MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

The power of microfinance

My feet are muddy, my legs are tired, and the bags under my eyes are growing increasingly visible, but these physical flaws are proof of the incredible (albeit exhausting) four days I have spent in Bahar Dar thus far. As I sit here typing these words in my tiny hotel room, I feel fulfilled.

Throughout this week I have spent an incredible amount of time “on the field”, which basically means visiting our clients in their homes, at their workplaces, or even their place of meeting.

Boardrooms are completely unnecessary when you can circulate under the heavenly shade provided by an overarching tree. And shade really is heavenly when the mid-day African sun is otherwise beating down upon you.

On Tuesday I visited 6 different clients, all of whom have benefited in one way or another from the microfinancial services provided by my organization. Needs are diverse and varied, and may include facilitation of a cooperative or a village saving and loan association (VSLA), or access to an existing bank or local partner microfinance institution (MFI) for access to working capital.

While the benefits our clients receive from these services are also diverse, they can be summed up into two words: improved livelihood.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Belay-and-his-son.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Egowetet-outside-of-the-cooperative.jpgTake Egowetet, for example. She is a member of a women-only rice cooperative, and her membership has provided her with the ability to wear shoes and send her two children to school (which is imperative to end the cycle of poverty).

Or Belay, who, relatively speaking, is financially well-off. Belay has already acquired the resources required to run a successful rice business. He has recently been linked with poor women farmers, and now provides them with the tools they need to produce quality product, which Belay then stores for them until the ideal time for product purchase. It is a win-win situation for all.

This morning I was on the road by 6 am in order to make a 7 am meeting with another VSLA. This 11 member group has learned the importance of savings through training provided by their group facilitator (who formed the group after receiving training from my organization). While they were previously renting the equipment required to produce local rice seed, their accumulated savings allowed them to become proud owners of this prized asset.

b2ap3_thumbnail_7-am-member-meeting.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Having-fun-with-the-local-children.jpgBefore we moved on to our next meeting, some local children and I started playing with my camera. These kids are too poor to attend school, and even though they aren’t usually much older than 7 or 8, they are responsible for herding livestock for up to twelve hours per day. Despite the fact it was only early morning, we enjoyed a quick work break together. Their facial expressions transformed from curiosity, to joy, to complete chaotic enthusiasm as we took our photos together, and it was hilarious to watch. It’s moments like these that truly make the loneliness and difficulty involved with packing up and leaving your home behind worthwhile.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Comparison-of-the-quality-versus-non-quality-rice-grain-at-the-FFS.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Addis-Alem-VSLA.jpgThe rest of the day was spent visiting another VSLA and Farmers Field School (FFS). This VSLA, known as Addis Alem (meaning “new world”), have managed to save over 10,000 birr (divide by 18 for a Canadian currency conversion) in two years.

The FFS is a group formed to share knowledge of best practices and to support one another in times of difficulty. This 24 person group was formed in July, but is already experiencing great success.

The power of microfinance has the ability to change lives for the better using a variety of methods, and the impacts are incredible to witness. The ultimate goal is clear: eliminate poverty – and while quite a feat, it is possible.

Hiking through the Blue Nile Falls!
Road Trip!

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