Training in sewing

Part of OSI’s work in the field is to provide trainings on a monthly basis for the borrowers. The trainings coform-couture-6.JPGver a variety of topics, depending on the borrowers’ interests and what they would like to learn about. In August, Ambalavao’s field manager, Ravo, held a training on sewing. Ravo recently sent us an email providing us with an update on how the training went and we thought it would be interesting to share it. She writes:
“During the first meeting every month, we hold the training and the women have been in charge of deciding the theme of the training they would like. For this month, they chose sewing with a particular focus on skirts. The borrowers actually want to create an outfit for Masomboly borrowers that we can all wear for special ceremonies. They would like to be able to make the outfit themselves.
We held two separate trainings because we have so many borrowers. Usually, the training lasts about an hour and a half. This time, we just covered the theoretical portion of the training and next time we will do the practical portion of the training. The women learned how to sew a skirt, starting with learning about everything they would need to make a skirt and the different types of skirts that they could choose to make. Then they learned how to take measurements, how to create a pattern, and then how to cut the material and put finishing touches on the skirt.”

August Featured Borrower from Fort Dauphin: Lalao Roberthe

My name is Lalao Roberthe Razanamalala and  I am 37 years old. I am married and have 5 children. I have a small business selling metallic charcoal cooking stoves.

Tell us about your business: To give you an idea of how my business works, I first get sheets of rusted metal from a supplier that lives a few kilometers outside of the city. I collect these sheets every 2 days and hire someone to transport them to me. Every morning, I work on building the charcoal stove out of the sheet of metal and the minute I finish building a stove, I am usually able to sell it. Most of my clients are between 18 and 40 years old. Most of my clients are neighbors or people walking by on the street.

Every two days, I buy 3 sets of metal sheets worth 50,000 Ar. ($26) in total. Each set has about 5 metal sheets. One metal sheet can make about 4 stoves and I sell each stove for 4,000 Ar. ($2). On average, I sell about 10 stoves every day.

I find that my business did really well in June and July because it was the harvest season so everyone has a lot of money. But in January, after Christmas and the New Year’s celebrations, people don’t have very much money. It also becomes harder for me in September because it is the beginning of the school year.

Why did you decide to invest in this particular business ? What are some of the changes you made to your business because of the loan? What changes would you like to make in the future?

I chose to start this charcoal stove business because these are items that are used by most Malagasy families so lots of people need them and they bring in a lot of money. My parents had the same business when they were living, so they brought me up teaching me how to make these stoves. The loan has helped me expand this business. In the future, I would like to expand my business even more so that I can build a house made of concrete.

Describe your family life. For example,What is a typical day like in your household?

Since my youngest child is still very young, I get up early (4 o’clock) to take care of her. Then, my husband and I start our work on the stoves, then we sell them during the day. My other children are in charge of cooking, doing the laundry and shopping. 

What do you do on the week-ends?

Every Saturday, I go to church and every Sunday, I sell my stoves, as long as I don’t have a meeting with Agathe and Filonne, from project Masomboly. 

Are there people in your life who inspire you? Who? Why do they inspire you?

There is one person in my life who inspires me. Her name is Gisèle and she is my brother’s wife. I like her work ethic and her way of being.If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be ?If I could change one thing in my life, I would change my house into concrete.

What is a Malagasy phrase that inspires you?

Here is a Malagasy phrase that inspires me: « Aza miady ny anjaran’olo » which means « Don’t fight to get what belongs to others.”

What would be one thing that you would like the lenders in the United States to know about you?

The 50,000 Ar. ($26) loan is not sufficient to reach my goals. I would like to be able to borrow a lot more.

August Featured Borrower from Ambalavao: Berthine

My name is Berthine Rasoanantenaina. I am 40 years old and I live with my husband and 5 children. I run a business weaving wild silk scarves. I earn my living through my business and reinvest most of my profits into the business because it is the only business that I know how to do. I have also received many trainings that have helped me learn how to weave. In general, this business is very profitable but just like all businesses, there are slow periods. Right now, it is a bit difficult because there are so few tourists in Madagascar because of the political crisis. Since tourists are my main clients, we’re going through a tough time but it should pass.

Since I am a mother, I also have a lot of obligations within the household aside from my weaving business. I’m the main person in charge of running the household and I do many of the chores. In general, though, it’s my daughters who are in charge of those chores. However, when they are in school, then I do most things in the house. To manage my time, I don’t weave every day except if I have a lot of orders. For example, during the high tourist season, I was weaving a lot. I would say that during three to six months of the year, I am working full time with my weaving. But during the other months, I spend a lot of time doing chores. Sometimes it can be difficult for a mother like me to manage both a business and running the household because the business takes up a lot of time. But it’s worth it. Like I said in the beginning, I chose this business because it is the only area where I am talented and have received training in. It’s also a business that brings in a lot more money than other areas.

When I started my business, I only had one loom but when I received the loan from Masomboly, I was able to buy another. That way, I can be making a few scarves at the same time. Sometimes my daughters even help me with them. I have really benefited from Masomboly because I have been able to sell my scarves in more places. However, my dream would be to open my own store and workshop to sell my scarves. Right now, my profits aren’t high enough for me to be able to do that. But once I can have my own store, I would be able to earn a lot more than I do now.

During all of my life, I have felt alone because I was an orphan. My mother died when I was only 1 year old, so I never knew her. My grandmother and my father raised my older brother and me. When I was 8, my grandmother passed away. Then my father remarried and left us all alone. My brother passed away soon after that and that’s when I realized that I really didn’t have anybody. My father passed away a year after my brother died. I was 14 then. I started working as a maid with a family here in Ambalavao but they did not treat me well and I left to work with another family. I lived with them until I was 19. I then got married because I felt so alone, but my husband mistreated me. We had three children together, but he died as well. I was single during five years and it was during that time that I learned how to weave. I then got remarried and had two more children. I don’t really think I have people I admire in my life, because I spent so much time worrying about my troubles and feeling alone and not getting to know other people.

All my life, I wished I could have changed my past because of all the suffering I went through with my close family members dying. But now, if I think about changing my life, I would like to earn more money so that I can reach my goals and give my children everything that I couldn’t have. My biggest dream is to have my very own store to sell my scarves, have my own house, and have everything I want, really. I believe that money brings power. Maybe I am wrong, but that is what I believe up until now.

Finally, what I would like the funders to know about me is that, despite the hardships in my life, I remain strong and confident and I know that one day I will reach my dream, especially because I am with Masomboly. This project gives me the chance to get where I want to go. I just need to continue working really hard. Thank you!

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.

Imperiled youth in Madagascar

I thought I would chip in and write the blog posting this week. I just got done reading this very important report from UNICEF regarding the status of children and adolescents in Madagascar in the wake of the recent unrest.

The link is here: UNICEF Report on youth in Madagascar

Hard as it is to believe, due to the paucity of media coverage, the crisis in Madagascar continues. The two sides are not talking anymore, former President Ravolomanana is still in exile in Swaziland and Madagascar has been suspended from all of the region’s most important international organizations like the African Union and the SADC.

This report by UNICEF highlights the precarious situation that the country is currently living in. Radicalization of the youth in Madagascar would be a disaster, and the report shows how quickly the country is slipping down that slope. We have seen too many other African nations fall victim to unemployment, street crime and chaos.

There are some diplomatic efforts in the works, but there is so little incentive for the people in power in Antananarivo to return to the bargaining table because they then risk losing power altogether.

It is a depressing situation, to say the least, but the country has a history of stepping back from the brink in the past. Clearly, the children of Madagascar and the future of the country depends on it doing so again.


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.