter, Comfort, is completing the 12th grade while caring for her young baby, Jebbeh’s granddaughter.
Jebbeh sits in her two room mud home where she currently lives with her husband, her three children, and her young granddaughter.
When Jebbeh heard about BRAC’s microfinance program from a friend, she saw the opportunity to leverage her business savvy, grow her small business, and build a better life for her children. Her friend told her that BRAC was helping women improve their businesses and could help make her business strong.
“I heard that BRAC could help people, help improve your life, so I went to a meeting,” she said. “We were told that you could get a loan that you pay back with interest, and attend microfinance meetings for education with others in the community. You need a guarantor for the loan, but it doesn’t have to be a man. The money can go back into a business or help send children to school.”
In a community where loan options for women living in poverty are limited, Jebbeh was excited at the opportunity to take out a low-interest loan and be a part of her local microfinance borrower group.
With new capital to invest in her business, Jebbeh quickly grew her customer base and increased her earnings. “I was already good at business, but being able to borrow money and grow my business gave me confidence and made me strong,” she shared.
Jebbeh poses with her oldest daughter, Comfort, and her two sons, in front of their future home.
“The first thing I bought with my increased earnings was the land right next to my house. I was lucky. This will be my new house and my new shop,” she added, proudly showing off the concrete bones of her future home, which is now under construction. Her new home, constructed of sturdy concrete blocks, will have three sunny bedrooms, an indoor bathroom and toilet, a large kitchen, and a big sitting room for visitors. She extends her arms with pride, “And in the front will be my new store!”
Since taking out her first loan from BRAC in 2018, Jebbeh has grown her business, paid back her first loan, and taken out subsequent loans to continue investing in her business and her new home. She now earns about $25 dollars per day, putting about $3 per day in a savings club and spending the rest on food and household necessities, her children’s education, and short-term investments in her shop and new home.
Jebbeh speaks to a customer in her shop while her two young sons look on.
Jebbeh has already moved her business into a new shop structure that she built on her new property in front of her future home. The large shop building is currently a sparse but popular dry goods shop with space she can grow into, where she sells home necessities such as onions, palm oil, soft drinks, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
For now, Jebbeh’s family of six is still living in their two-room mud house, where they use an outdoor toilet and cook their meals outside using coal. But she sees a brighter future within close reach.
Jebbeh’s daughter, Comfort, is in 12th grade. Comfort is unmarried with a young baby, Jebbeh’s granddaughter, but she dreams of becoming a nurse one day. “Her nature is to be very gentle and compassionate, so I know she’ll be good at it,” Jebbeh told us encouragingly.
Jebbeh pays loan interest to her local microfinance borrower group’s credit officer.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Comfort has also begun to join their community’s microfinance borrowers meetings alongside Jebbeh. While she finishes high school, she wants to build financial skills and build community among other women and young mothers.
To Jebbeh, being a part of the microfinance group is not just about receiving loans and building on her business skills: it’s also about community. At their weekly microfinance meetings, the women borrowers in her community catch up and share insights on managing finances and running small businesses. If one woman can’t pay back her loan that week the others pitch in to help. As someone who has successfully grown her business and invested in her family as a result, she now sees herself as a leader whose role is to support and mentor other women entrepreneurs.
“I got my confidence and business spirit from my hard-working mother, but I want others in the community to be as strong as me, to hustle, and to change our city,” she shared. “We want to see each other succeed.”
Equipped with opportunities, support, and hope, women like Jebbeh can overcome great challenges. In honor of Women’s History Month, consider making a gift to enable women to forge better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities. All donations are doubled this month only.