Deep in the heart of the Lomako reserve — thousands of kilometers northeast of Kinshasa, a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a man named Limbute has found a bonobo. The ape is within an easy shot, and Limbute lines up his homemade gun. The bullet hits the bonobo; Limbute pauses to check for other animals that may be hunting him, then steps forward to collect his bushmeat. He notices another bonobo, perhaps a relative, crying at the loss of his friend. Limbute feels terrible, but he has no other choice. When he was just a boy, his father taught him to hunt in the forest for bonobos, and, although the government and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) have since made poaching illegal, there is no other way for him and his family to survive. Limbute has been arrested twice already, and he was forced to rest when his gun once backfired and nearly killed him. But Limbute still goes back to hunt for more bonobos and risks his life each time — he needs to keep his family alive and feels he has no other options.
Meanwhile, sitting in Nairobi, 2,500km away from Lomako, Village Enterprise’s scaling team is preparing to work alongside AWF to reach people just like Limbute. With funding provided by the Arcus Foundation, our team begins strategizing. The goal of this unique partnership is to determine whether Village Enterprise’s poverty Graduation Model can operate in such a different and challenging context. If the program can thrive, it will showcase whether this joint venture will positively impact the perception of the park and AWF, thereby reducing illegal hunting. The project is ambitious, but Village Enterprise is a pioneer in the poverty alleviation field, and innovation is our greatest strength.
Over the course of two years, our scaling team adapted our materials to the Lomako context and developed new training materials. The first year of this partnership was spent establishing Village Enterprise’s poverty Graduation Model alongside the AWF team. This included recruitment and training of field staff to set up the monitoring and evaluating systems. Upon their return to East Africa, the Village Enterprise team members continue to provide remote technical support to the AWF team and plan follow-up monitoring visits.
For Anthony Omogin, our lead field associate, traveling to Lomako in 2018 marked his first time outside of East Africa. He was struck by the extreme poverty in the DRC; he saw large families sharing tiny palm leaf houses and children with distended bellies. Anthony spent hours on the back of a motorbike weaving down forest paths and over makeshift bridges to get to the next village. However, as the project continued, his impression of extreme poverty faded as he witnessed the incredible resilience and positive attitude of the people. Anthony recalls his interactions with Boyella Heretay, an orphan who could not afford to go to school and was learning to hunt instead. Like Limbute, Boyella spent months in the forest and was imprisoned by the park authorities when he was caught hunting illegally. He jumped at the chance to set up an alternative business enterprise so that he would no longer have to hunt illegally to make a living. Charly from AWF lived in Lomako years ago and is familiar with AWF’s recent work in the park. He told Village Enterprise, “I am amazed to see the difference the program has made to the individuals that participated. Lomako is a very difficult, complex context, and so the fact that the entrepreneurs have succeeded is even more impressive.” Adam from Arcus visited the project in March 2020. He wrote, “We have supported Village Enterprise to deliver their program in Western Uganda over the past several years, but this is the first time we supported them to provide technical assistance to another organization and the first time they worked in the DRC. When I was in the field, I was struck by how the project has not only lifted local people out of poverty but also significantly improved relationships between these communities and the state partners responsible for managing biodiversity.”
After a few months of receiving business training and a small grant, Limbute opened a little pharmacy. With the income from this small business, he now not only can afford to send his children to school, but he is also paying for himself to go back to school. Anthony reports, ‘He said that during school break, the children would run up to him and say, “Hey, Daddy, will you give us some small money so we can buy a snack?” And he could give them something small. He says that he’s not ashamed of going back to school and studying very hard – he wants to become a doctor.
Limbute no longer hunts in the forest. He is now a respected business owner with a joint pharmacy and a family enterprise he established with his wife after earning enough income through his pharmacy. The family business is focused on buying household commodities (e.g., salt, sardines, sugar) from far-flung markets and selling these items in his village. Limbute’s life has changed entirely, and youth in his community are now coming to him seeking business advice!
Inspired by Limbute’s success, Village Enterprise’s scaling team continues to seek opportunities to make strides in our mission to end extreme poverty. Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, our team was conducting scoping trips to other regions in the DRC and Congo-Brazzaville to see whether our poverty Graduation model could be adapted to support the efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Additionally, we have just signed a contract to support World Vision to implement an adapted version of our poverty Graduation program in Cyclone Idai impacted areas of Mozambique. We are also working with other international humanitarian organizations to adapt our program to work with refugees.
All of this requires working with partners who are equally passionate about ending extreme poverty. If you share our passion, please get in touch, and, together, we can find a way to raise the human race out of poverty.