New article written by Wendy posted on Reject Apathy's website!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
by Gareth Evans, Deputy Director of Economic Development, World Relief
I am currently in Goma, Eastern DR Congo with Hekima, World Relief's microfinance institution (click here for their Kiva profile)
Hekima was started in 2003 and has grown to be the most successful microfinance institution in the area. They are currently in the processing of adding new innovative products and services such as Teacher and Agricultural loans.
The Teacher loans will help teachers spend more time in the class room teaching, rather than supplementing their (sporadic and meager) incomes by working elsewhere. It will also mean that they are less dependent on parents paying their school fees in a lump sum, which will give parents a longer time period to pay the fees and will stop their children from being sent home for non-payment.
The agricultural loans will help farmers improve their incomes by providing access to finance for improved (expensive) seeds and fertilizer, which will improve yields giving them more crops to sell. Access to finance will also mean that farmers should be able to hold on to their stock for longer and not need to accept a low price for their crop, therefore further improving their income.
These two new products that are being developed are a small example of the work that Hekima is doing to support the poor in eastern DR Congo. The areas in which Hekima operates are extremely fragile and suffer from instability and have been drastically affected by volcanic activity. Yet, by helping to improve the livelihoods of the vulnerable, Hekima is improving the stability of the region.
Helping to alleviate poverty is a huge task, and Hekima is only able to do this thanks to the contributions donors make to World Relief. Thank you for your ongoing support.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Our journey today took us out to new areas of Kenya that I had yet to experience, into the Maasai Land – a region of seemingly unending stretches of plains full of acacia trees and wildlife. We were on a journey to visit more savings groups in the region, where I came across two women by the name of “Elizabeth”.
Our first visit of the day was to the women of the “Biraka Miracle” group. “Biraka” in the Maasai language means “water trough”. Around 50 or 60 years ago, a large watering hole in the town attracted the area’s large population of thirsty zebras for a cool drink. The town was named “Biraka” and its main road, “Oloolotikosh” (meaning “zebra” in Maasai). The watering hole has since dried up, likely in large part due to seasonal droughts that often devastate this region, but the town retains its name. The zebras (from what I hear though unfortunately did not see) still reside nearby.
Here in Biraka, in the Biraka Miracle group, we met our first Elizabeth. She is a widow with 3 children, 2 who are grown, and a 12 year old. She earns an income by cooking French fries and selling them in the town. But her goal is to one day become a shopkeeper. She pointed for me across the road from where we stood to a grey building, and said that there are spaces for rent in the building. She wants to save enough money to rent a space there and with a loan from her group, start her own shop. I asked her what she would sell in her shop and she said things like sugar and milk. She says that though she has little now, she continues to wait on God. She knows God has a future, a better future, ahead for her. She tells me many times in our conversation to remember her when I return to the US. “Remember me: Elizabeth,” she says. I tell her I will and ask if I may take a picture of her so that I may remember and pray for her. She tells me to greet my people in the US. So, I send you greetings from Elizabeth of Biraka.
A long and dusty ride through the grasslands of Maasai Land takes us from rural Biraka to the lively city center of Kitengela. The town is bustling with activity, and the whole area is under transformation as development is popping up everywhere. We pull into the Kitengela Health Centre, a hospital offering free services, primarily focused on HIV testing and treatment. Here we meet the Joiners Association, and our 2nd Elizabeth of the day. When we first arrived today, the Joiners Association was a 14-member group, all of which are women. By the time we left today, it had become a group of 20 women, as six more women showed up at the end of the meeting asking permission to join. They had found out about the group’s activities, and were eager to participate themselves.
The Elizabeth of Joiners is a seamstress of table linen. She buys material and sews 14-piece table linen sets to sell in her community. The material she buys costs 900 Kenya Shillings (about $12), and from that she can make 3 sets of table linens for which she sells at 1,200 Shillings each – a total profit of 2,700 Shillings or $35 from one purchase of material! She’s thankful for the Joiners Association because it’s enabled her to access loans at the sizes she needs. Loans offered from nearby banks are too high, she tells me, and with this group she can save in amounts that are manageable for her. Elizabeth dreams of buying a piece of land one day and building a house of her own. She has two children, a 14 year old girl and 6 year old boy. She laughs with me when I tell her that a girl of 14 must be difficult to manage! She says it is okay though. She feeds her healthy food, and the girl is well-behaved. Elizabeth speaks with an air of confidence that shows me she is not fearful of the future, but instead looks towards it with hope.
