Thursday, May 24, 2007

Training, Rebuilding, Refreshing

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I was thrilled and excited about today, but it far exceeded what I expected. We opened the day with a quick introduction to the mission, vision, and organization of Hope International. A few quick facts that seriously brought tears to my eyes: Hope is currently serving over 60,000 clients in twelve countries, and over 80% of Hope's clients are women. 100% of Hope donations go to Hope's programs and any 'profits' from the repayment of loans (of which there is a 99.5% repayment rate) are poured directly back into programs to benefit the families and children of Hope's clients (i.e.: Tomorrow Clubs). Hope is currently providing over $6 million in microcredit loans. And as of earlier this week, Hope is serving in twelve nations, including Ukraine, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, and now India, among others. As you can see from even the abbreviated list of countries, Hope is committed to areas of hardship. Additionally, Hope's approach is tailored to the local economy, culture, and financial structures. Each program is preceeded by intensive research to find the approach that will most benefit the local communities Hope will serve. And above all, Hope is truly committed to integrating faith with microfinance - faith with action, faith IN action.

A definite bonus to the day was learning more about microfinance in the field from Dave Larson. Dave is a seasoned microfinance expert and has worked with and consulted for a host of organizations and agencies, including the the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the ILO, USAID, World Relief, CARE, and Food for the Hungry. His experience is vast and unique. He was one of a few that sat with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees during the process to repatriate Hutus to Rwanda following the Rwandan genocide. He has an amazing way of presenting complicated approaches in simple, accessible, and applicable ways for those of us who are new to fieldwork in microfinance. Again, I am amazed.

By far, the highlight of the day was exploring the role of faith in poverty alleviation and specifically in microfinance programs. I am SO excited for the readings and studying we are doing as a team this summer. The book that I am most eager to complete is by R. J. Sider: Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity. Sider is a professor at Eastern University and specializes in global hunger, poverty, social justice, foreign policy, and economic ethics. Just an overview of some topics in the book: "Great Inequalities of Power," "Western Colonialism," "Structural Injustice Today," "Destroying the Environment and the Poor," "Discrimination and War," "All Things in Common," "A Change in Foreign Policy," "Making International Trade More Fair," "Preserving the Earth and Empowering the Poor," "Bombs, Bread, and Illusions," "Let Justice Ring," "Poverty's Children," "A Billion Hungry Neighbors," "Uneven Distribution," and "Economic Fellowship and Economic Justice." It covers this and so much more... from what I've read already, I highly recommend it. We've also been given A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking, and the Business Solution for Ending Poverty by P. Smith and E. Thurman and an essay by Stuart Rutherford on credit and savings. Combined with the Rawls, Sen, and books on international trade and globalization, I have a summer full of reading ahead!

In addition to the incredible books we were given today, we had several times together in the Word. In so many ways, Scriptures that seemed to be so well known to me came across in new light. For instance... the story of the rich man and Lazarus of Matthew describes how Lazarus remained at the gates of the rich man, begging for even the crumbs of the rich man's table. The point of the Scripture is clearly that those with so much are reluctant to give even the excess to those so desperately in need of it. We would rather waste it, or "give it to the dogs," than give generously to those who would be elated by even the excess, or "the crumbs." To me, this Scripture has always applied in an individualistic or familial sense... a call for believers to give generously. But can't this also be seen as a call for nations to be generous with the wealth they have been given? For instance, how many nations ridden and devastated by poverty could be transformed with America's excess, or "crumbs"? Certainly they have asked for as much, and have literally stood at America's gates begging for the excess (i.e.: the immigration 'crisis' that is such a controversy among politicians today). First of all, must they beg?!?! And second of all, what makes such a wealthy nation so reluctant to open the gates and share such excess? Granted, the US provides more foreign aid than any other nation, yet there is still such excess and still so many turned away at our gates. I tend to hold the groups I ascribe to to a high standard. It is not that I do not see the generosity that Christians and Americans have shown... I just question why, with such wealth and excess, it cannot be more. For instance, there are over 3 billion in the world today that are living on less than a dollar a day. If every Christian household was willing to contribute just 1% of their income to microfinance programs, the poverty of those 3 billion could be alleviated by over 50% in less than one year. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? In any event, this is not meant to me a tirade. It is actually something I am inspired and encouraged by. Microfinance has been shown to be so successful in sustainable poverty alleviation, and integrating faith with microfinance introduces an eternal, holistic component that is utterly life changing. After today, I am all the more motivated for and excited about the work that lies before me this summer... and all the more convinced that this will be lifechanging. A good friend of mine, Mary Anne, gave sent me the following quote as I was preparing to leave:

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." –-Miriam Beard

I feel that change coming on...

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