By: Sunny Kantha
Imagine supporting a family of 10 with $3 a day. Better yet, imagine if this $3 were only guaranteed for 8 months of the year because of your crop yields.
Such statistics probably beckon you to high school when most of us first heard them. But if you’re anything like me, you probably found it hard to truly comprehend this harsh reality.
Welcome to Muhuru Bay, Kenya.
Situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Victoria, Muhuru Bay is a small agricultural and fishing village with around twenty thousand residents. Our task this summer: circle the 29 sub-regions of Muhuru Bay to conduct a microfinance needs-assessment survey. This survey will help us understand what needs to be done to transform the economic condition of Muhuru Bay through microfinance.
Microfinance is the process of providing small loans to uplift the impoverished. By giving money to those not approved for traditional lending, microfinance is quickly becoming a revolution in poverty alleviation. Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Grameen Bank reaffirmed microfinance as a significant agent for change in South Asia. However, it seems as if such success has yet to be replicated in sub-Saharan Africa. I find this situation to be puzzling given the incredible work ethic of the citizens of Muhuru Bay,
Every day, I have the privilege of getting to know the residents of Muhuru Bay and their way of life while I am collecting their economic information. What surprises me about these people is their ability to persevere and remain optimistic through incredibly harsh economic conditions. After visiting nearly seventy-five households, it is surprising how many families have only a widowed mother in charge of feeding and educating all of her children. Additionally, the cultural practice of polygamy leaves a multitude of families with more children than they can properly feed, much less educate. Yet, despite numerous obstacles, many children pursue an education and help full time with supporting their families.
Considering that many families work so hard, they should be able to eventually improve their plight, right? Coming from a country where loans are as easy as visiting a bank or payday loan center, this may seem obvious. However, lack of access to capital is a serious problem in Muhuru Bay. The problem is so serious that many families find successive generations in the same economic morass. One of our ultimate aims of this project is to bring microfinance to Muhurians. This will go hand-in-hand with the aims of the WISER school (www.wisesrgirls.org) in terms of empowering the community. I am grateful to have the privilege to work with WISER and help this community, while at the same time enriching my learning.
What has astonished me about my experience thus far in Muhuru Bay is not the breadth of my learning, but that these are lessons I could never have learned in a classroom. The difference between reading about poverty in a textbook, and experiencing it firsthand in a developing country is tremendous. In this journey through Muhuru Bay, I have seen almost every socioeconomic class in the world. From the absolutely poor, living on less than $1 a day, to the extreme minority who could be considered wealthy by American standards.
The most heartbreaking and enlightening conversations I have had were with families who have lost numerous family members—usually young children—to malaria or HIV. After hearing stories this powerful, I cannot stand idly by while Muhuru suffers. This is why I hope to be back in 2008.