Change in monthly interviews

Up until now, OSI’s field staff were conducting short monthly interviews with each of our borrowers and these updates were sent to the funders along with a photo. We decided that these updates were extremely resource intensive (especially because of the translation process going from Malagasy to French to English times 120 borrowers). So we have decided to implement a new system where we will feature one borrower each month from our two sites (Ambalavao and Fort Dauphin). The interview will be much more in-depth and should hopefully give a good perspective on our borrowers, their lives, and the impact of the OSI loans. We will also be posting these interviews on our blog so that everyone can benefit from them.

A new set of loans

Paul and I are committed to blog more often. So here goes a first post in a long time.
We just started a new lending cycle in Ambalavao and I just received the first month of interviews from the women. The interviews are done by Ravo, our field manager in Ambalavao, who conducts them in Malagasy and types them up in French. Then our job is to translate them into English and send them out to the lenders so they can stay up to date with the borrowers.
I thought, for this post, I would provide a few excerpts of what stood out from these interviews.
The most striking part of reading through all the interviews is how the loan seems to be about a lot more than just giving these women money to expand their business. Some of the women say that the loan gives them more confidence in themselves, because it shows them that someone else believes in them. Charlotte says: “I wanted to thank the lenders for giving me even more confidence in myself by giving me this new loan to expand my business.” Some of the women have gained this feeling of self-worth by having work and responsibilities. Mireille says: “I feel like I’m just like all the others because I also have work.” Simone says: “These [loans] have really helped me to improve my life and to get closer to the rest of the community.”

There is also this sense that these loans give these women hope and drive them to work hard. Monique says: “I am happy to be getting another loan because I know that the lenders trust me and their generosity will give me the strength to succeed in life and to have hope.”

A few women say that ever since they have been with Masomboly, they feel like their marital life has improved (in past interviews, some women even admitted that their husbands beat them less). Emiliene says: “my life as a couple has really changed since I am able to contribute to household spending because I now earn my own money.”

Being a yogi, I loved hearing Anja say: “I also wanted to thank you because since I have been with Masomboly, I have been able to enjoy life as it is.”

The overall gratitude that is expressed in these interviews probably struck me the most. I’m not sure that most of us here would be expressing such gratitude towards the bank, as we (I) probably feel that we deserve a loan, as long as we meet the bank’s requirements. This highlights for me, not to sound cliche, how much a small loan can make a big difference. I hope the funders realize what a difference they are making with $30.

Update on Madagascar crisis

Dear OSI Supporters,
We are writing this note to update you on the recent political problems in Madagascar and how those problems are and are not affecting our operations there.
The situation in Madagascar is a dynamic one, with new developments daily. As of yesterday, the Malagasy President stepped down and relinquished power to the military, which is now naming the opposition leader as Madagascar’s interim President.
This week the US Embassy recommended the evacuation of all non-essential personnel from Madagascar. In addition, the Peace Corps is suspending its program and evacuating all Peace Corps volunteers to neighboring South Africa.
Due to these recent events we have decided to recommend the evacuation of our American employee in Madagascar. For the time being we have no way to ensure his safety and so we believe the most prudent course is to terminate his work until the political pressures have calmed.
However, this crisis will not affect our day-to-day operations providing loans to the 120 women who we are currently supporting. Our local employees report no political upheaval in the two towns in which we work (Ambalavao and Fort Dauphin), and both of those towns are hours away from the capital. Their work is planned to continue, so the women will continue with their repayments and trainings and will be eligible for new loans at the end of each lending cycle.
It is very important for us to continue our work in Madagascar, especially considering the recent events. Political upheaval of this sort will take a large economic toll on the country and on the families which we are trying to help. As a result, Masomboly loans are more important than ever.
Thank you so much for all of the support you have shown to our mission and cause. We will continue to try to raise money for the women we are supporting, as they work to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Please keep Madagascar and its people in your thoughts and please email us if you have any questions about our work there.
Thank you,
Paul and Alison
Founding Directors
Opportunity Solutions International

Situation in Madagascar

Dear OSI Supporters,

As some of you may know, Madagascar has been experiencing political and social unrest during the last week. It is not yet clear how the situation will resolve itself. Although there have been rioting, looting, and strikes during the last week, the situation is currently calmer although still uncertain. The problems are not only affecting the capital, Antananarivo, but also the other major cities as well.

There are also concerns about food shortages and gas shortages.

Since the situation is uncertain, OSI has decided to suspend non-essential activities. Paul and Alison are delaying their trip for another month. We are in daily communication with the staff in Madagascar and have instructed the staff to perform basic work activities only when they feel that the local situation is safe and secure. OSI staff were launching our latest lending program in the Fort Dauphin area when these problems began, but there have been no reported disturbances there and the program was launched without incident.

At this time we are waiting and hoping that the political and economic situation resolves itself soon. OSI is committed to showing our solidarity with the people of Madagascar and to helping provide the opportunities for them to improve their lives. Project Masomboly will continue with that mission.

Thank you,
Paul and Alison
Paul Krezanoski and Alison Comfort

Founding Directors
Opportunity Solutions International

The “girl effect”

My friend just emailed me this link about the “girl effect“. It’s an extremely well done video showing the two paths girls in developing countries can end up going down. The one path is the depressing one we think about: poverty, early pregnancy, illiteracy, illness, maybe even AIDS. The other one is the hopeful one: staying in school, getting a loan, running a business, gaining self-respect in the community, and being healthy.

When one thinks about the challenges girls face in developing countries, it’s not even clear where to begin. There are just so many problems. But when I watched this clip- I surprisingly had this feeling of hope. This notion that even a small change early on in a girl’s life- like keeping her in school one more year, giving her that chance at being a business owner- can havehanitra.JPG this snowball effect that results in even larger positive changes later in her life.

This makes me think, as always, of my little Hanitra- the little girl I came to adore in Madagascar. Paul and I always have this nagging feeling of what might happen to her: when will she drop out of school? will she get pregnant at a young age? This dread that we have makes us feel completely impotent at being able to avert any of this. So we don’t do much- because the challenges seem so great. But maybe what this video is meant to say is, that even the small efforts, like making her feel loved, helping her stay clean, encouraging her to stay in school- can really make that difference.

Who needs shoes?

I was talking with my younger brother the other day and we were reminiscing about his trip last summer to Madagascar. As you can tell from the photo, he loved being a “vazaha”, the Malagasy word for foreigner. But parts of the things he experienced there still bother him.

Because Alison and I know it so well, we are sometimes surprised by the things that affect the people that come to visit us in Madagascar. Since we started in Peace Corps in 2003, we’ve had many visitors: parents, a best friend, a sister, and a brother. And each of them had their own fresh take on the country.

Most couldn’t get over the poverty. This is a natural reaction for anyone, we went through it as well. But Alison and I are always amazed at how quickly kids without shoes or in ratty clothes become so commonplace that you don’t even notice it anymore. It can be bothersome, because you would hope that it would always be shocking to see that sort of poverty.

But I think a big part of becoming immune to those sights is moving beyond seeing just someone’s appearance to getting to know them as a person: with names and dreams and lives just like you or me. Not being able to afford shoes, let alone basic medicines and food, is only an external circumstance: their hearts are exquisitely human.

It has been a great privilege to be able to experience Madagascar through the eyes of those who have come to visit us. The monthly interviews with our micro-lending clients reminds us that these women, though they are poor and lack education, have the same hopeful dreams for their children that our parents have for us.

For me that is the beauty of travel and new experiences. While the world is a big, complex place, every person has a little spark of that common humanity waiting to be discovered. With or without our shoes, don’t we all dream the same?