My experiment began last spring when I received information in the mail about MEDA Trust, a new microfinance program sponsored by Mennonite Economic Development Associates. This program gives small loans to poor people, many of them women, who need a “hand-up” to help them improve their family’s livelihood. Loan recipients are expected to repay the loan with interest.
I was directed to a Web site where I could choose a person to make a loan to. Using my credit card, I could make a payment toward my account that would then fund the loan. At the time I was reading the biblical admonition to “give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers” (Luke 12:33, The Message). I became convinced that becoming a part of this program was something I should do.
MEDA Trust is operating a microloan program in Afghanistan. I divided my $100 account into two parts that were designated to help two women get loans. I have received periodic e-mails giving me updates on the loan repayment history of these women. According to the most recent update, the initial loans are over 95 percent repaid, including a small interest charge.
When completely repaid, the $100 will be put back into my account so that I can designate it for other recipients. It’s a lot of fun knowing that my money will be recycled and will continue to give and give and give, something like the Energizer Bunny. Furthermore, the knowledge that my investment is safe in a bank of heaven is a great bonus.
A news article in Mennonite Weekly Review (Dec. 1, 2008) describes this loan project to help Afghani women. In many parts of that country, women still face serious cultural restrictions, and working outside of the home is one of them. So a program has been developed to help women work from their homes, growing crops in kitchen gardens that are then sold in local markets.
The project has creatively found ways to help these women buy supplies and sell their produce since many of them cannot leave their homes to do so. Older women and widows have more freedom of movement than young girls and younger married women, so they have been designated as the buyers and sellers for those who grow the crops but who can’t get out to sell them.
According to this report, “Villages form groups of 20 to 25 women and then appoint a lead farmer to train the members in capital marketing, horticulture quality and storage techniques. On the average, women involved in the project earn about $350 a year after deducting supply costs.” Furthermore, “the project’s group meetings have increased a sense of community among women and young girls formerly denied social privileges.”
After only two years, six villages, representing 1,500 women, are part of the program. They are looking to increase produce production by installing green houses, solar dryers and drip irrigation—all with the help of microloans. The end result is that women are gaining status as valuable contributors to their families and the communities in which they live. Food security in their villages is also increased.
What is so exciting for me is that I have had a small part in making this happen.
MEDA has 10 microfinance projects in 12 countries reaching 67,000 clients. It is currently exploring new sites in several other countries. MEDA was recently chosen as one of three finalists for the Ontario (Canada) Innovation Excellence Awards for its leadership in creating a global microfinance industry. More information can be obtained from their Web sites: www.medatrust.org or www.meda.org or by calling (717) 560 – 6546.
A news headline in the Nov. 17, 2008 Time caught my attention: “Giving Circles. Want a bigger bang for your charitable buck? Gather friends and pool your (shrinking) resources.” According to the article there are approximately 400 giving circles in the United States today. They function similarly to an investment club in that members pool their resources and then decide with which charity to invest their money. Some meet every month, others once a quarter. “Such circles have become especially popular among aging boomers looking for a way to bring meaning as well as fun into their retirement years,” says the article.
So I’m thinking, why not share the fun I’ve had with my microfinance investment with some of my friends? Why don’t we form a giving circle and decide as a group what person(s) we want to support?
With MEDA we can go back to Afghanistan or to Nicaragua, Peru, Tajikistan or even Tanzania. We can learn about these countries and support the program with prayer as well as our money. One thing is sure: Investments in the bank of heaven pay high dividends and are secure.