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Small Loans Change Lives of Togolese HIV/AIDS Victims

Small loans to families affected by HIV and AIDS in Togo are making entrepreneurs out of victims and improving the lives of their children.

Julienne, 32, is a Togolese woman living with HIV. Since she found out her status four years ago, she spent her days worrying and wondering why she got infected. She had nothing else to do but sleep and think.

But now with a small loan, training and support, Julienne says things have changed.

Julienne says she would wake up every day and then just go back to sleep. All she did was worry and think about why she had this disease. But when she got a loan to start up a small business, life changed. Now she says she wakes up in the morning, takes a shower, and says, "I am also going to work today".

Julienne's family is one of 50 vulnerable families affected by HIV who have benefitted from a unique project partnering the Togolese micro-finance institute, Investir Dans l'Humaine, and Jade, an organization providing services for people living with HIV and AIDS in Togo's capital, Lomé.

Families were given loans from $100 to $1,000 to set up small but profitable business projects through a project funded by Save the Children, Sweden.

Jade President Joel Ahadjitse says despite the common assumption that poor and vulnerable people cannot repay loans, the partnership has proved fruitful.

Ahadjitse says people living with HIV and AIDS often used to ask for financial support, but we did not have the means to help them. He says they needed money to buy food for their families and school books for their children.

We realized, he says, if we helped these people with some capital to set up businesses they would be able to take care of the basic needs of their families and in particular their children.

After two years, more than half the borrowing families have paid back their loans in total, and more than three quarters have profited from their new business.

Julienne has set up a profitable market stall selling towels and beauty products. Others have set up motorbike taxi services or small commercial businesses.

But Julienne says it is about more than just profit.

Julienne says she has gained confidence in herself. She does not worry so much anymore. With the loan, she says, we get out of the house in the mornings and go to the market. It helps us to get on with life and gives us the means to take care of ourselves and be independent.

Ahadjitse says previous micro-credit projects for people living with HIV have not worked due to a lack of financial experience to manage the loans. Now with the expertise of the Investir Dans l'Humaine micro-finance institute, they have a successful model.

Ahadjitse says what is really important with micro-finance is to support the borrowers. Jade is helping them with their psychological, nutritional and medical needs. He says when a person living with HIV or one of their family members falls ill, Jade offers free medical care so that they do not spend their loan money on other things.

For Julienne, her new business means she can take proper care of her daughter. She says now she knows she will survive.