To borrow the phrase of one television network in their 30-seconder spot, I love Fiji because…
Fijians are welcoming and friendly. Fijians have always a ready smile – you look at their eyes and they respond with a friendly look, a flash of white teeth and Bula! It’s always the same wherever I go – in the bus, on the road, and especially in the centres when I attend centre meetings. The ladies in the centre would always point you to sit down in a place that’s perceived to be for privileged visitors.
Fijian ladies loves Filipino dramas. When the ladies in the centres are aware that I’m a Flipino, they would invariably say that they love Filipino dramas. Then they would show off the phrases that they picked up, like “salamat po” (you’re welcome) and “mahal kita” (I love you). When I asked them why they like Filipino movies, they said it is because the values and practices of Filipinos are pretty much like rural Fijians also! And so, I enjoy it when I say “vinaka vakalebu” (Fijian for “thank you very much”) and they reply “salamat po!”
Fijian ladies gave me a yaqona welcome ceremony. Like any other South Pacific countries, special events and gatherings are not without “kava” or “yaqona” (pronounced as yanggona). I have not tried it while in Tonga but I was given my first warm yaqona welcome (and taste) while I was in Biasevu centre in Sigatoka! The Wikipedia described it as the drink that is prepared from the pulverised root of kava (Piper methysticum), a plant from the pepper family, and has a tingly numbing effect on the tongue. Indeed, I felt that numbing effect and it tastes not unlike some herbal medicine I tried at home. But more than that, I felt like being part of the community for given me that experience.
Fiji taught me a new way of reading. Fijians, while they speak very good British English, has a different way of reading certain letters of the English alphabet, especially as they are used in Fijian names of people and places as well as Fijian words. Fijian alphabet is read much like the way Filipinos read the Filipino alphabet, except for 5 letters, and there lies the newness (and sometimes the confusion) for me! It’s a classic case of you get what you don’t see.
- One, the letter “D” is always pronounced with an “n” sound before it. Hence, Nadi is pronounced as Nandi. Before I came to Fiji, I was always wondering why Tongans say it Nandi although I cannot see ‘n’ in the word. Well, if I’m a Fijian, I would be called Melondie; and London should be spelled as “Lodon.”);
- Second, the letter “B” is always pronounced with an “m” sound before it. So, the place spelled as Samabula is pronounced as Samambula. I was confused when the CMs were saying that we will be going to Tumbalevu (as I heard it) but I can’t find it, although I saw the name in the village centre spelled as Tubalevu!
- Third, the letter “G” is always pronounced with an “n” before it, making the “ng” sound much like how Filipinos read it. Note that “ng” has no G sound. I was wondering at first why Sigatoka sounds like Singatoka and Vitogo sounds like Vitongo!
- Fourth, the letter “Q” makes a hard “g” sound, only with an “n” sound before it. The place spelled as “Vatuaqa” has the sound of “Vatuangga.” Hence, yaqona (or kava) is pronounce “yanggona.”
- And fifth, the letter “C” takes on the sound of the English article “the”. Hence, the place called Tacirua (I read it Ta-si-ruh-a at first) but the policeman sounded it as Ta-the-ruh-a). Moce, the Fijian word for goodbye is pronounced as “mo-the.”
I had to literally shake off myself when I read Ratu Cakobau (would be pronounced Ka-ku-bao by non-Fijians) because it should be pronounced as Ratu The-kum-bau! By the way, he was one of the notable Fijians because of his cannibalism but was a converted Christian.
SPBD Fiji received the financial literacy program with an open mind. In Fiji, we are implementing financial literacy program within the context of SPBD’s microfinance operations. Hence, this means an additional responsibility for the Centre Managers (or Loan Officers) as it is something that they were not doing when they started working with SPBD. But when they were trained sometime in March and April, there was no resistance in them doing it. They wholeheartedly participated; and so, they have been doing the training passionately and doing cash flow diary themselves!
There are other reasons why I love Fiji, not the least of which is the fact that it resembles my country in its physical and geographical appearance. Indeed, for an islander like me, it’s easy to love Fiji!
Melodie is Good Return’s Pacific Program Coordinator and is based in Fiji and Tonga, though originally from the Philippines.
“Where there is will, there is way,” says Babu Raja of the CRE, and in Biratnagar, Nepal, there is increasing social will for clean, accessibly energy for all.
The Centre for Renewable Energy (CRE) in Nepal is a non-government / non-profit organization that aims to unite Nepalese people in an understanding of the benefits of the generation and use of renewable energy and technology. Good Return is currently partnering with CRE in order to help the Nepalese people achieve sustainable development and economic prosperity.
