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Stetson extends credit, economic lessons to Tanzania

Posted by Página do Microcrédito em 8 junho, 2007

By MARK HARPER
Education Writer

DELAND — Thousands of people climb Mount Kilimanjaro each year.

On its southern slope, far below the famous snows, few of the Tanzanian villagers have time for such excursions. Their daily lives are a struggle for survival.

Manio, a village that remains invisible to search by Google, is where the pests have gotten ahead of the pesticides. This unlikely place is where Stetson University officials are targeting poverty with a new tool — microcredit.

Fuhanael Andrew Kihunrwa, 63, and his wife Suzana, natives of Manio, say the Stetson project — which involves lending small amounts, typically less than $500, to farmers and small businesses — is bringing hope to the village that two years ago, he said, was “despondent.” The Kihunrwas are meeting with their partners — economics professors Ranjini Thaver and Neal Long and Stetson President Doug Lee — this week in DeLand.

In an interview on campus this week, the Kihunrwas described how extending small loans to entrepreneurs who traditionally have not qualified for bank notes is transforming Manio.

Starting in 2005, Stetson has contributed $2,500, which led to creation of a 131-member Ohiny Savings and Credit Cooperative Society. That organization was able to obtain an $8,000 loan from Uchumi Commercial Bank Ltd., in nearby Moshi.

So far, loans have been given to 84 individual members and five groups. The society has also partnered with the village’s Lutheran church, which educates farmers and businesses.

Some examples: Loans have helped farmers buy higher-yielding banana varieties and coffee seedlings. They have been used to send children to secondary school, a $50 tuition expense most families in Tanzania cannot afford.

“This is helping people who had given up, who were in total despair,” Kihunrwa said.

In many ways, education has delivered on the promise of a better life for Manio village.

Kihunrwa became the first villager to go away to secondary school, where he learned English. Eventually he went on to a university and a banking career that brought him to places like the United States. It also allowed him to send his son, Nsaa-Iya, to school.

Nsaa-Iya was working for Roots & Shoots, a youth-oriented development program, when he met its founder, Jane Goodall — an English primatologist famed for her research on chimpanzees in Tanzania. Nsaa-Iya made such a good impression, Goodall mentioned his name to Stetson President Doug Lee during a visit in 2000, and soon Nsaa-Iya was an MBA student in Florida.

At that time, Stetson’s economics department was starting an experimental program designed to provide capital and expertise to fledgling small businesses in the impoverished DeLand neighborhood of Spring Hill. Inspired by Muhammad Yunas, a Bengali practitioner of microcredit who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, Thaver convinced Long and Lee to back a similar program.

Thaver, an ethnic Indian woman who was born and raised in poverty in South Africa, had long been interested in Tanzania, a poor country in East Africa that has managed to avoid the tribal politics and post-Colonial strife that have erupted in violence and genocide in other African nations.

When Thaver decided to expand the Stetson microcredit program to Tanzania, she visited her former student Nsaa-Iya and his father.

“Within five minutes of us having tea and talking . . . he was talking about how he was hoping to uplift the village, how (the people there) feel despondent with the lack of capital,” she said.

For Stetson, the program fulfills one of the school’s values of community service. But Thaver and Long also have educational interests. They find many of their students are sheltered, largely ignorant of poverty.

“We are looking for ways we could do something about this, get them to see these things . . . and break them out of their protected environment,” Long said.

Where better to do this than the village of Manio? The professors are making plans to take a small group of Stetson students next year to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

mark.harper@news-jrnl.com

Source: http://www.news-journalonline.com

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