Saturday, 13 April 2013

                        INVESTING IN PEOPLE


“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

On a plane to Launceston, Tasmania from Sydney recently an older bloke sat down in the aisle seat of my row. I was seated in the window seat and the space between us was empty. As I usually do I began to gather 'intel' to see what I could deduce about him. This is something I picked up partially through being a soldier and the saying 'time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted' although not totally relevant in this case, often pops into my head.
As soon as he sat down, off came the brown desert boots, a hole in one of his dark blue socks. A green fleece vest sat upon a stripy blue faded T-shirt which stretched slightly over his stomach. The grey in his beard, thin hair and clothes made him seem for all the world, unassuming. A man of the same era as my father.
We struck up a conversation after I enquired to the length of the flight and it progressed onto where we were from. Don it turns out worked at a bible college in Launceston and had moved there about 6 years ago from Whyalla, South Australia. Initially it wasn't permanent but he and his wife loved it so much they stayed and have no plans to return. 
Along with whatever general duties Don did at his bible college, he also travelled to do charity type work. He relayed a story to me about a recent trip he took with some other members of his christian church to Africa to deliver motorcycles to ministers in the area. It seems that the ministers areas can comprise of several hundred kilometers and they're the main source of not only redemption for the soul but also medicines, medical assistance and counseling. So this small band of the faithful flew into Uganda to pick up a bunch of slow and small but cheap and reliable, 100cc Chinese made motorcycles. The mission, to deliver these bikes to the ministers in the Democratic Republic of Congo to use as transport around their parishes. A trip of about 800km over mainly dirt roads. Truely an epic and slow journey through extremely hostile country which took two weeks to complete. After passing through one check point on their journey a truck a ways behind them was opened up on by soldiers with machine guns, killing the driver. When I asked Don why, he replied that the driver probably rubbed them the wrong way. I guess that's one way to put it.
Whilst in the DRC and staying in a city called Isiro , which has had documented cases of Ebola, Don realized that the system of charity that many of the poorer families were getting by on was floored. So with some locals of influence including nurses and a judge and using his own money, Don instigated a loan system. When I enquired as to how well it worked a smile spread across his ruddy cheeked face and he told me of a woman who came to borrow $15. With this $15 she bought a pot and ingredients to make batches of food. She set up a stand on the side of the road and sold her food. With the money she made, she paid back her loan and bought some small cooking utensils. She returned to borrow $25 shortly after and with that she bought a sheet of plastic so that her customers could eat in the shade, some more ingredients for cooking and selling and could even afford to send her children to school. The school system is free but you can't go unless you can afford to buy the uniform and books. In other words it worked brilliantly. By giving the people with purpose and plans or small businesses better access to more money than they would usually see and making them responsible for it as a loan, they were not only helping the individuals but assisting in the growth of the community and even getting the money back to be reinvested.
After returning home Don discovered a book called "The bank of Bob", about a man funnily enough named Bob who decided to find out if money he'd been donating was being used as intended and if it had helped. Bobs book led Don to an organization named Kiva.
Now Kiva is a totally not for profit organization established to help those in need all over the globe. What makes Kiva different though is that its very much like the system that Don set up in Isiro. Instead of making a donation you provide a loan to a person or group who have made a request through their local Kiva connected institution. Instantly I was skeptical about how these loans were repaid and what if they weren't. The loan amount however, the smallest being $25, is so insignificant that if its not paid back then so be it. I'd consider it a donation to some one in greater need than myself. Kiva's website boasts though that 99.01% of loans have been repaid and they've made in excess of $420 million dollars worth of loans since their inception, with 100% of the loan amount going to the applicant.  
As soon as i could i jumped on to the kiva website and threw caution to the wind and made quite a large loan to a group of women in Guatemala to assist in their business and in sending their children to school. That's right, you can even choose who your loan goes to. I'm totally blown away by the idea and love it to no end. I'm hoping that this one donation can be recycled and reused to change and assist in improving the quality of other people's lives.

To be totally clear I'm not writing to try and sell the idea to anyone but instead attempting to re-instill faith in our fellow man and woman. Good people are out there in the world doing good things for other good people and not just putting more money into another rich company's pocket.
I treasure the idea of being able to directly help people create and sustain a better life for themselves and their family. 
Thanks to my chance encounter with a man named Don who read a book by Bob, the bank of Paul is now open for business.


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