Friday, 28 October 2016

Guilty of Options

Last week we were pleased to welcome visitors from the charity three:eighteen to Kapumpe and Arise. Alex and Richard are trustees of three:eighteen, a UK based Christian charity that seeks to provide lasting hope to the vulnerable through microfinance, education and discipleship. They came to see the people and projects in action at Kaniki.

Richard’s wife Clare also visited. She embraced the opportunity to teach music and singing to each of the classes at Kapumpe.

I asked Richard, as one of the trustees of three:eighteen, to share his thoughts and experiences about visiting Zambia and their ongoing work here. Here's what he shared...

Alex and Richard with some of the pupils at Kapumpe

Clare teaching Grade 2 music

A staggering 60 per cent of Zambians live below the poverty line – with 42 per cent of those considered extremely poor.  How can a white European who lives in a world of endless choices possibly hope to understand the condition of hopelessness which exists among the impoverished communities of sub-Saharan Africa? For a matter of fact, do we find the solution in throwing money and handouts at such people?  

I spent a year in Zambia in 2005-06 on a Christian programme aiming to impact communities - whether that be through building work, visiting and preaching at remote hilltop churches, or feeding street children.

Richard and his team in Zambia in 2005/6

I am currently back in Zambia for the third time since I left in 2006 as part of a voluntary role I hold with a small-scale microloans charity.

Non-governmental organisation three:eighteen was formed in 2010 with the aim of bringing empowerment and lasting hope to vulnerable individuals. It directs this through a range of measures including microfinance, education and discipleship. With ambitious aims of reaching 10,000 people in total by 2021, it holds a conviction that the best way to help people is through empowerment, and namely that this is done through building relationships with partners on the ground. The most common conduit for such work sees three:eighteen standing alongside churches – the very organisations which offer the best means of utilizing local knowledge and pinpointing needy groups and individuals.

A microloan training session

Thinking back to my previous sojourns to this special and distinctive landlocked nation, I often felt struck by a sense of guilt; guilt at the electronic devices I use or the money I have but most of all a palpable concern that I often didn't acquiesce to requests for Kwacha notes to be dealt out to the impoverished hands of those begging. No doubt my own inhibitions spoke much about this, alongside selfishness and a 'concern' about where the money would end up. It is within this difficult context that I have come to fully appreciate the valuable nature of microloans.

In the words of the Bangladeshi entrepreneur and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus: “Poor people are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Every day, they must innovate in order to survive. They remain poor because they do not have the opportunities to turn their creativity into sustainable income.” (Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his microfinance theory).

three:eighteen microfinance trainers

On this trip, I’ve already experienced seeing some of the happiest pupils around attending daily at Kapumpe Christian Primary School. Like microloans, this is to see another transformative activity which sees people looking within themselves to see how they can best help those outside. Working alongside Arise – an orphan sponsorship projectschoolchildren who would have found themselves with little education now have the potential to lift themselves up.

Richard with Kapumpe pupils

More and more it strikes me that so much of this wonderful work comes back to the idea of fully grasping the wonderful options and choices we have in Western Europe and seeking to extend this same gift of opportunity to those who fall the wrong side of chance when it comes to where they are born.

One particular story I’ve heard out here in Zambia brings to light the sheer paucity of concepts such as choice and options, and indeed life chances. A much appreciated young boy called Lawrence is one of many pupils at Kapumpe School. Having not been able to use his legs properly since an early age, it was only relatively recently that he was discovered to have cerebral palsy. A pair of crutches has given him a sense of new life if not full physical freedom, while his teachers are quick to comment that he was one of the most excited participants at a recent sports day.

Lawrence was all smiles on Sports Day

In cases of this neurological condition in the UK, we can believe that earlier intervention would undoubtedly have given children like Lawrence the ability to walk freely again. A chance for many and no chance for others; Zambia is tragically a world away from the often lamented but rarely appreciated NHS health system of the UK.

Last time I was here a group of ladies from Chinsali in Muchinga Province were just about to take a trigger a second loan having faithfully repaid their first. This time I’ve seen successful repayments of loans from both a blankets business and a fish selling enterprise in Chinsali. Undoubtedly there are negative aspects to microfinance too; some groups take the money and do not pay back. The question of the godly but fair response to this is one of many of our discussions out here.

A microloan group who run a carpentry business

Three:eighteen affirms everyone has something to offer. It cherishes individuals using their skills and rewards their hard work. In fact as the American entrepreneuer as well as founder and CEO of Acumen (a non-profit global venture capital fund which uses entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty) Jacqueline Novogratz said: “Poverty is not only about income levels, but for lack of freedom that comes from physical insecurity”. Microfinance indeed does more than kickstart enterprise, it removes the burden which prevents God-given talent from flourishing. It is indeed a firecracker of an idea. And it works.

To find out more about the work of three:eighteen, please visit: three:eighteen website

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