Monday, October 17, 2005

Last Thursday’s trek out to Bela Vista was a fantastic experience for me. Not only was it my first interview with a microfinance institution but it also got me out of the city for the day to see the Mozambican country side and get a glimpse into village life in this country. MALE YERU (pron. Mah-lee Yah-roo) is a real success story when it comes to microfinance in Mozambique. They are a credit association that lends primarily to peasant farmers and fishermen, as well as storeowners and home developers in the Maputo province. Their clients are often those who cannot afford the interest rates and collateral requirements of large commercial banks and therefore turn to MALE YERU to provide them with the much needed capital to pay for work supplies, hire new labourers or improve the living conditions of their households. MALE YERU serves about 1100 clients and in just three years has increased its operational self-sufficiency from 85% to 118% and reduced its portfolio at risk rate from 34% to 3%. That means that for every 100 loans granted by MALE YERU, 97 are fully recovered. Impressive statistics by any banking standard!!

The man on the left is Bernardo Thembe, the Executive Director of MALE YERU and driving force behind the institution’s success. He has a deep interest in the welfare of his clients and an inspiring vision for the development of MALE YERU in the region. The woman in the middle is Henriqueta Hunguana, a microfinance consultant hired by MMF for technical assistance. Her and I will be teammates for the next three weeks as we interview all the MFIs that participated in the HIV/AIDS workshop back in September. I was very impressed with MALE YERU’s dedication to incorporating HIV/AIDS considerations into their programs and workplace policies. Maputo province is the southern most province in Mozambique and borders both South Africa and Swaziland, each with devastatingly high rates of HIV/AIDS (Swaziland is around 40%!!). All of the migrant workers passing through these countries have caused the Maputo province to have a high HIV/AIDS rate of 20%. MALE YERU recognizes the challenge of operating within an environment where 1 out of 5 clients potentially have HIV/AIDS. They are currently exploring options which will allow sick clients flexible repayment schedules or access to credit insurance. They also recognize the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness as their main offices, as well as each of their branches, are well stocked with educational pamphlets and free condoms.

But unfortunately, one of the most enduring challenges is overcoming the stigma many clients and staff attach to the disease. MALE YERU can assume that a client is infected but it is extremely difficult to have a client feel comfortable enough to speak openly about their condition or a family member living with HIV/AIDS. And in Bela Vista, one cannot escape the reality of HIV/AIDS, despite the shroud of secrecy surrounding the disease. Bela Vista was once a fancy Portuguese provincial town, with elaborate architecture and long promenades. Now many of colonial homes are abandoned and crumbling, leaving Bela Vista a virtual ghost town in many parts. The remaining local population has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS and thousands of commemorative red ribbons have been painted on trees, houses and buildings. Such a tribute provides an eerie reminder of the reality of HIV/AIDS and accentuates the ghost town feel.

Despite the social challenges of working within an environment of HIV/AIDS, MALE YERU is confident that they can incorporate their clients living with the disease into their credit family. They are an institution that is well respected within the community and have improved the lives of many of those living in Bela Vista and in the surrounding area. Bernardo was quite excited to introduce me to some of MALE YERU’s clients and we visited the stores of two women who financed their operation through MALE YERU loans. These women took great pride in showing me their work and sharing stories of their families. As we drove down the street, Bernardo continuously pointed out the houses in town that were built with housing loans from his institution and he would have taken me to each house had we not had to get back to Maputo before dark. It was a great experience to meet Bernardo and the MALE YERU staff. The interview was extremely encouraging and I’m looking forward to working with this institution on HIV/AIDS issues over the next few months.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:03 a.m.  
Anonymous Mom said...

Jared, from your comments, it sounds like this first interview experience was quite inspiring. It will be interesting to hear how some of the other mircofinancing institutions are progressing. Keep us posted.

5:28 p.m.  
Blogger Big Roddy said...

Hey JP!
Yeah man, that sounds really interesting on your progress there. I hope you took some pictures of Bela Vista. I'm interested in what it would have looked like!
Had a really great Jam with Johnny tonight. You'll be really impressesed when you get back with what we've been working on.
Hope you were able to find a guitar!


12:04 a.m.  

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