The thing donors look forward to most on insight trips is meeting the clients face to face, experiencing a “trust group” meeting and seeing what people are like in that particular country. Today was no exception – it’s what we look forward to most.
Our day began by visiting a rural trust group. As always, it was fascinating to see the faces, the beautiful dresses & scarves, and not forgetting the many curious children – hanging into you for the chance of a poloroid photo of themselves :-). Knowing only a fraction of the backgrounds many of the clients had, with painful histories and broken lives, they sit shoulder to shoulder, guaranteeing each others loans and working their way to brighter futures.
My impressions are mixed & many. I’m taken with the order & cleanliness. The way people seem quite reserved & quiet, and they follow a culture where community service and following strict laws is the norm. But I miss the energy & vivacity of counties such as Malawi & Ghana. There’s a careful conservatism I’m used to seeing more in northern Europe than central Africa.
Factoid: plastic bags are illegal. As is walking on grass in public spaces. And every 4th sat of each month, everyone, including the president, cleans the streets of their local communities. An interesting day!!
If anyone wants to understand the model in place within Opportunity, a good traditional trust group meeting is what s/he needs. This morning, with the rain bouncing on the corrugated iron roof, we listened to a large group of women.
They were counting bank notes when we arrived, and the secretary (see Elizabeth’s comments of today) was carefully writing all the accounts with the accountant.
Each member of the group had a passport-sized book in which s/he writes the amount of their loan and repayment, while the group amounts are kept on a separate sheet. It is carefully done, in a very friendly atmosphere, and yet they really behave with professionalism.
I guess it is part of the self-respect they underlined as being what makes a good mother (the American ladies of our group asked what it means to them to be a good mum, in view of the US mother day on May 13th). Their businesses were mostly in retail, from salt, and cooking oil to bananas (green, sweet, cooking… There seems to be so many kind of them). Some of them are obviously successful considering the increasing size of the loans they qualify for. We joked, laughed, took pictures of them with the polaroid (a big big hit when the picture comes out!)… They are such a forward-looking group: it is meaningful, considering their recent history.
My other great moment today was at Sakae restaurant, because of the conversations with key senior staff at UOB (the OI bank in Rwanda), precisely for the same forward looking perspective they have on their country. Rwanda is a little Singapore in Africa! This was a real insight trip day! A demain…
Woke up to a wet and cloudy morning. We visited a longstanding trust group who were meeting to make their loan repayments outside a local cafe in a rural area outside Kigali. I was struck by the professionalism of the group and the meeting.
They have a president, treasurer and secretary, all of whom receive special training for their roles by the bank. As it was raining some of the trust group members had not yet arrived to make their repayment so one of us asked what happened if they missed the meeting. The answer was a very matter of fact, “They receive a fine.” Somehow I don’t think fines are needed often.I then had a very interesting experience of visiting one of the more basic Rwandan “facilities” before our second meeting – one I will remember for some time I’m afraid!
I also had the pleasure of sitting opposite Urwego Opportunity Bank’s CFO at dinner. A lovely Ugandan woman named Sheila who received her accountancy certification and degree from Oxford Brookes University by correspondence. Her husband is currently studying at Loughborough and they have two young children. We spoke about the struggle of balancing career with family, nanny problems and trying to “juggle lots of crystal balls” desperately hoping not to drop any. I felt a real connection with her and realised that although we are worlds apart in some ways, we really are not that different in our personal ambitions and hopes for our families.
Today was another one of beautiful Rwanda and beautiful Rwandans. Two in particular struck me. The first was Francine, a lovely, softly spoken woman, wearing a stunning yellow head dress, in the ‘We Trust Each Other’ Trust Group.
She shared how her first loan had enabled her to buy more salt and sugar and increase her daily sales. From there she added soap to her inventory. Recently she’s purchased a goat, which is now ready to give birth to a kid. With her profits, Francine has put a concrete floor in her home, installed electricity and bought new furniture. She also mentioned her provision for her children and her new ability to buy clothes for herself. Her final comment, delivered with a shy smile, was that she is no longer a burden to her husband. I took that at face value, not assuming she had a domineering spouse who demanded no pressure to provide, but rather a woman who was happy to bless her family through her work.
I didn’t get the name of the other woman who greatly impressed me but she stood boldly at the end of the meeting and told us why she had joined an Opportunity Trust Group. “When I heard about a bank that wanted to work with people because of Jesus’ love for the poor I thought, that’s the type of bank I want to partner with.” She wanted to partner with us. Opportunity International loans and training are not a hand out, but a hand up as women, and some men, recognize the chance at improving their lives through business development. I was so encouraged to hear that directly from a client. Fantastic!