(MCC Photo/David Klassen)

Rhoda Markos holds a handful of potatoes like the ones she sold to pay for MCC-supported job training.

Editor’s note: This article records the story of Rhoda Markos as told to David Klassen, MCC Nigeria representative.

JOS, Nigeria — Rhoda Markos, her husband and three children lived in a rural village near Jos, Nigeria, working as subsistence farmers – eating what they grew and selling what they could to generate a minimal income. Like 60 percent of Nigerians in 2011, her family survived on less than $1 a day.

When Markos’ newborn baby developed a high fever, she had no money to purchase medicine. The local pharmacist refused her credit even though she begged because half the village already owed the pharmacy money. A kind person gave her enough money for transportation to get to the nearest hospital and back, but at the hospital her child died.

In Nigeria, a dead body must be carried in a special hire vehicle. Markos could not afford that with the money remaining in her pocket. So she strapped her dead baby on her back and boarded the next public bus back to her village. The family buried the baby the next day.

Markos was deeply troubled by this experience. She vowed she would do everything she could so that she and her family would never have to experience that kind of vulnerability again.

Around that time, Markos learned that a woman was coming to her village to teach income generation skills. Markos didn’t know it yet, but the woman was Margaret Ahmed, executive director from Home Makers, a long-time partner of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Home Makers is an interfaith organization that empowers Nigerian women to financially support their families. MCC supports Home Makers financially, helping Ahmed and her staff to offer income generation and business development training, cooperative savings groups and microloans. In addition group leaders train women to resolve conflicts and encourage religious cooperation in their neighborhoods.

Markos knew this practical training was what she needed. She still had no money, and the cost of the training, she heard, was 200 niara ($1.22). She tried to sell the potatoes she had just harvested, but she found no buyers. She thought she was defeated again.

The next day Ahmed arrived in the village and began setting up for the five-day skills training workshop. When Ahmed saw Markos hanging around the edges, Ahmed asked her if she would be joining the group. When Markos explained her predicament, Ahmed responded by buying Markos’ potatoes. 

During the next five days, Ahmed taught the women five business skills they could use to generate income for themselves – making bread, doughnuts, pomade, soap and hair cream. Markos was inspired by making doughnuts, so she accepted the 10,000-niara ($61) start-up loan Ahmed offered.

During the next 10 months, Markos built a successful business selling doughnuts to the students of secondary and primary schools and was able to pay off the loan, making regular payments. 

Three years later, Markos has expanded her business interests and is now raising pigs as well. She has vacated her leaky, thatched-roof, mud hut for a permanent cement floor and tin roof house that she built herself. She pays the school fees for her children. As a recognized businesswoman in the village, she is frequently consulted by the leaders.

With her developing skills, Markos is determined she will never again experience abject poverty.

David Klassen is MCC representative in Nigeria. His wife, Mary Lou, is a peace theology teacher. They are from Kitchener, Ont.