France Michaud | Desjardins Group
In 2013, Aïssatou* had to take time off work for health reasons, which lead to financial problems. Thankfully, she was able to bounce back. Here’s the story of a courageous woman who knew to call on the experts.
Originally from West Africa, Aïssatou has lived in Canada for almost 20 years and has worked for a federal agency for almost as long. Everything was going well for her until an occupational illness forced her to stop working for four months. The resulting loss in income sent the single mother of four’s budget off balance. The debts started to pile up.
From bad to worse
Already in a precarious financial situation, Aïssatou had an accident, fracturing several ribs, which led to more time off work, this time without pay. “That’s when I found myself staring into the financial abyss,” she said.
To close the gap, Aïssatou turned to a payday lender, not realizing that she was walking into a trap that would only lead to more financial strain. The extremely high interest rate on this type of loan quickly drew her into a vicious circle of excessive debt.
Help was within reach
Then, she heard about the EBO Financial Education Centre, a partner of Desjardins’s Ottawa caisses through the Desjardins Mutual Assistance Funds program. She immediately found the support she needed. “I was welcomed, respected and reassured. The budget counselor who worked with me was my angel!” she recounted.
The angel was François Leblanc, a veteran budget counselor. Financial education and budget counselling are what drive organizations such as EBO and the Desjardins Mutual Assistance Funds program.
The first meetings between the two gave François a clear picture of Aïssatou’s situation and what caused it so he could pinpoint the best solutions for her.
“No one plans to get themselves into this kind of position,” said the counselor. “We’re not trying to lay blame. We’re looking ahead to figure out how we can catch up. Our approach is to listen, not judge,” he continued. “It’s a very human approach,” said Aïssatou. “I felt supported and respected from the very start.”
One step at a time
François began by helping Aïssatou rethink her budget. He also gave her advice and referrals to other useful community resources. Aïssatou received an $800 loan to pay her electricity bill and keep the power on. “This type of loan is usually offered as a last resort,” said François. “Aïssatou made many sacrifices to turn her financial situation around. She was even able to get her kids onboard!”
Today, although François and Aïssatou still have some work to do, Aïssatou says she’s much more optimistic. “The welcome I received from EBO was wonderful. They gave me hope and confidence, and helped me get back on track. I’ll never forget them!”
A partnership between Desjardins caisses and the EBO Financial Education Centre“We have a great partnership with the Ottawa area Desjardins caisses,” explained François Leblanc, Budget Counselor at the EBO Financial Education Centre. “In addition to allowing us to grant micro loans when necessary, the financial backing from the caisses supports our budget counselling activities so that we can provide the service to more people. The support also demonstrates Desjardins’s confidence in our work and our ability to meet a need within the community.”
*Her name has been changed to protect her identity.