living as a white person/westerner/mzungu in a country of abject poverty often results in being taken advantage of (for money), or feeling like an ATM. it’s hard, really, because regardless of our own financial situation, we always have more than they do. and as one friend says – we have a life line (meaning we have someone we can call to bail us out, send us emergency funds, or whatever) and they don’t. in my case being without income for over 3 years and being supported by friends and family in order to live means i live on a very tight budget and do not often have the funds to help (separate from the fundraising for specific organizations or situations).
it is a challenge to balance our intent to serve and help with our hearts wide open but with the ability to discern a real need from manipulation. our tendency to trust and prioritize needs makes it really difficult to say no when it is necessary to do so. because the needs are never ending, and there is no way one can ever ever ever help everyone or every situation that they want it’s easy to become overwhelmed. and also we know that handouts often lead to dependency and expectation (but of course sometimes those handouts are necessary). sometimes you just feel …. like a white wallet…..and trust me that’s not a good feeling. i try to still help individuals as i can, but most efforts these days are accomplished through fundraising for specific organizations and/or situations and accountability is a very important part of that ( from the receiver to me to the donors).
so i want to tell you a story about a loan i made in 2012. a loan i was able to make because some friends in the US blessed me with funds that enabled me to try a few projects in 2012 (a few loans, investing in agriculture). the story is interesting in a variety of ways because there wasn’t success in measurable levels but it caused me to evaluate and consider success in other terms. and because, while the story hasn’t ended, it is still in play. many of you know that micro loans is a huge interest and passion of mine and i’m still trying to figure out ways to include that in my service here.
ANYWAY….i met a young man in 2011 during my volunteer coordinator days; he was working for an australian NGO as their in-country rep, and for a variety of reasons lost his job. he was smart. he was kind. he was driven. he was well spoken. he had a wife and 3 young daughters. for the following months (almost a year), we remained in touch as he struggled to find work. he tried small odd jobs (think digging ditches type of work) that paid little. as their health and ability to care for children suffered, so did their hope of survival. we would meet from time to time, and if i had a little cash, i would share it with him – he impressed me by always thanking me but mostly because he would say he would give it to his wife so that she would enjoy buying food for the girls. our conversations usually covered his ideas or plans, if he were able to start a small business. he had several ideas; i would encourage him to make a budget for startup, plan, etc. he always came back with his homework and eventually a decent plan emerged. however at that time, i didn’t have enough funds to help him with a loan but when the funds came from my friends (that i mentioned above), i felt he was an appropriate deserving candidate.
by january 2013, we worked up a business plan and loan payment schedule. i requested up dates and photos and the loan was made (quite a bit larger than most micro loans which are $100 or less). i was invited to their home several times to see progress. the first loan payment was scheduled for 8 weeks out, because of the cycle of the business (raising chickens to sell for meat). unfortunately, the business failed (various reasons). but he didn’t run away from me, he informed me what happened and soon he was even excited to report that he got a job (a previous employer who had a policy of not re-hiring employees that left changed their policy). the lesson i learned here, while yes i hoped to receive that money back so that i could loan to someone else, was that success comes in other packages. in this case, the loan bridged hope to someone who needed it and blessed a family that had lost their reasons to keep going. in measurable terms, it was a failure. i think that we did all the right things, i took time to evaluate, and knew the risk and ‘i’ lost out. but still my heart knew….it was still the right thing to do.
i heard from him today, he was on his job. he said “my family is well, and i am looking to meet with you so that i can give you some cash by installment. because you helped me much and i can’t forget you, my friend.”
i don’t know how much money he will be able to give me. i don’t know when our schedules will work to meet up. but i know this. this is not usually how it happens. it’s hard, and nearly impossible to get repayments (unless it’s an organized micro finance program, which i am not at this point). by his continued communication and intent to pay …after all this time….he supported my belief in him to be a man of integrity and honesty. whatever he gives to me, i will use to help support another person or group to start their business. and no matter what, i consider this a win. truly sometimes a risk that results in a loss can turn out to be a blessing with hope.