Financial support for small businesses is changing the lives of people in Zambia

High rates of unemployment and malnourishment, poor infrastructure and a lack of skilled labour make Zambia one of the least developed countries in the world. But supporting small businesses and farmers is one of the ways Czech development cooperation is helping to bring about change.

Esther | Photo: Caritas CR

Esther is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her parents fled the war that was raging in the DRC and ended up in neighbouring Zambia.

Although refugees are safe in Zambia, it’s hard for them to access education and employment opportunities. Often they have no choice but to start their own business. However, without education and financing, it’s very difficult.

Photo: Caritas CR

With the help of Caritas, Esther attended a six-month course and trained to be a seamstress. Using a small financial contribution she received from the Czech organisation, she was then able to buy a sewing machine and some fabrics.

“So this is what I do. I sell things, I make custom-made clothes and I sell cups and slippers. I don’t have the means of going to university, so I am trying to come up with the money to go.”

Esther is only nineteen years old. But her small business is a huge help to her family.

Photo: Michal Gálik,  Caritas CR

Refugees like Esther often only need a little support at the beginning in order to find a job, start their own business or begin studying, and from there they are able to secure a living and take their lives into their own hands. The story of another war refugee who settled in Zambia illustrates this further.

Bunfinda Kitambala Deodone | Photo: Michal Gálik,  Caritas CR

"My name is Bunfinda Kitambala Deodone. I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We ran away from the war in Congo and resorted to coming to Zambia.

"UNHCR received and cared for us. We arrived to this Mantapala refugee settlement. The war in Congo was very bad, because there was reckless killing  of all people without any reason.

Bunfinda Kitambala Deodone | Photo: Michal Gálik,  Caritas CR

"UNHCR cooperates with organizations such as Caritas Czech Republic, which came here to support our families and help us with our livelihooods. They assisted me on how to look after my family, since we are a big family of eight people. In order to take care of my family, I bake and sell bread. The support needed to start this business was given to me by Caritas.“

Bunfinda is not only a baker, but also a professional tailor. He makes men's and women's jackets for people from the settlement.

Photo: Caritas CR

“We are not surviving in Mantapala out of our own efforts, but we are being taken care of. It is not only about receiving food and meals. Caritas gave us a hand and taught us to use our heads. This way, we may be able to improve our livelihoods in the future.”

Teaching the locals financial self-sufficiency so that they can further invest in their own livelihoods is one of the main goals of Caritas Czech Republic in Zambia, says Noemi Seregi, the development cooperation coordinator in Zambia.

Photo: Caritas CR

“We are currently running six projects, but we have a few more in the pipeline. We are implementing in two sectors right now, the first being economic empowerment and social services, and the other one is education. We do not currently have an ongoing project for it, but we also implement projects in the health sector.

"In the economic empowerment sector, the projects focus mostly on agriculture, development of small businesses and value chains, vocational training, and access to markets and financial services. Within the education sector, we support primary, secondary and also university-level education. We work with the most vulnerable communities in Zambia, both refugees in settlements and in the capital Lusaka, and with Zambians.”

Noemi Seregi | Photo: Caritas CR

According to her, the ten years that Caritas Czech Republic has been active in Zambia have already produced some concrete results.

“We started off with one project, it was a maternal and child healthcare project, which was financed by the Czech development agency. Within the past ten years, we had multiple projects, last year for example there were 13 running.

"We have expanded into four more provinces in Zambia, including the capital, and our main office is currently in Lusaka and not in the Western Province where we first began. Since 2014, we have been the livelihood implementing partner for the UNHCR, which is a very important position.

Photo: Caritas CR

"Between 2019 and 2022 we were the implementing partner of another UN agency, the World Food Programme, and ever since we have worked with a lot of other significant donors, like the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US Embassy in Lusaka, and other NGOs.

"In the past ten years, we have reached hundreds of thousands of people and supported thousands directly. Just last year, within one of our projects, we reached more than 40,000 small farmers in Zambia.”

“My name is Alex, I am Zambian, I live in Mantapala in Semawe village next to the refugee settlement. I am married and I have three children. When Caritas came, they helped me to improve my life.”

Caritas Czech republic selected Alex to be a lead farmer in his community. A lead farmer is supposed to set a good example for other farmers. Alex visits both refugees and Zambians on their farms and shows them how to prepare seeds, water their crops, and use fertilisers and insecticides.

Alex | Photo: Michal Gálik,  Caritas CR

“The thing that makes me happy, is to give our community health. When we are growing vegetables, we eat different types of food. All the people in our village look healthier. Someone can be malnourished when they eat the same kind of food all the time.”

Caritas has created a seedling nursery and handed it over to the lead farmers as a means of creating a sustainable business.

Photo: Caritas CR

“I am expecting that the nursery can change my life by selling seedlings of tomatoes, cabbage, onions. Here in Mantapala, it’s a new thing. There's no one who grows seedlings. I thank Caritas for giving us this nursery and for helping our communities. Caritas helps our communities in different ways. I thank Caritas for working hard. Thank you.”

According to Irena Menšíková from Caritas, who recorded these statements during a recent stay in Zambia, stories like this are proof for her that they are doing work that is meaningful.

Irena Menšíková | Photo: Caritas CR

“And we certainly don’t only support individuals. Our support is systemic – we help where it is needed and work within the framework of our projects. We continue the projects that we have been doing in the country for a long time and identify the needs that are important. We mention individual stories, but we focus on whole communities and regions where this help is needed.”

It is precisely the high-quality work that Czech NGOs have been doing in Zambia that, according to Pavel Procházka, the Czech ambassador to Zambia, led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to add Zambia to its list of priority countries for development cooperation in 2018, and since then the programme has only gone from strength to strength.

Photo: Caritas CR

“Of course, we can’t do everything. Our resources and our powers are limited. So we decided to concentrate the majority of our development cooperation in one place, which is the Western Province. But of course we also have projects elsewhere, for example in the Southern Province and in Lusaka. We focus primarily on agriculture, rural development, and partially also on health and education.”

Pavel Procházka thinks that Zambia has great potential for the future.

Photo: Caritas CR

“We are trying to make Zambia ever more attractive for Czech businessmen. I think we are starting to succeed, that more and more Czech companies are coming here to find out if they can do business here and we hope that in the near future we will be able to welcome the first Czech investment in the country.”

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