The Wise Women of Eldoret

The Wise Women of Eldoret

The Wise Women of Eldoret

Everyone in the charity world is throwing around the term “microfinance” as the way to help change a poor community. Microfinance principles are based on investments made in the community through small, or micro loans, and then letting the community help themselves through the creation of jobs. Microfinance is something CRF has been dabbling in for the past 5 years, and in those 5 years we have learned what types of projects work the best.

It is especially tough in Africa where the loan default rate is very high in microfinance banking. To be successful in Africa, one has to understand the culture of money in Africa. Money is not saved in Africa, it is spent. If you have money and don’t spend it, a relative can ask you to help them, and you would be obligated to help. Business money co-mingles with personal money, and the idea of separating it is not natural. If school fees need to be paid for the children and you have money that you were going to use to buy inventory for your business, the school fees might be paid instead.  We spent 2 years working with our Kenyan communities to help them understand the concept of keeping money separate, working up a business plan, and staying with their commitments. I have personally worked with a group of extraordinary women in Eldoret, Kenya for over a year helping them to develop their plan, reviewing it, and finally approving it. It is a huge step for them, and we are behind them in prayer and support.

Two years ago, Julie Rawlins (CRF Board Member) and I spoke to the women and men’s groups of the Kipkaren Church of Christ in Eldoret. We wanted to share the concept of microfinance with them and then take their ideas and work with them on it. Several business plans were submitted by the men’s group who had some experience with savings plans, microfinance, and business. Out of those meetings we helped finance a brick-making business (now defunct) and a small grain mill (still operating). The women’s group was made up mostly of AIDS widows and single mothers. Many of their ideas reflected their status in society…hair salons, small charcoal re-selling, and other businesses that women in Kenya are destined to have. The problem is that there is too much competition for these small enterprises, and that keeps prices down. Julie and I asked the women to think bigger. They took that advice and came up with their own big idea. They wanted to get into the tent and chair rental business. Since this was smashing down societal walls, it would take us almost a year to work through their business plan.

The idea is sound…tent rentals are a big business. Every church, wedding, funeral, graduation party and celebration needs a tent and chairs. There are no large rental halls in Eldoret. Everyone rents a big canopy tent for their event. These ladies didn’t know much about this business, but they were willing to learn. So learn they did. Each time they came back to me with answers to my tough questions, they grew in confidence. They put together a budget…I asked them to re-negotiate with their suppliers to get a better price, and they did just that. I asked them to consider marketing their services. Marketing is almost unknown in their town. I asked them how people would find out about their business. They replied that most advertising was word of mouth. I asked them to think differently and to come up with a good corporate name for their business. I wanted them to stencil that name and their phone number on the front of their tents, on the insides, and on the back of every chair. They took my advice and the Wise Women’s Enterprise was born. In Swahili wise women is translated, “Mama Hekima.”

I like that. They are changing the way they view themselves. They aren’t widows or single mothers anymore. They are smart business women who will change their own destinies.  Oh, and by the way, they just got their tents from the tent-maker and rented them that very same day for a wedding ceremony. They just made their first loan payment. I am proud of these strong women of faith. They give me hope for their community.

We have learned a lot of lessons in establishing microfinance programs in our Kenyan communities. We know what works and what doesn’t.  If you want to support our microfinance programs, make a donation to CRF, and designate it, “microfinance.” We will be sure to use it wisely.

What Do You Do When You Hit Water?

What do you do when you hit water? What if you were in the middle of a drought where it hadn’t rained in five years? And then miraculously—you got water!

This was the case of some people who lived in the middle of Turkana in the Horn of Africa. It seemed they had no hope. And then CRF brought water to them. What would you do if you were them?

Perhaps you have water and aren’t in a drought. But maybe you are going through a spiritual or emotional famine. And so many times in the darkest hour and at the most helpless moment, you get relief. Someone helps you. God graces you. What do you do?

I now know the proper response when you hit water, and wanted to share it with you. And it is the proper response anytime God gives you water whether physical or spiritual. What do you do? Watch this video.


Pastor Algenor of the Church in Chacraseca

My obsession with bad, bumpy roads is wearing thin, I’ll admit, but I have one more story, and I promise, that will be it. Actually, I can’t promise that since I am heading to Kenya in July, but for now, let’s say that this is the last one for the spring. I actually think there is a good book in me somewhere that talks about the people I find at the ends of these bumpy roads I’ve traveled on.

