John came to the Asylum Access office in Dar Es Salaam with a unique request. He wanted us to keep his savings. After escaping from a brutal civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he lived on the margins of Tanzania. Because he had trouble gaining refugee status, he was not allowed to work or open a bank account. John scraped by — barely — collecting and selling used plastic bottles. He had trouble paying for food and rent, but occasionally he’d have a good day and wind up with a tiny bit of extra. “If I have it, I’ll spend it, and I want to save,” he told us.
We helped John get a residence permit in Tanzania, and he participated in our business trainings. He began making cheap handicrafts — sandals costing around $3 and he kept saving. With 6 of our other clients, he started a small, informal community bank, and with a loan from this group, he bought more expensive materials and is now making higher-end crafts with a better profit margin — he’s added purses, handbags and baskets in addition to sandals. And his sandals? They now cost $15.