Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sun, Sand and Work

On Sunday, our rag tag MMF team set off for the town of Xai-Xai, 300 clicks up the coast north of Maputo, to work with the Fundo do Desenvolvimento da Mulher (FDM). They are one of MMF’s partners and work primarily with poor women in the Gaza province around Xai-Xai. I should first introduce the team. The lady in the back is Ruth Dueck-Mbeba, a microfinance and accounting specialist for MEDA. She is a lady with a true heart for Africa who has lived and worked in Tanzania and provides accounting seminars for microfinance institutions all over the world. The guy in front is Boaventura Huo, a trainer and economist with MMF. When he’s not working late hours at the office, Boa teaches economics at a local university. Finally, the guy on the right is Narcisso, the driver and logistics coordinator for MMF. Recently, however, Narcisso has expanded his job description to include Jared’s Portuguese-Shangan-English translator and African cultural instructor. I am extremely thankful for his help in these areas as I would be extremely lost without him.

When we got to Xai-Xai on Sunday we discovered that the villa that Pierre had arranged for us to stay at was directly on the beach!! We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing afternoon sitting by the water, soaking in the atmosphere while munching on the fruits of the sea. This was truly the Mozambican beach paradise that I had heard so much about from both travelers and locals. There’s just something about a beach, palm trees, and the infinite expanse of the ocean that makes all your cares just drift way. It certainly allowed our team to charge up our batteries for what was going to be both a physically and emotionally draining two days in the field.

We started out on Monday by attending two of the FDM client group meetings in the towns of Macia and Chokwe. These meetings bring together clients and the credit officers to discuss the loan repayments, business developments and any other concerns that the clients may have about their accounts. The clients all sit on the ground and are each given a turn to express their thoughts and present the credit officer with their bank deposit slips proving that they made their deposits on time. I gained a real appreciation for the work of the credit officers, who possess an in depth knowledge of each client’s financial and family situation and a skillful ability to solve problems related to loan delinquency.

After the meetings we had the opportunity to interview many of the clients at work in the market. Some had only small wooden stands where they sold a few vegetables, cooking oil and rice while others owned large stores or restaurants with a full range of consumer goods. Over the two days in Xai-Xai, Chokwe and Macia we slugged through market after market talking to a ton of clients about their business, their families and how microfinance has impacted their lives. We were also able to discuss HIV/AIDS with a few of the clients but for the most part it was very difficult to breach the topic.

I want to share two stories though of clients that have been directly impacted by HIV/AIDS. The first is of Maria de Cousa. Maria owns a barraca (restaurant/bar) in Xai-Xai where she cooks meals and serves drinks to loyal patrons in her neighbourhood. Her most recent loan from FDM was for 30,000,000 MZM ($1300 CDN). She has used this money to develop a wider menu for her clients and to increase the seating capacity at her barraca. She has also taken some of the loan money to invest in a chicken coup beside her house (which is conveniently located behind the restaurant). This coup provides her with a constant supply for her house specialty: BBQ chicken and french fries!!

Maria is able to handle the workload from the restaurant along with one other employee from the neighbourhood named Nordina. Nordina is the one on the left in this picture. Nordina is HIV positive and comes from a family where her mother and her sister have already died from the disease. She has no husband and no children of her own but takes care of the four children orphaned by her sister. With her next loan from FDM, Maria is planning on opening up a second barraca in another part of Xai-Xai that Nordina will manage. In addition to this, Maria would like to organize a citizens committee that would work alongside other HIV/AIDS service providers to help orphaned children in Xai-Xai. Maria believes that FDM can help her transform these dreams into reality by providing her with the necessary start-up capital.

The second story is of Candida Masiwana. Candida is a client of FDM that is openly HIV positive. She is the woman seated in the middle in this picture. She has been a part of a loan group since 2003 and sells baby clothes and shoes in the central market in Xai-Xai. The members of the group are a very close circle of friends that provide a lot of personal support for Candida as she continues to operate her business despite her physical condition. The members of the group have their stalls side by side in the market and all go together to a warehouse in South Africa to pick up their clothing supplies. The group receives a total of 20,000,000 MZM each loan cycle of which each member gets 5,000,000 MZM ($250 CDN). Microfinance has helped her continue to live a productive life and while receiving basic medical treatment. She says that FDM allows her to “live well and help my children live a good life.”


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