29 Oct 2007
I’ve been to tiny villages and, worse, the bateyes in the Dominican Republic, where people live in conditions comparable to those in Sub-Saharan Africa (I can now say this for a fact). I regularly visited a village where many people’s biggest aspiration in life is to one day be able to build their children a house made out of cement blocks (which would have a chance of surviving a hurricane). I’ve seen babies that have a high probability of dying preventable deaths in their first five years of life, and very young mothers who have a high probability of dying from preventable causes while bringing more babies into the world. I have read, absorbed, and seen first-hand the facts and figures that describe poverty. And yet every once in a while, even after I have grown to think I am somehow impervious to the strange mix of guilt, anger, fear, and despair that are all too common when witnessing extreme poverty, I am once again bowled over by the inhumanity and injustice of it.
[Stone Town] village development... committee members live in extreme poverty, yet they are trying against all odds to bring about this elusive thing called “development,” whether by attempting to establish a safe water supply for their village, or by trying to convince parents not to marry off their daughters at ages as young as twelve (up from nine in the past), and instead send them to school....
7 Feb 2008
In general, the women of Zanzibar do not have the control over their own life and over their own individuality which I believe every human being deserves... Street vendors who sell coffee are an old and famous Zanzibari institution, borrowed from Arab traders hundreds of years ago; these curb-side coffee shops are social hubs, and they are exclusively populated by men. Vendors and salesmen are mostly male, and this is especially true the farther one gets from Stone Town. It is still not unheard of for school-aged girls to be kept at home, banned from education.... I have been told of a village in which an NGO attempting to assist women in setting up microenterprises failed because the men of the village blocked the project, saying that “a woman doing business is the same as prostitution.” I have also been told of parents who do not think spending money on girls’ education is a worthwhile investment, and instead choose to marry them off early. The result of these restrictions placed on women is gender-based segregation; this segregation is pervasive, and it is very deeply entrenched.
11 March 2008
I am volunteering for two weeks with the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM), which is doing some very interesting work. Besides handing out micro loans, there are a number of original initiatives underway, my favourite of which is a project targeting the women who work in the cashew processing plants here (cashews are one of the region’s main cash crops). A needs assessment survey was conducted, revealing a demand for three large-ticket items: mattresses, bicycles, and roofing materials. AKAM has bought these items at a good price and in bulk. The women who want to participate (about 300 in all) receive the good and pay it off directly through their pay checks every week for six months. In the end, even with interest (2% per month), the cost of the items is still lower than it would have been for each individual to purchase the item herself at unit price and pay to have it transported. Bicycles in particular are very useful, as they greatly reduce the factory workers’ transit time to and from work, allowing them to do other activities instead....
Links: AKTC projects in Tanzania and Zanzibar
See microfinance in Wikipedia including severe criticism of interest rates charged by commercial banks in the name of “development”, and their lack of social responsibility for investment. As an alternative see community investing in Socially responsible investing.