Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Kenya Savings For Life ProgramImagine yourself, if you can, in a room with 20 women and men in a small village in Kenya. They are listening eagerly to a presentation by a community worker who is helping them come up with strategies for saving very small amounts of money. The amounts sound like nothing to you, but it is clearly a financial stretch for these people. You can see the eagerness and desire of the participants to accomplish this goal. One woman, though, seems particularly discouraged and uncertain if she can manage, but the others offer to come alongside and help, to keep her accountable. They tell her to keep the goal in mind.
The goal for the 800 community groups that World Relief Canada will be helping to form, train and succeed in Kenya, is for members to accumulate very small amounts of savings, pool these precious resources, and then provide micro-loans to each other out of this community fund. The loans will be for income-generating activities that will improve their livelihoods, their families and their communities.
Severe poverty is an ever-present reality in Kenya, a country where AIDS-related diseases kill 700 Kenyans a day. Fifty-eight percent of the population live below $2 US a day.
Microfinance, especially this savings group approach, provides a way out and a way forward for the poor who would be otherwise neglected by the traditional banking system. The 800 community-based village groups represent 15,000 members, 60% of whom are women, and they are part of World Relief Canada's Kenya Savings for Life [KSFL] program. KSFL expects to “graduate” 8,000 members into fully self-managed savings groups over the next five years. Each of the 800 groups will be trained how to develop group policies, how to conduct savings and lending operations, and how to conduct an end of cycle (typical 10-12 months) “share out” when the savings and accumulated loan interest will be shared out to group members, in proportion to their savings activities. The program will be carefully monitored and evaluated every step of the way, to ensure that the needs of the savers and entrepreneurs are anticipated and met as they continue on their journey to being more empowered, economically stable households and communities.
When HIV and Microfinance Meet
Any microfinance program working in sub-Saharan Africa will come face-to-face, quickly, with the HIV/AIDS crisis. How could it not when two-thirds of the world's HIV/AIDS victims — many of them in the working prime of their lives — live there? Microfinance, as a tool for reaching the world's bank-less, can also be a tool for improving the lives of its clients already impacted by the devastation of HIV/AIDS.
It is hard to think of someone less likely to qualify for a traditional bank loan than an African woman who has HIV/AIDS, for example. But microfinance does not only have a plan, it has a heart. By welcoming borrowers who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS, microfinance helps these women and men regain and grow their livelihoods. Their dignity and ability to care for their own families is gradually restored. But there is much more to this story.
Microfinance can also help stop HIV/AIDS in its tracks, by incorporating AIDS awareness and prevention strategies in its mandatory business training seminars. Debrework Zewdie, Director of the Global HIV/AIDS Program for the World Bank, has called microfinance “the missing link in the fight against AIDS.” That is because, increasingly, microfinance providers, like World Relief Canada, incorporate HIV/AIDS support and education into the savings and lending process. Clients and entire communities learn how to prevent the disease from spreading, and how to treat and support community members who are already living with the reality of HIV/AIDS, along with learning the sound business practices that help turn their entrepreneurial plans into life-changing reality. In fact, in the Kenya Savings for Life program alone, 20% of the clients will be caregivers of orphans or people living with HIV/AIDS.
To help make a difference for people in the Kenya Savings For Life Program, please donate here.
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