This post is about Chacraseca, Nicaragua. Chacraseca is at the end of a very bad road, probably the worst road I experienced in all my travels, not just in Central America. The roads are carved out of old lava fields. The lava is sharp, jagged, and very hard. It is hard to get them very smooth, so the roads weave in and out of the lumps of lava that were deposited millenia before. When our truck finally pulled off this road, we found ourselves in front of the Church of Christ in Chacraseca. CRF donors sponsor about 14 kids in this community, and I was about to meet many of them. School was out and the word went out that a CRF person from the U.S. would be at their church building to meet people.

Most people in Chacraseca are “campesinos”, or farmers, including the minister of the church, Algenor. That is him standing in front of the church building. He was telling us that the rainfall in that region has been almost non-existent in the last 3 years. The farmers there rely on nature to water the plants because they cannot afford irrigation. They have lost crop after crop because after planting a field, the needed rains didn’t come. They are unsure about when to plant because of the spotty weather. Many are blaming global warming. The changes to their climate have confused them. When there is no farming, there are no jobs in Chacraseca, none. The community tries to band together to help each other out. The group had just gleaned a commercial peanut farm behind the mechanical harvesters. They all share in what is gleaned. They also recently shared in one farmer’s successful squash harvest. Hard-working, honest, faithful, but poor. This describes many of the people I find at the ends of these hard roads I travel.

The fourteen children we sponsor have huge hearts.  One of the things that makes CRF child sponsorship different is that our sponsors are actually assigned a child. That child receives monthly support individually, and we encourage our sponsors to build a relationship with them. In this community, our children have decided that they will share with the church all they receive.  After we provide the 14 packages of rations, they have chosen to help their entire community. After hearing about their generosity, I wanted to make sure our children had enough to eat, and were attending school. I got a “yes” answer to both those questions. Not only the children, but  family after family came to thank CRF, to shake my hand, hug me, and take my picture after our devotional and prayer time. They asked if we would find sponsors for more of their children. I couldn’t promise them we would get more children sponsored in Chacraseca, but I am sending our Nicaragua guys there today to take more pictures of unsponsored kids like the ones in this picture and record their information. I have faith that our sponsors will understand and respond in the way they always do…with generosity, faith, and most importantly, love. I think God will be able to provide CRF with sponsors for another 15 children in Chacraseca. If you want to help in any way, please contact us and let us know how you want to help. At the very least, please pray for rain in that entire region, they could use it.

Adiós a Mis Compradres

This is a post from Larry Wu on his trip to Central America.

Esteban Valle taught me the real meaning of the word, “Adiós” yesterday. If you know him, you know he knows a lot about a lot of subjects. He said it is a contraction of a longer string of words. I guess our latest generation isn’t the only one to shorten their communication blurbs. That string of words is, “A Dios vais” or “To God you are going.” It was meant as a blessing to a traveler and in effect it was intended to let someone know that you are wishing God travel with them. It is a nice sentiment, much better than just “goodbye” (which probably means the same in olde English).

So when he said it to me at the airport in Managua, it had a special meaning to me. I really feel as if God is with me after spending two weeks seeing how our CRF workers in Central America really put God first as they serve all the kids in the CRF programs. Through their faith and their love for me, I know God will answer the prayers they said over me. I traveled with Esteban and Christian Toruno every day for two weeks. They went with me wherever I was to go. They translated for me, they made me laugh, and they made sure we got where we were supposed to be. I could not have accomplished much without their help, assistance, and generosity. It is weird for me to feel helpless, and even weirder to be served so selflessly. I am not used to that.

God did get us safely through so many difficult travel conditions. I love the spirit of the people here…they suffer without complaining. They are used to being uncomfortable as they travel. They know how to handle the hot, dry, and then the hot, humid weather…sometimes in the same day. They are a patient, generous, hard-working, and faithful people. After two weeks in the cities and countryside of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, it is hard for me to hear the loudness of English as I sit here in the waiting area of the airport. This is the sign that my trip is over. My brain is quickly converting from a placid, even-tempo of Central American rhythm, to that staccato of a faster-paced life in the U.S.

I pray that God stays with me.

What a Difference a Sponsor Makes!

Sometimes I get questions from sponsors whether their monthly contribution really makes a difference in helping these kids. I saw for myself the difference in a very compelling way today in El Salvador. Our CRF coordinator for El Salvador, Miguel Arguera and the Coordinator for all of Latin America, Esteban Valle, took me to the community of Jucuapa in the eastern side of the country. The 2+ hour drive from San Salvador was beautiful. The volcanos, valleys, lakes and forests were lovely. There were street vendors selling the local specialties…fruits, vegetables, coconuts, sugar cane, and even iguanas! Our goal in Jucuapa was to meet a group of kids hoping to find sponsorship in the near future. We were going to take their pictures, get their pamphlets built and then find them sponsors. We met and photographed about 12 children all together that morning. One girl in particular stuck with me. (more…)