Weep not Butoto
20 January 2015. The date will forever haunt Butoto Yoweli, a refugee from DR Congo and a mother of eight children. The day brings unpleasant memories so deep and painful that tears stream down her sad eyes when she recalls it. The date left a bruise in her mind, a gaping hole in her life and a scar in her heart.
Butoto cringes when she recollects what happened in that month and year. It was a night that she will never forget. Butoto and her husband were sleeping peacefully when robbers broke into their house.
They ravaged the place.
They murdered her husband.
That was the tipping point in Butoto’s life. Her world was completely shattered. Butoto’s husband was the breadwinner in the house and his passing meant a huge and sudden responsibility of fending for their eight children as a single mother. She was stuck in a tough spot; jobless and widowed. Barely finding the peace to recover from the tragedy of her husband’s death; she was robbed…again!
Butoto knew that her life was at risk. She feared for her children too. She had to run, from her house and from DRC altogether.
“I was in grave danger. I could not stay there anymore. I was afraid that the robbers would come for me or my children.” Butoto said and paused for a moment as she fought back a sob. Butoto and her children escaped to neighbouring Burundi where they sought shelter at a local church. She was provided with money for transport which she used to travel to Karonga in Malawi. There, the UNHCR transferred her to Dzaleka Refugee Camp. For a destitute single mother with 8 children to look after and no job, Butoto once more found herself in dilemma.
Although she was given a temporary small house to live in, the woman had no source of income to provide for her kids. She sold almost half of her clothes to raise money for food but that was not enough.
“I started doing odd jobs like cleaning houses and doing laundry to find money. It was a difficult time because the money I made was not sufficient to make ends meet.” Butoto explained. The people at her church sympathized with her struggles. Her church connected her to a group of artisan tailors that work for a social business called Kibebe in the refugee camp. There is Hope works with these artisans by hiring them to make hand-made craft products which are sold on the local and international market. The 52 artisans that work under Kibebe receive a wage that is in accordance with the Malawian wage set by the government and all the proceeds from the sales go back into the organisation to sustain the programs. Butoto is a skilled tailor and her knowledge came in handy for the group. Gradually, things started getting better for her.
“For the first time since my arrival at the [Dzaleka Refugee] camp, I had a reliable source of income. The money I made from the group helped me provide for my children.” Butoto said, adding, “it is Kibebe that has been supporting me ever since.”
Butoto had bigger plans.
From her income, she saved enough capital to open a small grocery shop in the refugee camp. The woman’s livelihood slowly began transforming. She put her children through school, she could now afford to eat three times a day and she no longer depended on odd jobs for survival. The profits from the shop also helped Butoto raise enough money to build a 3 bedroom house. The house she had been given when she arrived at the refugee camp was temporary and she realized that the owners might want it back anytime.
“Now I am at peace knowing that I have my own house.” Said Butoto, her voice confident and firm, a smile lighting up her face. It is a face that is full of joy, the tears that flowed earlier on and all the doom and gloom vanished. Butoto is no longer weeping. She can fend for her children, she earns money to buy what she needs and above all, she owns a house.
It is one of the numerous from tears to joy stories from our social business programme. And it is exactly what we stand for – to see refugees and the host community escape poverty and become self-reliant.