Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Again in Africa

I've written about my friend Catherine's efforts in Africa before, in 2003 (the direct link to that entry is broken, scroll down to "Letter from a friend in Africa")
and again in 2005.

...in the poorer community that I have spent time in, Olkoroi, there are still quite a lot of girls being married off at a young age. In one of my favourite families (bright, beautiful kids) the mum just intervened to stop the dad marrying off his grade 6 girl...

So 1.5 years ago, I sat down with the mothers to ask them- what can we do to support your girls (seemed the most obvious thing to do- if you want to strengthen the girls, you strengthen the mums). When I talked to them they spoke of the challenges of polygamy, poverty and powerlessness- they were very eloquent.

So I asked them- what do you want? I mean I have no special knowledge on how to fix things, and I feel that you can't really impose outside ideas on traditional communities- if it doesn't happen from within it NEVER works. The women suggested that they form small business groups and try to raise money together.

A dear friend had given me some money to use at my discretion, and so I took $400 and distributed it within these groups. There were 20 groups each with 5 women. So each group got $20.

So on my most recent visit, I sat down with the women again...[t]hey told me that each group had purchased a goat (goats run about $20). THEN, they persuaded their husbands to give them a goat each (I suspect that having my backing helped them in this endeavor). So now...each
group has 6 goats!!!!

Then one woman- single mother (smart as anything) three kids- says that she took her group's $20 to the market, bought unga (a ground corn powder), sold it in the village and doubled their money. They buy their goat, AND they still have their capital.

Another group approaches me and says "Our group has a name!". I smile and ask them what it is. It is, of course, a Masai word (kimelok) and it translates as "We're so sweet". I ask them why they are so pleased with themselves. They have persuaded their husbands to give them young cows!!!! So they have 6 goats AND 5 cows.

These women were SO pleased with themselves, and it struck me so strongly that poverty and powerlessness desperately undermines human capital. These women are not stupid, they are not incapable. They simply have no power or resources. Given a little lift and support, you see their potential unleashed potential.

Catherine is thrilled at what they've accomplished and isn't stopping there. She's looking into setting up a real microcredit program, personally funding another group, looking to raise funds for a school she's adopted, and more. The women she funded are full of hope and new ideas: open a kiosk selling veterinary medicine so that the community wouldn't have to go to the market (2-3 hours away) or into town (3-4 hours away by direct vehicle, which virtually no one has, otherwise overnight trip); setting up a drinks kiosk; selling fabric; buying seeds, clothes, and building better huts for their kids.
As Catherine says, "All of these things not only help the women, but also help the community because it means the community can access more resources without trekking to the weekly market 3 hours away.

In the same vein, there was a Mother's Day human interest story in the news yesterday about a University of Washington student (who lost his parents and six of his 10 brothers and sisters to illness by the time he was 13) who went to medical school to keep that from happening to others. There's a part in that news story where they talk about women having to walk 17 miles with a sick child looking for help that they may or may not be able to afford, that may or may not even work... That would be like me walking from my house to Microsoft HQ, carrying Kate on my back (in the 100 degree heat, no less, it is Africa after all). Holy crap.

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