CRE firmly believes that clean energy is the future of mankind. In Nepal, it is the sole forum set up to exchange ideas, debate, and research the possibilities of harnessing clean energy. CRE studies, plans, designs, develops and promotes efficient generation and use of renewable energy and appropriate technology, as well as innovative means for conserving energy. In doing so, CRE encourages the use of existing resources and liaises with regional and international organizations in order to share information that will help to facilitate the transfer of these technologies into specific local conditions.
CRE’s goal is to assist the nation to maximize the use of sustainable energy and appropriate technology based on environment friendly renewable energies such as Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Wind, Pico/Micro-Hydro, Bio-Mass and Bio-Gas.
Unfortunately, the CRE faces many challenges in achieving its goal.
Traditional energy infrastructure has been highly centralized as it is the most efficient option for urban areas. While effective in these environments, electricity grids often fail to reach people in more remote areas, leading to mass migration and overcrowding in cities.
The first issue is, of course, getting electricity to these rural areas. However, there is a difficulty in that the people living in these regions may be unable to afford the energy at all, even if it were accessible.
On the 18th and 19th of March at the Clean Energy Walk and Learning Centre in Rajbansi Chowk, Biratnagar, the CRE held a training event in Solar Tuki repair and maintenance, to reach the people living in these rural areas.
According to participants, the event was a refreshing reminder of the relevance and power of microfinance, and the importance of combining access to energy, promotion of clean energy, and business development.
Another component of the Good Return project with CRE is the program for Exposure Visits in Biratnagar. An Exposure Visit was undertaken on the 17th March, and involved a visit to the CRE Energy Centre. At the Energy Centre, participants could view the range of projects CRE are undertaking, and decide which projects they (or their businesses) might wish to become involved in themselves.
According to Babu Raja, the underlying aim of these kinds of projects is to increase social awareness and understanding of clean energy, and to provide the Nepalese people with the confidence to become involved with the developments themselves. The long term goal, he says, is to bring “light to all.”
Imagine if every time you went to cook a simple meal, the entire room filled with smoke, the pots went black with soot, and ash hung in the air for hours afterwards, making it difficult to breathe and aggravating your children’s asthma.
For Laxmi Gurung, this was her reality. Not only was it difficult to breathe while the stove was on, but it was also causing long term health problems for her and her family. Her children were frequently ill with coughs, colds and respiratory complications which dramatically impacted their quality of life.
So when Laxmi attended a group meeting at Nirdhan Bank and heard about a new improved cookstove that would be healthier and more efficient, she knew that she had to try it for the sake of her family. Through Nirdhan Bank, Good Return’s partner in Nepal, Laxmi was able to secure a loan to pay for the new stove.
“The difference is amazing,” she says as she proudly shows us the room containing the unit, “Look, there is no smoke in the cooking area and the pots don’t get black with soot, so it is much easier to keep clean.” She also says that since installing the stove, the health of her children has improved dramatically.
The stove has also saved her family a great deal of money. Where she previously paid approximately 5,000 rupees ($55 AUD) per month for fuel wood, she now pays half this amount due to the efficiency of the new stove. As a result, she was able to pay off the loan within a month! With the savings, Laxmi will able to pay for the schooling of her eldest daughter, who is just beginning high school. Without the funds, Laxmi’s daughter may not have been able to continue her schooling, as the costs are much more expensive than for primary school.
If all this weren’t enough, Laxmi and her children are also excited that “The stove stays warm for 2 hours, so our food is always served hot!”
Good Return’s parent organisation World Education Australia works with YWCA New South Wales to deliver the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation’s global initiative: ConnectEd. The ConnectEd program provides education and digital skills training opportunities for children and youth in disadvantaged areas; with a focus on reaching young people who are at risk of disengaging, or have already disengaged, from education. It aims to support 13,500 underprivileged young people across the globe over the next three years!
ConnectEd works in communities identified as having:
- higher levels of youth unemployment compared to the national average
- lower than average levels of income
- welfare dependencies
- high levels of alcohol, drug, gambling abuse
- high levels of domestic violence
- a high proportion of early school leavers
The Alcatel-Lucent Foundation is dedicated to making a difference in these communities, and supports employees with paid ‘volunteer’ days each year so that employees can contribute their time and skills to help those in need.
The participation of Alcatel-Lucent Australia employees is crucial. The program is designed to draw on their individual expertise, with employees helping to implement activities and serve as role models, mentors and motivators to the young people in the program.
Recently, Alcatel-Lucent held a career workshop for the students. Many students had never seen the inside of an office, and the aim was to introduce them to life in the workplace and some typical office tasks to help prepare them for life after school. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the students appreciated the opportunity to engage in a forum of practical learning that helped them think seriously about their future.
The experience was also rewarding for Alcatel-Lucent’s employees:
“I like events like these because for the kids it provides real-life experience, and they get the opportunity to speak to and learn from other adults (not only their parents or teachers). For me it’s a great change to my normal daily work.”
