Meet Celeste

I’m sitting with a Self Help Group (SHG) of twenty women in remote Rwanda, high up on the Congo border. The group has been together for two years. They’re open and intimate in their conversations with one another. I’m folded in. I’m asking questions about the benefits of the SHG as part of my research. And they talk earnestly about friendship, self-confidence and social acceptance, as much as money, access to healthcare and good nutrition.

Then I ask for a woman’s story. Each woman is keen to share. Their hands shoot up enthusiastically. Celeste sits quietly. She doesn’t raise her hand. She’s smiling and laughing. Enjoying every minute but she leaves the talking to the others. I ask her, “Can we hear from you?” She’s hesitant. Celeste is a senior member of the group. An older citizen of the community. She looks a little frail. I’m wondering how her ‘business’ operates. She nods.

“I’m an old lady. I’m 68. Life has been difficult. I’m alone. So I came to the group hoping to join someone’s business and make enough money for shelter, a small home or room, and a meal or two every day. But each woman wanted to start a small family business. What could I do? After the business training, I felt more confident about myself. I felt more hopeful about the possibilities. But I knew I did not have the strength to work in the fields or look after animals. So I dreamed a very small idea. I took a loan from my SHG for 1000RwF (AUD$1.50). I walked to a local farm on the edge of our village and bought four avocados. I took them to the market and laid them on my scarf for sale. Almost immediately, I sold them for 1500RwF. I was amazed. I had found a business. I could look after myself. That was the day I believed.”

She looks about proudly. It was a transfixing story. No one spoke for a moment. Sometimes, the smallest stories. The little steps. Say the most. This is Celeste’s business. Everyday business. Buying avocados in the morning and selling by lunchtime. Then home to rest. But she has friendship. She has an income. She has a home, food, clean water and health insurance. She’s rich beyond measure. Every need is met. And even more importantly, ‘she makes her way’.