This was the big day that I had been waiting for!
Today our plan was to meet with the people at the offices of Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT). They are the Five Talents partner that runs the local microfinance program. After that, we were going to go out and meet some of the existing program clients… people who are currently benefiting from microloans to help their businesses.
While the TCDT offices were small, and (by Western standards) inadequate, their people and programs were amazing! The program at TCDT was set up as a ‘savings and credit’ program.
The way it works is that groups of at least 25 people would get together and each person would commit to saving a few dollars per month. As the balance grew, members of the group would then loan their own money to each other. Each group would elect officials, and meet regularly after church services to do transactions.
But the real secret to this program’s success was the people from the TCDT office who ran it. People like Peterson, Mary, Thomas, and Lilian meet with these groups on a regular basis to help keep them on track and accountable. One of the most amazing things that I learned about this program is that they boast an impressive 99% on-time payment rate with virtually no defaults on the loans!
After our trip to the office to meet the staff and learn about the programs, we then set out to meet some of the loan clients in their workplaces. I don’t know that I was really prepared for what I was about to experience…
We met guys like Stephen. He runs a small shop comparable to a 7-11 store (or other convenience store) here in the U.S. He has a great location right next to a factory, and he tells us that the opportunity to run that shop means that his family can have a better life. It is important to him that his kids get a decent education. The problem is that his shop is basically a small (approximately 6’x6′) metal box that he works in all day in the hot Africa sun.
We also met women like Irene. She runs a small second-hand clothing shop. Often when Westerners donate their old clothing to charity, they can end up overseas in shops like hers. I asked her what it meant to her to have the opportunity (via a microloan) to run her shop. She told me that she now has the extra money to buy things for her children.
As a father I could totally identify with that! I love to buy things for my son! But somehow I knew that we were thinking of different things. So when I asked her what kinds of things she could now buy for them she simply responded, “you know… meat… and bread.”
While it was easy for me to focus on all of the things that they didn’t have, I also started to discover something that they DID have… and that was a strong sense of community.
I got to see typical African kitchens. While they don’t feature the latest appliances or fancy granite countertops, they do represent a place where family (and friends) gather to talk and have fellowship with each other while their meal is cooking.
I met pastors who were actively involved in economic development and job creation in their communities. This is something that we just don’t see very much in the United States. Pastors in the States these days have been pigeon-holed into only being Spiritual leaders. In Africa, they are actively involved in every aspect of life.
This was a day of amazing revelation for me. I was overwhelmingly moved by some of the things that I saw. I was touched deeply by the widespread poverty and how little people had. And I was moved by the Spirit within the people… one that truly understood what it meant to live in community with each other.
I was also challenged to serve in ministry in ways that are not typical for Christians in the United States. It’s great to feed the homeless, but what would it be like if more of us helped them get jobs in addition to simply feeding them?
Finally, I started to wonder what in the world I was going to be able to offer these people that I traveled so far to see. Tomorrow we start our teaching…
Check out more from this series in the africa diaries.