Dorcas Association of Lafiabougou
It was the beginning of 1973. Elisabeth Oubda had just turned seven and would be moving up to the second grade of primary school. She loved to study, she was already aware that education was the key to opening the door to success, for her and for her family, but she did not know that, instead, this would be her last year of school. Her mother could no longer carry on, she was alone with seven children to feed and care for and she needed her, so she had to give up school. She reluctantly turned her page of her life. The new chapter was titled: “Getting by to survive”. It meant acting, learning to carry out all the honest jobs possible, so as not to starve. So Elisabeth started selling the peanut paste that her mother produced, sometimes she was a babysitter, other times she devoted herself to sewing and embroidery, which were her passion.
In this way Elisabeth grew up, amidst suffering and difficulties, but with the ever stronger determination to build a better future for herself, for her family and for others.
He told me that “At that time life was really difficult, but now I know that this was the path I had to walk and I infinitely thank the Lord who through those difficulties created me wings suitable to give shelter to others, as the hen does. with its chicks. How could they have understood my “daughters” if I weren’t one of them? How could I have taught them to embroider and sew if I hadn’t done it first? Or how could I have looked after orphaned children if I hadn’t also been a babysitter? ”.
In September 1984 at the age of 18, Elisabeth met Moïse, the boy who became her husband after a very short engagement. For her it was like a sign from heaven because she connected the name of her boyfriend with that of Moses in the Bible: God knew that there were many children who had to cross their “Red Sea” (the sea that divides poverty from dignity), persecuted by their Pharaoh (Satan, the prince of this world), and who awaited their Moses!
Moïse enrolled in the biblical school for his pastoral training and at the end of the three-year course the couple settled in Lafiabougou, a suburb of Bobo Dioulasso. It was June 1987. In 1995 they went together to England to continue their theological training. They didn’t know a word of English, but they learned quickly. In the biblical institute I.B.T.I, Elisabeth became the confidant of most of the girls in the center and it was there that she felt God’s call to this special ministry. She realized that the path taken so far had been decisive for her preparation. She said to me, “Like the Dorcas (Tabita) of Acts of the Apostles 9: 36-40, I will sew tunics and dresses for the brothers and sisters in Christ.”
After two years of training in England, Elisabeth and Moïse returned to Lafiabougou. It was time for Elisabeth to act! She had no materials or equipment to begin with, but as God commanded Gideon: “Go with the little strength you have”, Elisabeth felt in her heart that even though she did not have the necessary means to begin, with the blessing and strength of God she would be able to fulfill her wish. Recalling those moments with emotion, she told me: “What I knew how to do was sew and embroider, so from morning to night, I made bags which I then sold. By the grace of God I earned enough to welcome the first fifteen women who would later become the “Dorcas Association of Lafiabougou”.
Elisabeth used the money she earned almost exclusively to buy sacks of cement. In 2001, she had accumulated enough to build a 60m2 cottage. That same year she gathered in that room twenty-one girls picked up from the street, who would normally have no future, who she taught how to sew by hand. To house those who did not even have accommodation, she rented a small house for 10,000 FCFA (15 euros) a month. It was the concretization of her vocation, the debut of the “Dorcas Ministry”.
The first fifteen pioneers of the new association were first of all sisters in Christ, members of the church of Lafiabougou. Eleven years after their foundation, their number grew exponentially and in 2012 the Dorcas were more than three hundred.
The girls became women of faith because they were able to imitate the example of their leader. By attending weekly Bible study meetings, they developed a very strong self-confidence. It was this self-esteem that constituted the starting capital for their individual and collective success. Mariam Ouédraogo, a member of the Association, told us: “At the beginning of our meetings, poverty could be read on every face. Some of them had bicycles, but most of them came on foot. Today they all have mopeds. The secret of our success lies in the faith we have kept and cultivated. This made a difference! Now the Dorcas woman is a label “.
The founder, Elisabeth, explained to us that “A very important part of the Dorcas program is literacy. Dorcas women must be mentally ready to become independent and cultivate the attitude to carry out personal projects “.
For Elisabeth, education is the basis of personal fulfillment and literacy is the first condition for accessing certain association services, especially credit. It constitutes a separate program within the ADL. The literacy program today benefits from the support of the ANTBA foundation (Engaged in Bible translation) and that of the International Missionary Alliance.
After literacy, the program continues with professional training, through which it is also possible to discover what the natural aptitudes of girls are. This is why professional courses have been organized regularly since its foundation. The main sectors concern dyeing, weaving and the production of soap and cosmetics.
The strength of the ADL also lies in sharing. The women meet every week and each has a space to share projects and successes with their companions, so that new members are encouraged by their experiences and receive help from the older ones. Over time, the ADL has become a school of personal development and a family, where every woman gains confidence in herself and in the group.
Mutual collaboration led to the birth of a tontine (collection). It works like this: each woman makes a sum of 250 FCFA (about 40 euro cents) available to the group every week. The total sum is then given to one of them so that she can carry out her own project. The tontine is repeated weekly to also favor the other girls.
The first projects were primarily social: purchase of food, clothing or health expenses. Elisabeth was convinced that before tackling economic problems, social ones had to be solved. Following this direction, they achieved important results, first of which was the acceptance by the husbands of the associative activities of their respective wives. After the realization of the social projects, they moved on to the economic ones, but to realize them it was necessary to learn a trade.
Periodically, a German charity sends containers full of sewing machines and tailoring materials. Almost twenty years later, from the Dorcas Center, more than a thousand girls returned to their villages with their sewing machine and started their own businesses. They had come with nothing, they returned home with a concrete future in their hands.
Elisabeth, always with great enthusiasm in her voice, told us about the birth of another activity within the ADL, that of micro credit:
“In 2005, I lent 50,000 FCFA of my savings to five women, 10,000 for each, who invested it to start implementing their programs. Later the loans became more substantial because women learned how to invest them and make a profit ”.
Mariam Ouédraogo was one of the first to receive a large loan. This is her experience:
“My first credit was in 2009. I had received 100,000 FCFA (about € 150) to start trading corn. By the grace of God I repaid the loan obtained, but in 2010 I requested another of 200,000 FCFA, then one of 400,000. This year I received 500,000 FCFA, which allowed me to store seventy-eight bags of corn. I have already sold seventy and the last eight have already been ordered. In addition to literacy, professional training and access to credit, the ADL has given me security and self-confidence. Today, if I were to have ten million francs in my hands, I would know how to invest them without any fear because I have experience, but above all because I know that my Lord will still support me and bless me ”.
The determination of Elisabeth, a Christian child who trusted, first in the Lord and then in herself, led to these surprising results.
A few years ago, an English charity built a three-story building for ADL, in which there are laboratories, classrooms and dormitories. During our visit to the Center, two hundred girls were working on as many sewing machines, divided into three classes. Despair was no longer visible on their faces, but joy, satisfaction in what they did and hope for the future could be seen. And all this, because a little girl with a great vision knew how to put even the little she possessed into God’s hands.