“You have to be passionate about your work, otherwise you will never succeed.”Read more
35-year-old Koffi Rosemonde grew up in extreme poverty. One of six children to a single mother, there was never enough food on the table and she never attended school. As she starts to explain her childhood she tries to remain positive, but quickly her eyes well up and she admits: “My childhood was not easy. My mother had no money and my brother became a thief. One night he went out robbing and he was shot dead.” She hopes for a better life for her own children.
As she starts to explain who all the children are, it becomes apparent that Rosemonde is financially responsible for seven children. Three from her husband’s previous relationships, two of her own from a previous relationship and two with her husband, the youngest of whom is three. Guei, her oldest boy aged 13, plays an important role, fetching and carrying water and giving his youngest brother a bucket bath. He is shy to speak, but when he does he says: “My mother works hard for her money. I am proud of her because she is strong and kind. Because of her, we have food on the table and we can go to school.”
Bath time with Rosemonde's children
Rosemonde learnt to be entrepreneurial from a very young age. With no school to attend, she started to earn a living at the age of six when she went out selling oranges, sweets and eggs. It was this early experience of buying and selling that influenced what she was later to become. However, there were more challenges ahead as the country was plunged into an economic crisis, followed by two civil wars. With no education and no money, Rosemonde tried her hand at a variety of business activities, but found herself spiralling into debt.
Aged 26 she married Benoit, a photographer twenty years her senior. Initially he didn’t want her to set up a business - in Ivory Coast many men believe that if a woman becomes independent she will dominate her husband. But Benoit was struggling as the sole breadwinner to feed so many mouths, so finally agreed. Rosemonde went to a meeting run by CARE where she discovered that being a successful business woman was a possibility for those with a good business idea. She received business training and was supported to develop a business plan. She was then given the opportunity to apply for a low-interest loan.
One of the biggest challenges for business women in Ivory Coast is accessing finance. The interest rates are high and women often have no collateral to secure a loan. She explains: “If you don’t have money, you can’t do anything. But I was scared to take out a loan because I had heard that if you don’t repay they will send you to prison. The banks need to reduce their interest rates and find other ways to ask women for security on a loan.” CARE has worked tirelessly with one of the biggest microfinance providers in Ivory Coast to find a solution. This partnership has opened up new opportunities for women and in less than two years over 310 women entrepreneurs have secured loans to grow their businesses. With interest rates of 2% per month, compared to a national rate of up to 12% per month, taking out a business loan has become a reality. The women are repaying their loans and the knock-on effect is clearly visible.
With her new loan, Rosemonde began to develop her chicken farming business. She adds: “It wasn’t easy starting my business, but I had to support my family. CARE encouraged me never to give up.” We visit the farm early in the morning, hundreds of chickens gather squawking around her, eager for the water and food that she disperses. She proudly explains that this farm is her biggest achievement, adding: “I am so happy that I am now free to do what I want. I am so proud that I can take care of my family and my children.”
Credit: Mona van den Berg
The impact on those around her is clear. She explains that other people in her neighbourhood come to her for advice and financial support. Jacob Niamien from CARE adds: “She is a heroine because she inspires other women, but also men. Men also want to be like her and learn from her.” It is clear that, if she had the means, Rosemonde would help every single child and young person in Bouake. But life is still not easy.
It is on the second day that we see another side to Rosemonde. Although she is now the primary earner in the family, she explains that her husband is fiercely jealous. “My husband is not grateful for all that I do, sometimes he beats me. He doesn’t appreciate my success and the fact that I pay for all the food and the children’s school. When I am sick and unable to work I ask him for support to feed the children, but he only gives me a few coins.” She cuts a lonely figure standing in the wilderness with tears running down her face, adding: “I don’t have any friends, because I am scared of sharing my problems.” Unfortunately, domestic abuse is a common problem in Ivory Coast and CARE works hard to educate men about the benefits of women becoming economically independent, as well as supporting women facing domestic violence.
Despite revealing this vulnerability, it is clear that Rosemonde will never give up. She is determined to give her children a better start in life than she ever had. When she turns to the countryside around her she explains her dream. She has permission from the Chief to build a farm on this plot of land where she will farm chickens, pigs and rabbits. It is a big vision, but if she maintains such steely determination, this woman will achieve her dreams. She concludes: “You have to be passionate about your work, otherwise you will never succeed.”