Microloans Support Persecuted Egyptian Christians
By Emma Reeves
07/27/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In Egypt, ICC’s Hope House Program is known for tutoring discriminated Christian children and sponsoring the most impoverished families. But this is not all that Hope House accomplishes. Small business loans are also available, giving the parents the chance to start their own businesses. These loans enable Christian families to independently sustain themselves, restoring a sense of dignity and ownership over the outcome of their own lives.
Often, Egyptian Christians are treated as third-class citizens, making it difficult for adults to find employment. This situation became worse under the conditions of COVID-19. According to ICC’s research, the unemployment rate of Christians in Upper Egypt is 80 percent, compared to the national rate of 9 percent. Even further, the average Christian income is $115 a month, as opposed to the national average of $313.
Under the conditions of COVID-19, many employers have blamed Christians for the pandemic and isolated them from what few job opportunities exist. Small business loans allow Christians to achieve some type of income, even if it is less than usual because of the pandemic.
For example, 54-year-old Bassam took out a small business loan to grow his grocery business. As a father of four sons between the ages of 18-26, Bassam was motivated to provide a good life for his family. He has run a small grocery business for over 13 years, but he decided last year to take out a loan to boost his product. Having already gained a good reputation from his village, the loan helped Bassam to sell more product and increase the loyalty of his customers.
“I sell grocery product for more than 13 years, and this loan helped me to bring new products to my grocery shop,” explained Bassam. “Before getting the loan, I was not affording to buy 3 packages of soda. Now I can afford to buy 10 packages and sell them to the client in a short time. Also, now I can sell chilled meats at my shop.”
The pandemic has caused some challenges for Bassam. Rapid unemployment in the community led to a decrease in purchasing power, causing Bassam to close his shop on occasion. Often clients would buy products and promise to pay him later, but some would never return. However, Bassam can weather the economic fallout of COVID-19 because of the loan. “I have to be patient with the villagers,” said Bassam. “If I try to be strict with them, it’s possible to lose their preference to me.”
“Usually I was selling products at 500 EGP ($31.29 USD) per day and sometimes more, but after Coronavirus, the purchasing rate decreased to 100 EGP ($6.26 USD) per day,” Bassam continued. “But I trust God that everything will be good soon. Nowadays, I sell at 200/300 EGP ($12-$18 USD) per day.”
Bassam has big plans for the future, despite all of these challenges. He hopes to buy a bigger refrigerator soon, but the shop he currently rents is small. He dreams of the future and plans to continue working hard for his family. He says, “I dream of helping my sons get married and make a family and live in good quality life and see their future kids.”
As Egypt continues to buckle under the weight of the pandemic, such small business opportunities are the only positive future many Christians can imagine. Otherwise, they are thrust back into a work environment that is hostile towards Christians and which increases their personal risk of exposure to the pandemic. Hope House continues in its mission through its microfinance program: offering hope for a future when hope seems absent.