Celebrating the women´s day with the DMI sisters

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Last Saturday 8th of March we were invited to celebrate with the DMI (Daughters of Mary Immaculate) sisters the International Women´s Day. More than a thousand women attended to the meeting held in St. Joseph´s University near Kimara, in the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam.

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At ten in the morning, the women arrived to the place where the meeting was held. All of them happy and continuously singing and dancing, came walking from some kilometers away, and were glad to be invited by these Indian Sisters. Most of them are beneficiaries of the microcredit program that the sisters carry out since some years ago not only in Tanzania, but in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Malawi and Uganda as well. Others, are actively involved in the Self Help Groups (SHG) that cover different issues such as nutrition, sexual education or access to public services. Nevertheless, all of them take part in the women’s empowerment strategy led by this religious organization.

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The event was inaugurated by the representative of the former First Lady, from the times of Benjamin Mkapa. She was supposed to attend the meeting, but due to last time appointments, she wasn´t able to go. Dar Es Salaam´s bishop was also there, showing his support to all these women, accompanied by some of the DMI sisters. Nevertheless, the main protagonists were the beneficiaries, who presented the event themselves and showed great enthusiasm, making the morning very pleasant.

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All of them gave speeches and remembered to the women how important it is for them to stand strong. Because they are mainly the ones in charge of their households as well as the education of their children. Exemplary and strong women that got together thanks to these sisters in small groups of 15 women and that support each other everyday in their work.

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The morning was a succession of dances, theater plays and celebrations carried out by all these women, as well as by their daughters that represent the future generation of Tanzanian women. Therefore, it was important for them to be there as well.
The day finished with a big common lunch of typical Tanzanian food: rice, meat, vegetables and beans. All the women and other people invited ate together and went home with a very big smile in their faces and with a common thought: the union of the women empowers them in many aspects of their lives.

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The importance of group leaders

TEVI Foundation works with groups of women as a strategy to guarantee repayments. It is the only way to force some of the women to save money and use it correctly in order to make their business successful, generate more profit and be able to repay the given loan.

Therefore, women are put into groups of five, frequently according to a neighborhood basis. No family ties are allowed in the same group. Every group has a leader that has previously proved to be responsible, and who will be in charge of the rest of the group if something happens. When women have problems to make the repayments, these group leaders are the ones in charge of speaking with them and trying to solve the problem, many times based on their own experience.

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That is why most of the times group leaders are older than the rest because age has proved to be a key factor. Older women are aware of the importance of investing the loans in their business because it is the only way of making profit with them. When micro credits are spent in other things (such as clothes or accessory things) it is impossible for the women to repay on time, as the money that was supposed to be used to increase their business capital has disappeared.

The group leaders are also the ones in charge of regrouping the rest in order to make the repayments on a specific date. This day is normally one week after receiving the money, as this way they will have enough time to invest and get some money back. They are given a timetable, and they must adapt to it.

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Microcredits are a tool

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“Where once the poor were commonly seen as passive victims, microfinance recognizes that poor people are remarkable reservoirs of energy and knowledge. And while the lack of financial services is a sign of poverty, today it is also understood as an untapped opportunity to create markets, bring people in from the margins and give them the tools with which to help themselves” (Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General)

Verification: Who should get another microcredit

The process of applying for a microcredit, getting it and repaying it is long, and most of the time takes some years. This is due to all the steps that must be followed, by the foundation and by the beneficiaries as well.

 We’ve already talked about the follow-up process that must be followed when the women are not able to repay the loans. But some of them perform really well and repay on a weekly basis: those are the ones that normally have access to the following microcredits. But before they get them, the field officers must go to the verification process, just to be sure that the women deserve the loans and that they are making the most of them.

Verificating the businesses of the women is a hard work, and is carried out without letting them know that they will be visited. As they have already proven that they are performing really well, most of the time this kind of visit is simple. The field officer gets there, checks how the business goes and has a little chat with the beneficiary. It is then when they are let known that they will be given another microcredit. It is also the moment when they congratulated for their performance, because not all of the beneficiaries –for one or other reason- are able to fulfill the repayments.

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Fatuma Uliza is one of them. 50 year old women, we find her close to the sokoni, where she lives and works. She has been a cook all her life, and now spends all her nights cooking rice, meat and beans in the street: from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. It is a good moment to make businesses, as people still in the street and shops still open. Before her first microcredit she also used to cook, but she had less capital. That is why she decided to go for a microcredit, because she needed more money to cover her expenses. Now, she has been able to pay her young child’s school fees. She receives some help from her husband, who is a carpenter, but he does not always have a job.

