“In times of disaster, there is always a concern that those with small businesses will deplete their capital,” said Hans Helleman, who is serving with CRWRC in West Africa as an International Relief Manager with his wife, Henni. “When it comes to providing food for your children, there really is no other choice but to deplete your funds. Just as someone might sell off assets such as animals in order to buy food during difficult times, participants in micro-finance programs dip into their savings to meet their immediate needs and thereby reduce their long-term ability to feed their families.”A staff member from CRWRC's partner (center) speaks to a group of women about their microfinance program and the risks they faced during this year's drought. Also pictured are Hans Helleman and CRWRC staff.
Brenda*, a Program Manager with CRWRC in West Africa, was familiar with the situation these women faced. Some of the women are widows. Others are raising children on their own as their husbands look for work several hours away. All of the women want to support their families and send their children to school. The micro-finance program was helping them do that.
In groups of about eight, the women would meet on a weekly basis and contribute a small amount of their savings. As the group’s savings increased, the funds would be matched by CRWRC’s partner and the group members would begin to take out small loans. These loans would be used to purchase supplies or equipment for small business activities – a sewing machine to start a tailoring business, bulk food to be sold in a small storefront, or textiles to resell at the market. As each loan recipient increased her income, she’d repay the loan so that the pool of funds would continue to grow and more loans could be made.
When severe drought struck West Africa earlier this year, it changed all this. It destroyed crops and caused food prices to skyrocket. Group members considered taking out loans simply to purchase food. Because these loans wouldn’t be used to invest in businesses, the women would struggle to repay the loans and the entire program was threatened.
With this in mind, Brenda and the staff of CRWRC’s partner suggested that the 226 participants of the micro-finance program receive two months of food rations from CRWRC, thereby protecting the group capital and enabling women to continue with their businesses.
“The women are extremely glad that their children could stay in school and have enough energy to function,” said Henni Helleman after the food was distributed.
There were also some unexpected side benefits. Many women, for example took a portion of their food ration and shared it with their neighbors and family members who hadn’t received any.
“One lady told us that ‘when we get help, we must help others.’ This translated into them sharing food from our distribution with others in their villages,” said Henni.
The biggest surprise, however, came in the form of increased interest in the micro-finance program.“At the food distributions, many community women came and began to talk to group members,” said Hans Helleman. “Soon, more women were realizing that they could support their families by the profit of businesses that they ran themselves. It was a moment of empowerment, captured through the lively exchange of these women as they shared their excitement and appreciation to be engaged with CRWRC in this activity.”
What a great example this is of how God is using CRWRC to not only respond to immediate needs following disasters, but also to equip people to be able to care for their families and communities in the long-term. By having its long-term community development programs work closely with disaster response staff, CRWRC ensures that immediate needs can be met, negative consequences can be decreased, and long-term goals can be realized. Praise God.
*Full names of long-term staff, specific cities, countries and participants have been withheld for security reasons.