New year, new beginning . . .

Jan 2nd, 2013 | By | Category: Newsletters, Updates

Dale watches as the villagers unroll plastic piping for the water system upgrades in Okaseni Village. This infrastructure project was one of the many aid projects that the Africa Village Project has completed in the village.

As 2013 begins, Dale and I would like to wish you and yours a very Happy New Year! A new year is always a great time to make a new beginning. During our trip to Okaseni Village in June, we experienced a new beginning as well. We regretfully said good bye to one venture that was dear to our hearts, but welcomed a new one that we hope will be successful.

But first, the back story . . .

When we set up the Africa Village Project in 2007, our goals were two-fold. One goal was to improve the standard of living, and the other was to help the village become self-sufficient.

We found that improving the standard of living was fairly easy – it involved aid projects. We raised funds (the hard part) and funded infrastructure projects (the water system, power to the school and office, a coffee nursery), started a health dispensary, supported education (paid school expenses, bought supplies for the school), etc. These projects did improve the living conditions in the village.

But we didn’t believe that aid projects were a long-term solution, so our second goal was to help the village become self-sufficient. To accomplish this, we focused on business development, specifically, microcredit. Our microcredit program was started in 2008, and loans were given to three groups of women over a three-year period. Most of the businesses these women started were very humble, selling produce mostly, although several were more sophisticated: cooking and selling lunches to local constuction workers, making mbege (banana beer), etc.

These Okaseni Village ladies were the first group to receive microcredit loans from the Africa Village Project. The microcredit program was started in late 2008 and ran until the summer of 2012.

However, the program did not do as well as we had hoped. The women found it hard to make a living, and some had difficulty paying back their loans. Others did not seem to take seriously the opportunity that microcredit provided.  More support and education was needed, but it was not possible to run the program from a distance (here in Canada). We reluctantly decided to disband the program. It was very disappointing.

However, one of the final microcredit loans that we made just before we decided to end the program was to a villager who had a small foundry. His business was quite successful, but he wanted funds to upgrade his equipment so he could increase production. He had a staff of about 15 full- and part-time people – many young men who would otherwise have absolutely no prospects for employment in the village. We had a brainwave! Why not give the loan as a grant instead? Renatus Minja (the owner) seemed like a sure bet. He was responsible and smart. We felt sure that providing him with funds would benefit him, his business, and the village at large.

So sad as we were to end the microcredit program, we were thrilled to begin the new grants program. We hope that our dream of helping the village become self-sufficient will come true.

May all your dreams and hopes for 2013 come true too.

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