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Anglican charity Five Talents celebrates 25 years of empowering women

29 September 2023

Charity estimates more than one million people have benefited from its programmes


Irene Nyambura

Irene Nyambura

THE example of a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who, having become literate, has started several businesses, is among those that were celebrated this week by Five Talents. An Anglican microfinance charity, it is marking the 25th anniversary of being founded.

Speaking on the eve of a celebration at Mary Sumner House in Westminster, on Wednesday, Irene Nyambura, a programme adviser in the DRC, recalled the story: “At first, she was struggling so hard to support her family. . . She enrolled in a savings group; she is now literate; she is able to communicate. . . She has started several businesses, not just one, and she is now farming. And, to crown it all, she has taken four orphaned children from a family, and she is staying with them. Two of them are girls, and she is paying school fees for them.”

Five Talents was launched at the 1998 Lambeth Conference as a means of supporting microfinance in developing countries. “The World Bank has given loans of millions and millions of dollars, but poverty is still with us,” the Bishop of Matana, in Burundi, the Rt Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, told a reception. “Now the church leaders are called upon to make the difference.”

Today, the charity estimates that more than one million people, in 12 countries, have benefited from its programmes. The models entail the creation of savings groups, in partnership with local churches, in which women receive training and support to set up and grow small businesses. Literacy, numeracy, and financial education is also provided.

Adam DickensThe celebratory event in Westminster, attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury

On Tuesday, Ms Nyambura described the connection between this work and peace-building. To date, she has worked in several African countries affected by conflict, including South Sudan and Somalia. In the DRC, Five Talents is working in the diocese of Aru, in communities where inter-clan conflict can arise.

“Empowering women is so important in building peace in our communities,” she said. “The women are the ones who are supporting their children mostly, and if they are empowered they are able to even negotiate with the leaders. . .

“Women tell their stories in a better way; they are the ones who are taking care of families, mostly, and at home they are also able to talk with their spouses about the importance of peace. . . When they participate in groups, the wider community notices.”

The savings groups entail trusting one another with funds, and promote unity, she said. “They are willing to put their differences aside for the good of their families and their community.”

A co-CEO of Five Talents UK, Rachel Lindley, said that Five Talents challenged media portrayals of Africa as “a place of desperation and despair. . . What we see is actually vast amounts of potential. . . What you see is women who are realising they do have gifts, they do have the potential to be change-makers in their own communities.”

Women involved in the initiative had gained the confidence to tackle issues such as female genital mutilation and gender-based violence, she said. “It all seems to start from the women discovering their own voices.”

Adam DickensAdam Dickens

The Church in the communities involved was “a stable and trusted presence”, she said. “You can visit a village where there’s no road, no school, no hospital, but still there’s a church: you have a way in. And you’ll find that people trust the church. People of all faiths and none are happy to come to a meeting in the church.”

It was important that the initiative was run by the communities, with trainers appointed by the local church: “Change is much more sustainable if it comes from within.”

Twenty-five years since Bishop Ntahoturi’s appeal, the charity’s goal is further expansion. A recent report on its impact, after 20 years of work in Burundi, concluded that more than 140,000 participants in its savings groups have been able to take out a loan, and more than 75 per cent of those involved have been able to afford fees for the higher education of their children, according to a survey.

“Those who used to be illiterate, with low self-esteem, and despised by neighbours, are now confident leaders and role models in their communities,” the Provincial Co-ordinator of Mothers’ Union Burundi, Claudette Kigeme, observed. “Extreme poverty robs peace, hope, and dignity, and the programme has contributed to their restoration.”

In 1998, Church Times reported that the then Bishop of Monmouth, Dr Rowan Williams, was one of the few white bishops who attended the launch of Five Talents. This week, his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, delivered the keynote address at the anniversary celebration, alongside his wife, Caroline.

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