One woman’s reflections on hope for a better tomorrow 

Latifa (second from left), CARE Morocco VSLA facilitator, with the Executive of the VSLA and two members of the VSLA. Barbara Grantham/CARE
Latifa (second from left), CARE Morocco VSLA facilitator, with the Executive of the VSLA and two members of the VSLA. Barbara Grantham/CARE

When I took on the role of President and CEO of CARE Canada in 2020, I was filled with a sense of purpose and excitement. I had dedicated my career to organizations which supported social good, and the chance to lead a global development organization that empowered women and girls was exactly the opportunity I was looking for at that point in my professional journey.

However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that things were not going to go quite as planned. I started my new role at the onset of a global pandemic. So, instead of meeting all my new colleagues in an office, our Canadian workforce — like so many other workforces — went entirely remote. 

It was almost impossible to feel connected at a time when we were being kept, very deliberately, apart. The problem was, it was not just about staying connected to one another but about being connected to the mission, the vision, and the heart of the work that was being done by our CARE colleagues who were thousands of kilometres – and many closed borders — away from us here in Canada. It was one of the most challenging circumstances I had ever encountered.

Fast forward three years and I would find myself eagerly boarding a plane to Africa.  

I was finally on my first long-awaited trip to visit some of the wonderful and inspiring projects, people, and partners who work every day in support of helping CARE fight poverty and inequality, and who help build a better, more equal future for us all.  

Members of one of the newer VSLA (Village Savings and Loans) groups started by CARE earlier this year as part of the Women’s Empowerment through Sustainable Entrepreneurship (WESE) project. Barbara Grantham/CARE.

It was a long and beautiful trip, with myriad memorable moments that would deepen my passion for this work and underscore my belief that the path to a better future includes a commitment to women’s rights, leadership, and economic empowerment.  

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I am recalled to a particularly memorable, warm, humid Tuesday afternoon in the Atlas (Al Haouz) mountains in Morocco.

I was looking forward to meeting with one of the newest Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) groups started by CARE Morocco as part of one of our largest Government of Canada-funded projects, “Women’s Empowerment through Sustainable Entrepreneurship” or WESE. 

CARE’s VSLA approach is a remarkably successful program model that sees self-managed groups of 15-25 people — usually women — pool their savings to provide small loans to members. The women who take part in VSLAs are often unable to access traditional banking, so the VSLAs provide them with a small amount of money to invest in a project, business, or activity that can help secure their financial future. They then pay their VSLA back over time with a small amount of interest. These VSLAs can be life-changing for the women involved.

That day we drove about 90 minutes through little villages of sand-coloured homes and structures nestled high up in the mountains before arriving at a small community building. There, we were greeted by 17 women wearing beautiful traditional dresses and head coverings, welcoming us to their VSLA meeting with a tea ceremony and a Moroccan lunch. 

Henna on Barbara's hands.

We learned about the business enterprises the women were launching — a henna salon and various textile ventures in embroidery, sewing, knitting, and crocheting.  

A few of us had a henna treatment on our hands while we chatted, learned new words, and shared stories and pictures of our children and families.  

Many of the women talked to me about how their experience with CARE is changing their lives and how the VSLA has given them independence and a livelihood that they never dreamed possible.  

As I sat with these remarkable women, I was deeply aware that our differences stem from where we are born in the world and the opportunities that are — or are not — available to us as a result. 

But what quickly became clear is our shared hope for a better future. Whether mothers, partners, aunts, or daughters, we were all women who hope for a greater tomorrow — one where we are all equal.

Barbara and Latifa, CARE Morocco VSLA facilitator, with three members of the VSLA.
Barbara and Latifa, CARE Morocco VSLA facilitator, with three members of the VSLA.

Today, on a day designated for celebrating the potential and power of women, I am drawn back to the memories of these enterprising, resilient women who shared not only their fears, but also their hopes and dreams for themselves, their families, and their communities.  

These women serve as a reminder to me every day of the magic that is the human condition to hope, and what can be accomplished when people care enough to share just a little of what we have with others.  

They remind me of the power of one woman to create change for herself, her family, and her community. And I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have seen first-hand what a woman can do when we all believe in a better future.  

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