Both of these women are Queens in my eyes. They are strong and full of conviction. They dream of a future that is beyond what they can see now. They have faith in God to provide for them, and they work hard each day to support themselves and their families. They are business women, mothers, women of God. They exhibit power worthy of a royal title, so, in my official blog scroll, I hereby dub them Queen Elizabeth of Biraka and Queen Elizabeth of Kitengela. Long may they reign, and continue to grow in God’s grace.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Today, our team from World Relief and Faraja Trust visited two groups within the Kware slum of the Ongata Rongai area, just about 30 minutes from the center of Nairobi, Kenya. Kware is like many of the slums of Nairobi, though likely not as large and with conditions not quite as destitute as some of the those around the city center. It is a place that cars can pass through rather easily, as long as you’re able to dodge the pedestrians, bicyclists, and various forms of animal life that crowd its bumpy dirt roads. The animal life roaming around Kware slum includes ducks, chickens, goats, dogs, and donkeys. Children are at play among muddy dirt paths and as our car rolls past them and they see the “muzungu” (white person) in the car they shout out emphatically “How are you?” over and over… The only 3 words of English they know. The HIV epidemic has hit this community hard, and as a result, HIV “Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centers” and health clinics have sprung up and are interspersed among the many butcheries, hair salons, and soda shops. The main road into Kware is like a huge shopping mall of stalls selling everything from Croc-like sandles to underwear to vegetables to small household gadgets.
Our first stop is the Kware Vision savings group. Composed of 20 members, all women, Kware Vision meets in a small one room structure which they rent for 400 Kenya Shillings per hour (about $5) from a private resident of the area. The group meets every Tuesday to receive training in the methodology and to contribute their savings. So excited about the prospect of savings and accessing loans from each other, the group began saving from the very first meeting. To date, they have saved 7,000 Kenya Shillings ($91). The minimum contribution a member makes to the savings fund each week is 50 Shillings, just under $1.
The group’s chairperson, one of the older members of the group, regally wrapped in a shawl and wearing an expression of pride on her face, greets us and stands as she explains how the group is doing. She explains that this concept they have been taught is simple, and it has been easy to see how they will grow as they save and work together. They had heard many times of microfinance institutions in the area, but had never had access to them. But now, they are using their own resources to give loans to each other, and creating a “Social Fund” that they will use to support each other in times of emergency.
On this day of our visit, the group is completing their last initial training session with Martin, a volunteer of Faraja who is acting as a community agent for mobilizing and training Faraja’s savings groups. Martin teaches them today about the “Daily Savings” concept. With Daily Savings, they can save even in-between meetings by taking their money to the box keeper to slip into the small slot on the top of the lock box, in exchange for a token that they bring to the next meeting to exchange for a stamp in their passbook. The group listens intently as they listen to Martin’s teaching, and they agree that this element will help further their discipline in saving the cash that they bring in, helping to prevent their spending it on items they don’t need or could do without.
After our visit to Kware, we head over to another part of the slum where we meet the “Best Ladies” savings group. When I heard the name “Best Ladies”, I assumed that it would be a group of all women. But alas, one man, James, has recently joined the group after seeing how the group functions to support one another and create needed access to financial services. He is a vibrant, good-spirited fellow, who when introducing himself to us, says in very clear English “When I come here, I am part of the ‘Best Ladies’, but when I go out, I am still a gentleman!” We all laugh at his good humor. James is the Box Keeper of the group, and he sits at the front with the other leadership committee members supporting the financial transactions that take place during the meeting. He reports to us that “This group is doing very well, but we know it is not from our own efforts, but from our Almighty God who provides for us.”
Best Ladies has been meeting every Tuesday since January 26th. Each week, they all contribute 20 Shillings, about $0.30, and their fund continues to grow larger each week. They have begun taking loans, and they enforce strict fines when a member is late to a meeting, misses a meeting, or is late on loan repayment. A small plastic basket sits on a chair right by the door of the entrance to their meeting room with the label “Fine” on it. When a member comes in late, they are obligated to drop 5 Shillings into the basket. They take seriously the rules of their group’s constitution, and they observe the meeting’s activities that day intently.
On Thursday of this week, we will visit more groups in a more rural area of the Kajiado district. It is incredible to see how the program is progressing, how the demand for training is keeping our Faraja team in a constant state of planning and strategizing in how they can meet the demand. It is a good problem to have, as it shows how willing and able materially poor communities in the developing world are to address their own poverty, and work in community to grow together.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Today I got to be part of something that I talk often about in my work but have not yet been able to experience.
