Like many girls in Mphunda Village, Zambia, 17-year-old Rabecca Mtonga dropped out of school at the age of 11. With no prospects for reentering school or getting vocational training, she married Bruno Nyirongo at age 15 and now has a young son.
Despite dropping out of school, Mtonga still dreamed of running her own business one day to improve her family’s income. That’s what led her and Nyirongo to the U.S. Department of Labor-funded EMPOWER Rural Entrepreneurship and Leadership (REAL) Course training program, which helped improve her literacy and numeracy skills as well as her self-confidence. She and the other participants learned about entrepreneurship, gender roles and financial literacy, and they also received technical and vocational training in raising goats.
Mtonga was very focused on the REAL Course and was one of the most consistent attendees in class. She also got encouragement from her husband, who runs a business selling clothes from his bicycle to the nearby villages in Lundazi District. He learned about gender and the importance of education and came to understand how his wife would benefit from the training.
The couple also have a garden from which they sell vegetables to raise money for their daily needs and to support their son. Mtonga normally helps her husband till, plant, water, weed and harvest. As a housewife, she is also expected to perform daily chores such as cleaning the house, drawing water and collecting firewood, in addition to the gardening. Together these tasks take up most of her day.
After participating in the REAL Course, Mtonga decided to diversify their business by going into the buying and selling of goat meat and broiler chickens. She was also motivated by having attended EMPOWER’s Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Network (RWEN) event, which was held during the district’s agricultural fair. There she was able to see and interact with exhibitors who were buying and selling goats and chickens. At the RWEN event Mtonga and her fellow participants also met with representatives from financial service providers who gave them information about the importance of and opportunities for savings and credit.
“I intend to expand my business of slaughtering and selling goat meat and chickens as the demand for goat meat and chickens is quite high in this area,” Mtonga explains. Through the REAL Course, she sharpened her business skills to take advantage of and cater to local markets. “I am also able to negotiate for better prices for the supply for goats and chickens. I am also able to calculate profit in my business.”
Furthermore, before EMPOWER, Mtonga never knew about gender roles, but now she and her husband share responsibilities such as gardening more equitably. With some initial help from Nyirongo in gathering materials, she has constructed a cooking shelter on her own, a task usually tackled only by men.
With her new cooking shelter, Mtonga hopes to open a shop and a restaurant in the future and have her and her husband’s businesses registered with the government so that they can be formalized and benefit from expanded credit and lending opportunities. Armed with sharpened skills and ambition, as well as a more supportive partner, Mtonga looks forward to a safer and more secure life ahead for her and her family.