In a refugee settlement in southwest Uganda, Mbatzimuta and Beata run a small shop, stocking the wooden shelves with a colorful array of cosmetics, candy, and personal necessities.
Their latest batch of inventory comes from a Kiva loan, which helped them expand their business and increase the variety of products they can offer their customers—most of whom are refugees themselves.
The couple escaped several years ago from their native Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Nakivale, the oldest refugee settlement in Africa with almost 120,000 displaced people living in its 70 villages.
“Back in Congo, I used to own a retail business that operated as a grocery store as well,” Mbatzimuta says.
“Also, I used to own a car, [but] we were deprived of any rights, and everything we owned was taken away from us because they thought we were enemies due to the language we spoke. That led to us fleeing the country to come here.”
The refugee hustle
Millions of Congolese people have fled their homes over the decades due to the constant conflict following DRC independence from Belgium in 1960. Recent violence has further increased the numbers of internally displaced people within the DRC as well as those seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
Arriving in Uganda with practically nothing but the clothing on their backs, Mbatzimuta and Beata quickly began looking for opportunities to support themselves beyond the aid programs administered by the UN and other organizations.
“When I got here, I started to hustle for ways to start a business so that I could sustain myself,” recalls Mbatzimuta.
Running his own venture was the only occupation he’d ever experienced.
“This is something I grew up doing, business,” says the lifelong entrepreneur. “I’ve spent more than forty years doing it, so there is no way I’d go find a job.”
He and Beata started by selling a small amount of inexpensive items, but business was slow and they knew they needed to expand. Observing the lack of resources around them, they found a niche that could bring in revenue as well as help their neighbors.
“I had noticed we didn’t have enough water in this community,” says Mbatzimuta.
This inspired the couple to apply for their first loan, which they used to buy a motorized scooter—known as a tuk tuk—to transport water throughout the settlement. They were soon selling a thousand jerry cans of water a day, which enabled them to repay their loan and secure another to expand their shop and buy more stock to serve the growing community.
“All of these people need a lot of stuff,” comments Mbatzimuta.
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“The money we were given really helped a lot. I saw my kids living a healthy life,”
Borrow, repay, repeat
Mbatzimuta and Beata’s loans were facilitated through Kiva Field Partner UGAFODE, a microfinance institution regulated by the Bank of Uganda that focuses on providing loan products to low-income and underserved clients, including the refugee community.
Mbatzimuta and Beata had tried before to get a loan from other banks, but like many refugees, they were refused due to their status and lack of collateral. Then a UGAFODE loan officer came through the village, announcing on a microphone that there were loans available for business owners.
“They also passed through our community doing individual home visits to see what kind of business we were running and how they could help us do better,” recalls Mbatzimuta.
The couple’s first loan was funded in two days, allowing them to buy the tuk tuk, and after it was repaid, subsequent loans have helped them grow their shop and bring in more customers.
“They give you the money really fast and just the amount you need,” explains Mbatzimuta of his relationship with the local MFI branch.
The ease of borrowing created a positive cycle of growth for the couple, and their latest loan of $2,275 USD funded by 33 Kiva lenders has filled the shelves like never before.
“I really fell in love with it to the point that I feel there is no other bank I can partner with,” Mbatzimuta says.
“They give you the money really fast and just the amount you need,”
Refugees help themselves—and others—with microloans
Refugees and displaced people are faced with tremendous challenges for themselves and their families. With access to microloans and other financial resources, they are able to create stability to rebuild their lives.
“The money we were given really helped a lot. I saw my kids living a healthy life,” says Mbatzimuta of the business he and his wife have established, adding proudly that he recently bought a sewing machine for their daughter.
He’d also like to buy a car to replace the one that was seized back in Congo, but most importantly, he plans to keep expanding the venture to help the people of Nakivale
“I also plan to buy more stock and have a store that sells groceries because that’s what is really needed in this community.”
Many refugees like Mbatzimuta and Beata want to launch a business, stabilize their financial situation, and create hopeful futures for their children. Kiva loans help provide them with the financial access that they need, with the help of lenders like you.