Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kinshasa-the work

I can’t write about Congo without mentioning my brother’s work there in micro-finance. I'm not an expert in this, so bear with me if my explanation is less than adequate!

We went with Nate one day to witness a loan distribution. The people receiving loans are trained in groups. There were probably about 30-40 people on this particular day. Some of them had already received a loan, paid it back, and were approved again for a loan. Others were receiving a loan for the first time.

In this picture you can see only women, but there was a group of men off to the side:

At first I felt a little too much like an American tourist being in that room. There we were in our Western clothing with our cameras, watching everything going on. We were introduced as guests of honor, being Nate’s relatives. I didn't particularly feel like I deserved any kind of attention or honor. But I realized that it actually was special for them that we had come a long way to see them, and I also think that they appreciated the fact that we cared about Nate enough to come visit him in Africa.

My brother had my dad give out the first loan. Elders such as fathers and uncles are highly respected there, so this was significant to be handed a loan by my father, not just because he was an American guest, but because he was the head of a family.

Here's an older picture of a client putting her loan to use. This sewing machine will make her work more productive!

We were told that most of the Congolese live in the more village-type conditions that we saw at the loan distribution that day, not in the modern city facilities. It was pretty hard for me to get a sense of what the lifestyle is like. It felt like when I was in a Missions trip in Mexico and we lived on a base and drove into the slums each day. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the living conditions are rough, but you still can’t really get the full picture as a visitor. You can’t even really do a lot to help because without experiencing the conditions, it's difficult to understand what the needs actually are.

It wasn’t the loan distribution itself that was amazing but the amount of work and coordination that had gone into making it happen. It was different from just making a donation. First they find clients and build relationships with them, design and run training programs, manage staff who take care of all these clients, deal with all the money that's coming in and out, distribute the loans, etc. And this is all based on a Biblical business ethics model. Though the DRC is primarily Christian, there is a lot of corruption, and people are often forced to comply by paying bribes. So the goal here is to help people earn an honest living! The prayers and hymns of thanksgiving at the loan distributions are a testimony to the efforts of keeping the work Christ-centered.

Still more events to come...

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