Friends and Family,
It has been a busy past few weeks! Some things I have been working on lately are:
- Interviewing micro loan applicants
- Drawing up budgets and repayment plans
- Making new soap scents
- Making candles
- Experimenting with making lip balm
- Teaching small business owners how to manage their money, and calculate how much they should sell their products and services for
- Selling soap, candles and Kibebe products at the Farmers Market
- Hanging out with friends
The month of August flew by for me. It is still unseasonably cold here, and I am comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt in the evenings. It is the first time since I have moved here that I can reasonably assume that the weather at home is similar to what I am experiencing here. Alas, as the East coast moves into beautiful fall, we will enter the hot and dry season.
Maybe it has something to do with being so busy recently, but I feel much more settled now. I have spent the past few weekends working at the farmer’s market, attending a concert and dirt bike outreach exhibition, watching the Malawi national basketball all-star game, and cooking food with friends. All of these events have helped me make new friends, and deepen relationships with other friends too.
Last week I helped to teach a class to about 20 ladies and 2 men. My co-worker John taught the first part of the class, and talked about setting boundaries between personal income and business income. When it was my turn to teach, I invited the leader of a fish selling business to the front of class and I worked with him to demonstrate how to forecast future costs and profit. I enjoyed seeing the faces of the participants light up as they understood how the equations worked, and applied them to their own business ideas. When the training was over, many of the participants asked for an individual meeting to ask us more questions.
Running a business training like what I just described was the kind of thing I imagined myself doing before I came, but it hasn't happened as often as I have hoped. It often feels like progress is slower than anticipated. Before I came, I was excited about the potential transforming power of business training and loans, but since I have been here it feels like I keep running into hurdle after hurdle that slow down progress and growth. One of the biggest things I have learned since being here is how to work with people and be patient with them, but also how to motivate them to improve. A lot of the work I have been doing feels like it doesn't have much of an impact, but I am realizing that the value lies in the systems that I am setting up. The micro-loan program was less developed than I expected, which has required me to do a lot of research, and I have recently begun laying the groundwork for what I hope will be a program that has clear policies, deadlines, and good results. I know that I won't be here forever, but I do work together with Malawians who will be. I hope that the work I am doing together with them now, will become a foundation for them successfully continue when I am not around.
In addition to teaching the business-training course, John and I gave out loans to 3 refugees who are trained medical professionals. In Malawi, refugees with medical expertise are allowed to leave the camp and work in hospitals. However, refugees must first undergo a six-month medical certification training that costs $315. There is Hope provides a loan to help cover the fees and the living expenses of the applicants while they are certified.
It was eye opening to me to sit down with these 3 guys and talk to them about their situation. These men are skilled professionals who have college degrees and had good jobs to support themselves and their families in their home country. But because they were forced to leave their resources behind when they ran, they are stuck. They are completely qualified to provide a critical service in a place where there is high demand for that service, but they are unable to take advantage of that opportunity. Seeing the spark of hope light up their eyes when they hear of past applicants who are now working and thriving is an encouraging reminder of the way that a job can change a life.
If you follow this link you will find some recent pictures of the things I have been up to
Please pray for me in the next months as I work to further develop these programs. Please also be praying for those who attended the training and received loans. Pray that they will be good stewards of their resources and work hard in their new opportunities.