In our savings-led microfinance methodology, savings groups form and meet together over a period of one year to save their money and access small loans from their group’s savings fund. As the year continues, the savings fund grows, and loans are taken and repaid with interest. At the end of one year, the group conducts an annual “share out” ceremony, in which their total savings fund is divided out to each member according to what they have saved plus a dividend of the profits they have earned through the retained loan interest and fees paid in by members who violate the group’s constitution. It is a time to celebrate hard work and accomplishment, and to reflect on how they have grown together as a group.
On this day, I was honored to able to attend a share out ceremony of two groups in the Ruziba commune in the Bujumbura province of Burundi. Shigikirana Savings for Life – World Relief’s partner savings program in Burundi – mobilized, trained, and mentored these two groups over the past year. The drive out to Ruziba from the nation’s capital of Bujumbura was short, but it took us to a very rural area on the outskirts of the city where poverty is high and access to formal financial institutions low. We trekked along muddy paths, products of Burundi’s currently occurring rainy season, surrounded by small children who seemed to be leading the way for us. They whispered to each other in the national language of Kirundi, most likely exchanging comments about these strange visitors who had shown up in their commune. We arrived at a large church to greet the two groups who, upon entering the church, were singing and beating on drums to greet us.
The ceremony was conducted in a very formal manner. Speeches were given, songs sung, prayers said, and the day’s main event: the share out. The group members broke out into their two groups and sat in circles around a table where there 3-lock metal box, holding their passbooks and their years worth of savings, was placed. Both groups had carried their boxes to the ceremony that day in plastic baskets, with the boxes wrapped tightly in cloth to disguise what they were carrying. As the three key holders unlocked the boxes and the funds were poured out onto the tables, I was immediately impressed. Piles upon piles of bills in the local currency of Burundian Francs spilled upon the table as they began to sort through and divide the funds according to the number of savings shares each member had recorded in their passbooks. Looking at these piles of money, it’s important to remind oneself that not a cent of this came from any outsider. No infusion of funds was given from a bank or a microfinance institution. No wealthy Westerner walked into this poor community and, seeing the need and the barefoot children in ragged clothing, poured dependency-creating relief upon the people in the form of US Dollars. All of this money was theirs – they had earned it, and they stewarded it. Now they were experiencing the joy of seeing how their hard work and discipline had not only created for them a lump sum of money to support their family and investment needs, but had resulted in a return on their savings of 60% in one group and 65% in the other! Far better than any interest rates you’ll find for a savings account in the US! Together, the two groups, a total of 41 materially poor people, mobilized over $5,000! Incredible to see how powerful people are when they come together and commit to grow together.
After the funds were shared out, the whole group gathered again to listen to speeches from the groups’ leaders, the pastors of the two churches the groups had come from, and the leadership of Shigikirana Savings for Life. Even the commune’s Administrators came to participate in the event. One of the pastors explained that after seeing Shigikirana groups operating in a nearby commune, he knew that this program needed to be brought to his community. Now, having seen the success of these groups and what they have achieved, he says they are ready to go and teach other communities. A member of the group, when I asked the group at large what the most important aspect of being part of a group like this was, stood and animatedly said this: “There is love. In this group there is love for each other. When we have a problem now, we go to our group. There is a great love we have to support and help each other that we didn’t have before.”
At the end of the ceremony, we feasted together. The groups together had contributed from their funds to purchase a goat, which we ate as we drank Fantas and Coca Colas and the celebration continued. I don’t believe that I ever stopped smiling the entire ceremony, from talking to and listening to the members of this community, to watching pint-sized children outside from the open door of the church as they danced joyfully to the music being sung inside the church. It was a truly memorable experience, one that motivates me to continue working hard in the job I do to help ensure that thousands more people get to experience this day of celebration and feasting.
All photos by Trina Chase
Monday, March 1, 2010
World Relief is pleased to add more microfinance institutions (MFIs) to the Kiva.org website. In the last few months, LEAP, Liberia; Hekima, DR Congo; and UOB, Rwanda have joined CREDIT, Cambodia as field partners for Kiva.org. Turame is the first MFI in Burundi to be a Kiva.org field partner.
Kiva.org gives you the opportunity to help a microentrepreneur to develop her business. You lend directly through one of World Relief’s MFIs to a client, who then repays the loan to the MFI with interest. Your loan is repaid by the MFI to you. It is a sustainable method of reducing poverty.
The links to the other websites will be added shortly.