Microfinance in Action

This week has been completely exhausting, but one of the best weeks I’ve had here. I’ve been out in the field every morning this week—I still have tomorrow morning as well. Some of the centers have been quite far away, requiring me to leave at around 5:45 or so in the morning and catching a bike while it’s still dark. I like the longer rides though, I get to see more of Cameroon and get out of Bamenda. One of the rides to a center, Beatrice and I shared a bike. The driver told us he knew a short cut, and we went zooming through a foot path. The grass had grown over and was now hanging into the road standing at about 6 or 7 feet tall. It was smacking the driver and us in the face as we weaved around the ditch that had formed in the center of the path from the past rainy season. The whole time, Beatrice and I were just laughing at what was going on; the driver kept telling me he had taken us there on purpose—to show me the real Cameroon. It was a gorgeous view from that path; we could see the hilly countryside scattered with palm trees and crops as the sun was rising. I wasn’t able to take a picture—I was a bit more focused on holding on as we bounced down the path.

In two of the meetings now I have been given lunch after by some of the clients. At one of the meetings, all of the clients stayed behind after to have a lunch of achu (ground plantains and taro root) with a spicy, pepper and fish soup. Then at another meeting we were given koki (made by grinding koki beans and corn flour together and then frying with tomatoes and onions) and njama njama (huckleberry, a leafy green vegetable, fried with tomatoes, onions, and spices). The koki was really good. One of the clients sells groundnut koki (koki beans ground and fried with ground peanuts) on the main street in Bamenda and promised to get me some for Friday. I may try to get down there tomorrow.

In Wednesday’s center, two piglets were given out. GHAPE gives female piglets to female members; when you receive a piglet you have to raise it and breed it and come back to the center with two female piglets to give to other members. It is definitely an interesting and neat way of giving back to the center. All in all, the people are what make the early mornings and long dusty bike rides worth it though. These people are so unbelievable. They have hurdle after hurdle and even with a number of disappointments, they remain positive, optimistic and grateful. There is never any anger or negativity when you talk to them about their failures, just optimism about the future. I have never met anyone that works as hard as a lot of the GHAPE clients; they all have about four different jobs requiring varied skills. It truly is inspirational to hear what they are able to do with such small amounts of money; moreover, how what they do can change their lives. Just consider what this woman was able to do with her loan of $1,200 US.

Bih Allan, or Mangye as she is called by those that know she has had twins, is a woman with a lot on the go. Despite her busy schedule, she is relaxed and spends the entirety of the interview giggling. She not only has the daunting task of raising 6 children, but must generate enough income to pay for their school fees and daily needs. Although her husband contributes, she comes from a polygamous home and so her husband must divide his income between his other wife as well. Thanks to GHAPE and Kiva, she has been able to ensure that her family situation has not affected her children’s education and future.

Mangye grows cassava, yam, corn and beans on her farm. Much of her farmed vegetables are eaten; however, some are used to sell and some are used to make cooked food which she sells. She only sells her yams when she needs money, say to make her GHAPE payments or when school fees are due; she can sell them for 5000 CFA ($10 USD)per pound. To make garri and waterfou, two staple carbohydrate dishes produced from cassava, the cassava must be ground. This is a tedious and tiring process involving a lot of manual labour. She takes her cassava to be ground by a neighbour who has a cassava mill. For 4 pockets of cassava, it will cost her 3500 CFA ($7 USD) to grind it; she can then sell these four pockets for 9000 CFA ($18 USD).

Twice per week, Mangye sells waterfou (made from cassava), rice, stew, corn chafe (corn and beans cooked with spices), and eru (a leafy green vegetable fried in spices). She sells these items on the roadside to school children and passerbys. She can make around 6000 CFA ($12 USD) per day. She also rears pigs. She purchased two pigs for 17,000 CFA ($34 USD) and 13,000 CFA ($26 USD) and just recently sold them for 60,000 CFA ($120 USD) and 45,000 CFA($90 USD) respectively. It cost her 3380 CFA ($6.75 USD) per bag, and during the time she was raising them, she used 6 bags. She also purchased medicine and vitamins for her pigs, costing a total of 1600 CFA ($32 USD). She spent a total of 21,880 CFA ($43.75 USD) to rear them and was able to make a profit of 53,120 CFA ($106.25 USD).

She is currently raising ten fowls. She keeps her fowls for about 3 months and feeds them one bag of feed costing 13,500 CFA ($27 USD). The fowls cost 1300 CFA ($2.60 USD) each when she purchases them. She recently sold her last batch of 15 fowls for 52,000 CFA ($104 USD), or 3500 CFA ($7 USD) each. This last sale resulted in a profit of 20,500 CFA ($41 USD).

Mangye is also the proud owner of a motorbike now thanks to her GHAPE/Kiva loans. She purchased the bike for 530,000 CFA ($1060 USD) including all the documents and forms. She has contracted out the work to a driver who pays her 3000 CFA ($6 USD) per day and drives six days per week, resulting in an income of 72,000 CFA ($144 USD) per month. The bike can pay for itself in seven and a half months.

Mangye is proud that she can now rear pigs and fowls herself, sell products herself, make her profits herself and manage her life herself. She is happy to see her children’s school fees being paid easily and her family eating well and healthy. She thanks all those that contributed to her loan and says that these loans really have changed her life.

Every morning I have gone to a center and have had a different, but equally inspiring experience at each. Wednesday’s center prayer was quite interesting. Each center has a prayer at the beginning of the meeting led by one of the clients. When people here say a prayer, it is not your typical rehearsed or memorized prayer. This one referred to god as Papi God and Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus being Jesus of Nazareth wouldn’t be so strange if they didn’t say his name every two or three words. There were some references to thanking papi for having this whiteman with them for the meeting, and pleading that papi would chair the meeting for them so it could function well. There was a prayer for the whitemen countries as well, “We also pray, Jesus of Nazareth, for the whiteman countries in the world and pray that you Papi God and Jesus of Nazareth look over them and keep them safe Papi God and Jesus of Nazareth.” In case anyone was worried before about the future, there are thousands of people in Cameroon praying for the whiteman—I am told about 60 plus times a day that I am being prayed for. I never know how to respond to that, I usually say thank you, but it seems like a response offer my prayer for them would be more appropriate.

I have yet to meet a client who has been disappointed with their involvement in GHAPE. I am looking, but I don’t think there are any. There are people who have had failed businesses and what not, but they all manage to make their payments and take out another loan for another venture. The results I am seeing here are far beyond what I imagined even after studying microfinance and the empowerment of women. The women I meet here who have been in the program for a while are independent, powerful women. Some own businesses where they employ their husband and pay him a salary. In a society where women have been treated as property even within society and the legal framework in the past, it is truly amazing to see these women providing for their families and being treated as equals in the household.


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