Now she is waiting to receive a second microcredit, and is thinking of investing it in a fruit business to be run during the day by her children. She knows she is going to be able to repay it because during the weekend she also cleans clothes for other people. She knows that working hard is a key to be able to repay.

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Husna has been a tailor for all her life. She decided to apply for a microcredit because she wanted to improve her life standard and couldn’t think of a better way. Having had access to credit has changed her life, and has allowed her to increase her number of businesses.

With her first microcredit apart from increasing her capital, she decided to go for school bags and uniforms, and now this has become her most successful business. And that is very important for her, because her four children depend on her, and although she has her husband’s help this is not always enough to cover the expenses. She has performed really well and has become an example for many of the beneficiaries. That is why now she is waiting for her second microcredit.

These two women are two examples not only for the rest of beneficiaries, but also for their communities: a chance was given to them, and they have known how to take advantage of it.

The micro credit movement

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“The micro credit movement, which is built around, and for, and with money, ironically, is at its heart, at its deepest root not about money at all. It is about helping each person to achieve his or her fullest potential. It is not about cash capital, it is about human capital. Money is merely a tool that unlocks human dreams and helps even the poorest and most unfortunate people on this planet achieve dignity, respect and meaning in their lives” (Muhammad Yunus. Nobel Peace Prize)

Follow up: Problems that the women face to repay the loans

Having access to a microcredit implies also the responsibility of being able to repay it back. Not all the women are able to make the correct repayments due to a lot of different circumstances, like diseases or problems related to the weather, for example. This week we focused on the follow up process, and therefore visited some women that were not able to perform well their business and because of that have not been able to fulfill the repayments. Some of them require an advise from the field officer that is in charge of them, while other just need more time.

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Rose Jackson lives in Mtongani and is a second credit beneficiary. She has three children: the eldest, a very young girl of about 17 or 18 years old who is expecting a baby, and two twins who are five months old. Her husband died suddenly last spring and she had to take care of all the family. She used to break stone at the quarry, but she had to give it up because now she has two very little babies to take care of and one of them is sick.

All these problems didn’t allow her to repay weekly the agreed amount of 23.000 shillings. The field officer that went with us to make the visit listened to her problems, understood the situation and encouraged her to go on with her business and pay back the money whenever she cans: “When you have 10.000 tsh, you can bring them; if other week you earn less, for example 2.000 tsh, you can repay that amount as well”. It is the only way she can detain the debt from increasing.

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 We then moved on to Kunduchi Pwani, where we would meet the rest of the women. When we arrived to the first house, the beneficiary that we were supposed to meet wasn’t there, so we walked some streets further and found her in another house. Fatouma, a second credit beneficiary as well, cooks samaki (fish in Swahili) in her house, but today she is not working. She tell us that it is not a good season for the fishermen, that are the ones who sell the fish in the district, and that she´s not feeling well today either. Almost all of the women who are dedicated to cook fish in Kunduchi Pwani explain us that they depend too heavily on fishermen for their business, and that now it is not a good moment for fishing.

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The field officer that goes with us, Haika, proposes her to start a new business so that she can earn money and be able to repay the debt, and she says that she is thinking about buying dela (a typical local clothe) and selling it among her neighbours, house by house. Fatouma assures that the little amount of money that she has earn in the last days has been invested to pay the house’s expenses, as well as to buy food for her family, and that she has saved a little part to repay the loan. Our colleague tells her that it is a good idea to think about undertaking a new business and repaying the loan little by little.

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We then approach the part of the neighborhood located in front of the beach in order to find Mwambua Rajabu, who is sitting next to another neighbor. She is a third microcredit beneficiary, and usually cooks chapati and fish, but now she can not do much: the fact that there is not enough fish does not even attract fishermen to eat her food, and these are her main customers. She has a debt of 20,000 shillings, and assures that she may be able to return it back this week, because she is participating in a community group of loans where money is lent to her. These groups of people, known in Tanzania as “saccos”, help each other by putting money into a pot weekly, and this money is used by a different person each week, depending on the needs. It is really curious how microloans are distributed and used individually, but debts are shared.

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The last woman that we visit feels sick, and therefore is lying in the entrance of her house. She tells us that although she promised to repay her debt today, she felt ill and had to invest the money in medicines.

In microfinance projects, not all the stories are successful stories, because although women make an effort to go ahead with their business and to make them profitable, unexpected problems, such as illnesses, can appear, and have an influence in their repayment capacity. And of course, in their quality of life, which is a priority for everyone all around the world.