West Bengal is one of India’s most backward states in terms of rural development. As we drove from Kolkata the capital towards Midnapore, the landscape grew greener but the signs of prosperity slowly faded into miles of rice fields, thatched huts and small roadside arteries. Many of Bengal’s villages do not have electricity and the evening brings total darkness dispelled by the dim glow of lanterns and lamps. While economic growth in India has benefited a growing middle class, it has also widened the existing schisms between urban and rural, backward and prosperous states and between skilled and non-skilled labor.
The roads are bumpy and the ride is bone-rattling as we speed through the district of Midnapore with its many villages. I was on my way to see a model village where microloans had made a remarkable difference in the lives of women. We got there at around midnight and were taken to our huts by a gaggle of giggling women in colorful cotton saris.
The next morning we were taken to the village community hall, where the women had assembled and were waiting for us. The small village was clean, the huts bright with painted exteriors and children playing in the sunlit courtyards. As elsewhere, it is the women who bore the brunt of looking after the home and the land, while the men were usually at the local tea shop, whiling away their time till the evening when toddy (local liquor) would do the rounds to dull the misery and sense of hopelessness.
It was amazing what microloans had done to the lives of these women in rural Bengal. It was not just about the money, though of course, it had increased their income, made their lives more comfortable and enabled them to send their young children to the local government school. It was also about dignity, self respect and a growing confidence in their own skills and abilities. It was about having been empowered in what was overwhelmingly a man’s world.
Beena and her small Self-Help-Group (or SHG’s as they are known) had gained in social stature commensurate to their earning power as they had availed of the loans given by the microfinancing organization based in Kolkata. Beena had bought land to grow rice and vegetables, increased her livestock and bought more hens as she wishes to have a poultry business. With growing income, she is paying off her loan regularly and is looking with increasing hope at a brighter future.
All the women narrated their stories of achievement and their pride in doing something on their own and succeeding in their efforts. It was a wonderful experience, listening to them and knowing with even greater certainty that microfinance was one of the answers to poverty and social disparities.
Club Asteria supports microfinance to disadvantaged groups worldwide. We seek your valuable cooperation in this effort of ours to usher in a fairer and more equitable world, where everyone can live with dignity and self-respect.Tags: financial stability, skilled labor, business loans, rice fields, remarkable difference, skills and abilities
The Vancouver Sun carried a fascinating and touching story about how microfinance is empowering women in Afghanistan, and at the same time brings up some problems that exist in getting the word out. There are not very many people available to actually run the programs and distribute the money, and the sparsely populated rural areas are often hard to reach. There are thousands of people who could benefit from microfinance programs, but they live in areas that are cut off from the rest of the world—and they often don’t even know that it exists. Or, if they do know about microfinance, they have no way to get to a big city to apply. Another issue faced by microfinance lenders in Afghanistan is the fact that paying interest is against conservative Islamic rules, so borrowing money is problematic. The religious aspect may be worked around by replacing interest with administrative fees, but that’s just the beginning of the issues faced in trying to administer microfinance in Afghanistan.
Despite these problems, Afghan women are taking advantage of these loans in larger numbers, helping their families, earning income and respect in their communities. The Sun article talked about 21-year old Zahara, a woman who borrowed $1,100 to buy a carpet loom. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money to somebody from the developed world, and in fact, in the developed world you would be hard pressed to even find a bank that would even consider making a loan that small. But in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is something on the order of $370, it’s huge. Like many women in Afghanistan, Zahara never went to school, but she has been weaving carpets since she was ten—and next time you go to the import store and buy an imported Afghani carpet, it may well have been made by Zahara, who now earns a good living for her family.
Two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population of 30 million is illiterate, and a third in desperate poverty. Microfinance won’t solve all the problems of this troubled country, but it’s a start. The Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan has made over a million and a half microloans in the past seven years, since the coordinating agency was established by the government.
Afghanistan doesn’t have much of a “credit” culture, and borrowers there don’t face the same paperwork nightmare like we do here in the Western world. There are no FICO scores there and usually very little paperwork (if any), and most of the applicants can’t read to begin with. The requirement is more social—participants must become part of a support group, and verify their ability to repay. The support group is big—and it gives participants an active group of other people with the same goals with whom to discuss problems, challenges and ideas. It’s the same whether you’re in Manhattan or Kabul, if you’re in business, you need other people to brainstorm with, and this is a valuable part of the microloan process.
Club Asteria supports microloan programs all over the world. We encourage you to join us and help do good for yourself, by helping others achieve their goals as well.Tags: donor contributions, islamic rules, managing director, 30 million
Hi, I’m Andrea Lucas, Managing Director of Club-Asteria. Club-Asteria is an online global membership organization that provides education, business opportunities, e-commerce and innovative programs to empower our members. Please visit our site at www.club-asteria.com to learn about our programs and services and our goals for the future and read about our philanthropic activities in the News.
I have now started the series of blogs so I can share my views and experiences with all of my family and friends and the extended community of people that are interested in global affairs.
Everything in my life that I have lived through – both good and bad, has brought me to this moment in time. I now have the ability to contribute to some of society’s most critical and pressing issues – the plight of hundreds of millions of people that still live in poverty despite the advances in our social network and technology. Human beings just like you and I who don’t enjoy the simple advantages of clean drinking water, reliable electricity, adequate shelter, the simplest of health care, food and education.
As I have traveled the world in my position in the financial community I have experienced first- hand this injustice and tragedy of humanity. My life today is dedicated to not only sharing the plight of these undeserved people of the world but more importantly to serve as a catalyst of change to truly benefit their individual lives. I hope that you will enjoy reading about my many experiences and the people I meet and can lend support to.
My blogs will touch on a variety of subjects, from e-commerce to financial support to philanthropic assistance to most importantly, education that can benefit each of the individuals and families that we are seeking to help.Tags: clean drinking water, global membership, membership organization, philanthropic assistance, club asteria, adequate shelter