Jaffar and Patmana: experience provided “the opportunity of my life” (Afghanistan)

Af Hamida for websiteMEDA works hard to capture the impact we have on project clients and when building capacity with partner organizations, but sometimes, says Julie Redfern, vice president of financial services, “we forget we are having a significant effect on others, too.”

Julie was reminded of that on a recent trip to Afghanistan when she invited two local staff members from partner Women for Women International (WWI) to tea to thank them for their efforts as WWI winds down its involvement in the microfinance sector.

Jaffar and Patmana, both trusted long-time WWI-MFI (microfinance institution) staff members, stayed on for a one-month transition to wrap up the operation as 40 co-workers moved to MEDA’s new partner, Mutahid Development Finance Institution. The pair joined WWI-MFI in 2004 as MEDA and WWI were getting the new MFI off the ground.

Jaffar started as a cashier in a small corner room with a cash box on his desk, recording transactions. He learned on the job and through local opportunities, and rose to the position of deputy finance manager. Over the years, his responsibilities grew from handling $10 deals to transactions of $20,000. “I’ve learned everything at MEDA,” he said. “It has been the opportunity of my life.”

Patmana joined the MFI right out of high school. “She had no experience,” says Julie, “but through on-the-job training and courses, she worked into a management position as right-hand person to the executive director. Neither of them ever expected to have opportunities to grow into these roles.”

While Julie had met them on previous trips over the years, it was the first time they had socialized. “It’s a different culture,” says Julie. “In their socio-economic circumstances, there are few opportunities. And when you can only speak a little English, as these two did at the start of the project, people are a bit shy to speak with visiting senior staff.” Despite fears that conversation might lag, Julie soon discovered them to be both fun and funny. “I was surprised by how natural conversation was.  … I was really moved by my time with them – they were so sincere. It was a personal reminder that we deeply affect people’s lives.”

In addition to the technical skills they have acquired, the two co-workers are breaking down gender and cultural barriers, too. The two are unlikely compadres, Julie noted, in a conservative, tribal society with a deep history of constraints on how people behave. Jaffar, a married man, is from the minority Hazara people, and Patmana, a young single woman, is Pashtun. “And yet the two had figured it out,” says Julie, “and had complete trust between them. Without our program, would they ever have associated?”

New partner, Mutahid

After a six-year partnership in microfinance with MEDA in Afghanistan, WWI has decided to focus on its core area of supporting women in training and income generating activities in areas of conflict.

Women in Afghanistan will continue to have access to financial services through a new MEDA partnership with Mutahid, which takes its name from a Persian word for unity. Mutahid was recently created out of the consolidation of three Afghan MFIs.

MEDA’s financial services area works at building institutions and clients, to serve clients in a sustainable way. “It’s a long-term investment,” says Julie. “We will continue to support Mutahid, to strengthen their operations and to ensure sustainability for our microfinance clients.”

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