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Rebuilding a life after the tsunami

“Mommy, look at the cute fish!” shouts 4-year-old Lili to her mother, pointing at the water pond next to their house. Her mother, 25-year-old Agustina, is known to everyone as Ena. She looks with sorrow at the pond that Lili finds so delightful. Her old house, the one she used to share with her own mother, lies under that pond since the day in December 2004 when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck their village in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Ena and her brother, husband and child survived the tsunami, but her mother and two other siblings were swept away. The tsumani also took her family’s livelihood ­ a big food stall and café, run by Ena and her mother, which was always bustling with activity and provided a good living for the entire family.

Building a new life

Although devastated by the loss, Ena was determined to make a new life for herself and her family. She joined a cooperative called Kelompok Swadaya Masyarakat (self- empowered community group) managed by the Matahari Foundation, a local non-governmental organization working with UNIFEM that extends small business loans to women entrepreneurs. Within a few months, Ena received seed capital of Rp. 500,000 (about US$50) to build a new kiosk selling cookies, soft drinks, cigarettes and other small goods, which she set up right in front of her small living quarters in the refugee camp.

“I started the kiosk hoping that I could make more income to support the family,” notes Ena. “At the time, my husband was just a Becak (motorized-rickshaw) driver. I realized that his earnings would not be enough, so I decided to open a kiosk by the barracks where we live.”

Evi, a programme coordinator from Matahari, described how hard-working Ena was. According to Evi, Ena applied for the micro loan in June 2005 and never missed even one of her daily payments of Rp. 20,000. The loan was repaid in full by October.

“I was really happy to get the loan from Matahari,” Ena says. “Before, a lot of things were unavailable. When customers came to buy and asked for certain things, I usually did not have it. But now, as more things are available in my kiosk, people in the barracks do not have to go far to buy things,” she explains, smiling.

Ena's income is steadily increasing. “Before, I could only make about Rp. 50,000 a day, or at most Rp. 150,000. But now, praise to God, it has doubled.”

She just got approval for her second loan for double the amount of the first one. Evi said that the approval for the second term completely depended on the borrower's performance and discipline in paying off the first loan.

“Women here used to lead difficult lives even before the tsunami,” says Evi. “Now, many of them have lost their homes, their livelihoods and often family members. They are in dire need of financial and emotional support to start a new life.”

Ena proved that with her determination and discipline, she deserves the next loan. She intends to use the money to expand her kiosk further, with a wider range of goods. Her dreams of a better life are shared by many of the women of Aceh.

Ena’s kiosk has helped her secure an income for her family. But for many women in the developing world, working in the informal sector means difficult working conditions, long hours and unscheduled overtime. Read more about inequality in employment.