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Bujumbura market fire in January 2013

When tragedy strikes it provides a chance to learn from the past, build upon it, and make the future even better. Burundi suffered a terrible loss when the main market in the capital city of Bujumbura caught fire on January 27, 2013 destroying the market and displacing 5000 vendors. The livelihood of thousands of people was wiped out in just a few hours, but there is hope for those who were affected by the fire. Efforts began in August 2013 to develop a plan for reconstruction through a partnership between four organizations. The four organizations are Connecting All Parents with Schools (CAPS), Sharing Hope and Peace on Earth (SHAPE) International, Service to Humanity for Integrations, Neighbourliness and Equity (SHINE), and Syndicat General des Commercants (SYGECO). SYGECO is the Burundi trade union that represents the vendors. The goal is to not only rebuild the market for the vendors, but to also develop a training center that will offer training in financial management, business planning, insurance and other skills that businesses need to succeed.

The four organizations that are leading efforts to build a new market

From left to right above are Sidney Ihebura (SYGECO Chaplain), Pastor Jean Marie Nibizi (SHINE President), Amy Erickson (CAPS President), John Mann (SHAPE International President), Florent BizBishaka (translator),  and Audace Bizbishaka (SYGECO Trade Union President). These partners are stepping up with the mutual goal of helping the vendors and bringing economic development to Burundi. Job creation will help drive the country toward a healthy economy. Jobs lead to better education for children and an improved quality of life for families.

 The August planning meeting was the first step toward restoring vendor businesses

In August SYGECO held a membership meeting to discuss a plan to begin restoring vendor businesses. SYGECO has been working toward fighting the injustices against vendors by some banks in Burundi. Banks have recapitalized a 20% interest rate on a monthly basis, leading to loans that grow much faster than vendors are able to pay. Banks have also seized vendors’ homes based on questionable terms and failed to follow due process. SYGECO is working with the partnership to form an alternative member owned savings and loan.  Members will need to meet stringent lending requirements to ensure the success of the program.

 Over 130 SYGECO members participated in the member meeting in August

A mutual solidarity fund is the first step toward forming the credit union that will provide savings and loans to members along with educational resources. To provide security and success there are three requirements that the members must meet. First, each member must be part of a solidarity group. Strength is found in numbers, so a solidarity group with 8 or more members contributes toward a group loan that is co-collateralized by the group. Second, the members must pay for insurance of their goods. This is a new idea in Burundi, but the members now understand the importance of it. Third, the members must attend training to learn about financial management and insurance.

The fund will come from multiple sources including the vendors and investors. Investors will help to provide funds for loans in exchange for loan guarantees and member savings. The trade union has proposed short term loans to encourage vendors to repay loans quickly and minimize inflation rates. The term will be between 6 – 12 months.

   SHAPE, CAPS, and SHINE representatives meet with SYGECO over lunch

The rebuilding of the market in Bujumbura looks promising with the formation of new ideas like solidarity groups and training. Success relies largely on team work and strong partnerships.

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