Program helps refugee women become successful child care business owners

Posted at 3:47 PM, Apr 21, 2022

BOISE, Idaho — A local program is helping refugee women in the Treasure Valley embrace their passion for nurturing children by getting started with their own in-home child care businesses.

Idaho News 6 previously reported child care has become increasingly difficult to find and is lesss afford in the Treasure Valley. Many waitlists are more than a year-long, but the Refugee Child Care Business Development program, or RCBD, works with about 80 refugee women in the Treasure Valley who operate their own in-home child care centers serving roughly 400 local kids.

Bayavuge "Christine" Gasigwa moved to Boise as a refugee from the Dominican Republic of Congo almost nine years ago. At first, she filled a role as a housekeeper at a local hotel but quickly realized that wasn't her calling. She later learned about the Refugee Child Care Business Development Program and has been caring for kids since 2017.

"I love the children," Gasigwa said. "It's so good for me! It makes me happy, it keeps me busy, it keeps me young and laughing with them all the time, so I feel like I am a young parent having young children with me."

Gasigwa has five children of her own. Her oldest is 32.

"I didn't expect this because when I came here, it was like, 'Oh my goodness. I am going to the USA. I am black in white people, how will I be? What will I do?'" Gasigwa said. "This job is very good for me because I am able to take care of these children to help the community, first of all. And second, it pays good and it keeps me active. I feel like I'm independent."

The RCBD program is part of the Jannus Economic Opportunity Program aiming to empower underserved Idahoans.

"We need to encourage new women to be able to open child care. We shouldn't be discouraging it," Program Manager Jenny Hays said. "We need more child care available in our community in every population."

Program leaders help the refugee women navigate every step of the way with interpreters, group training and one-on-one sessions as they set up their in-home business.

"We invest anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on their needs to set up their home, purchase educational materials, toys, art supplies, health and safety, all the things that are required to pass inspections, the licensing, background checks," Hays said.

At most, Gasigwa cares for six kids at a time, but unlike typical child care centers in the Treasure Valley, the in-home atmosphere allows her to offer care 24-7. This offers flexible hours to accommodate parents who work weekends or overnight shifts.

"They might have six children during the day, and then some others on weekends, overnights, evenings," Hays said.

Many RCBD centers also offer transportation — a key to success for other refugee parents new to the US who want to work but don't yet have a driver's license. Gasigwa or her husband are able to pick up and drop off children from school or home.

"They are not only wanting to own their own businesses but they are just thriving on having the opportunity to set their own goals and decide how they need to structure their business," Hays said.

Along with the typical play time and snack time, Gasigwa incorporates lessons in their native language of Swahili.

"So even if they talk to their grandma, they can understand some words, even if they are born here," she said.

It's an atmosphere focused on comfort and culture, evolving into an extended family.

"They become like my family, seriously," Gasigwa said. "Even the children, they don't call me Christine, they call me grandma, and their parents call me Mama."

Above all else, program leaders work to instill confidence and independence, allowing the women to make their own business decisions to fit their individual needs.

"Now I can say, because of this job, I am independent, I am happy," Gasigwa said. "I have everything I wanted to have."