I recently spent a week in Cambodia with two colleagues conducting a review of our microfinance institution partner, TPC (Thaneakea Phum Campbodia). The review was of TPC’s approach to meeting new standards of Client Protection Principles (CPP). CPP is the new ‘big thing’ in microfinance, and is being driven by the Smart Campaign. Good Return is a signatory to Smart Campaign objectives, and we actively encourage our microfinance institution partners to step up and meet its social performance benchmarks. TPC makes $50m KHR (Cambodian riel) of small loans to 122,000 clients.
Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, I began conducting separate interviews with female borrowers. One had a shop and had borrowed in partnership with her neighbour, a quiet man who makes palm wine. Another woman had borrowed to complete her house, and also to fund her husband’s traditional medicine trade. Their loan was in a ‘group loan’ scheme (the basic model created by Grameen Bank in the 1980s) with their neighbour (in the tartan jacket below) who also had a traditional medicine trade.
I was struck by the confidence, ready smile and positive demeanour of the women when answering our questions. Although illiterate, they understood clearly how much they had to repay at each weekly meeting with the TPC credit manager.
These women did not see themselves as seeking or receiving charity. They were paying ‘normal’ interest rates for a 1 year unsecured loan. But they did appreciate the opportunity to access basic and financial literacy training that TPC could offer as a result of Good Return’s financial support. It is this development of a person’s innate skills (much more so than a micro loan) that offers a long term solution to poverty.
And to conclude this brief post, here is a not untypical rural highway scene….
Norm Sturrock is Good Return’s Editor in Chief and Risk Advisor. He has been volunteering with us since the beginning of Good Return, and was in Cambodia during March 2013.
In the world of international development, change tends to take time. Many individual microfinance borrowers have stories about how their lives have changed, but achieving tangible and visible changes in living standards in a community can be slow going, and microfinance is just one of many contributors to that process. Basic infrastructure (such as roads, water and electricity), government services (such as education and health care) and private sector investment are all important pieces of the puzzle. Increasingly, telecommunications and IT are entering this rural landscape and changing the way people live and interact, even in poor, remote villages.
Mobile phone coverage in developing countries has risen dramatically over the past five years. When delivering a microfinance seminar in Laos in 2009 I predicted that the country would achieve close to full mobile coverage within five years. At the time, the participants all believed my prediction to be impossible, inconceivable – that it would take 10 or 20 years if it were to happen at all. The most recent statistics available from the World Bank show that in the three years from 2008 to 2011 the number of mobile subscriptions in Laos rose from 34 to 87 per 100 people (World Bank).
I am currently in Nepal to attend the Nepal Microfinance Summit and meet with our microfinance partner, Nirdhan Bank (‘Bank for Upliftment of the Poor’). After the summit, I came to the Jhapa district in the far east of Nepal to meet with Good Return borrowers and trainees, to seek their feedback on the training and microfinance services they receive and how these can be further improved.
The visits tend to follow a common format: I introduce myself, relate some personal stories or pictures to put everyone at ease, and then ask about their lives, their challenges and successes, and how we can assist. Afterwards I usually ask the women if I can take a photo to share with our supporters back in Australia. In 12 years of doing this type of work (and many years before that as a traveller and backpacker) I have always been conscious of the fact that the camera I carry is both a symbol and an instrument of power. You have control over someone’s image, and how that is used, where they are left with nothing. I am also shamefully guilty of having promised to send photos later and not following up.
So imagine my surprise this week when, while sitting down at a meeting with a group of women in rural Jhapa, several women pulled out mobile phones and starting snapping pictures of me before I even got a chance to draw my smart phone! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a photo of them taking a photo of me, and we all had a good laugh. While they didn’t ask my permission to take a photo (as we always do), I was thrilled to see them reversing the tables and moving into the information age.
Later, when invited by one of the village trainers, Radhika Budhathoki, to her home for a cup of delicious masala chai, we chatted while her son played games on a computer and pointed out Sydney on a world map. We all know that our world is becoming increasingly technological and interconnected, but seeing this transformation occurring before your eyes in a poor, rural village that 10 years ago had no electricity – let alone telecommunications – is indeed a powerful sight.
Mobile phones are available for as little as $10 in Nepal, putting them within reach of most households. In several countries, for those people who do not have access to electricity but can receive a mobile phone signal (sometimes by climbing to the top of a nearby hill!), Good Return is promoting portable solar lanterns that can also charge mobile phones, so that they too can be connected. Not only is this helpful in their personal lives, but it is critical for running a small business and in helping individuals play a role in our connected and rapidly evolving world.
Mobile phones also have a role to play in microfinance. Developing countries led the way in mobile phone banking with M-Pesa in Kenya and GCash and Smart Money in the Philippines, years before mobile phone banking caught on in Australia. In fact, mobile phone banking was firmly on the agenda last week at the Nepal microfinance summit, and several initiatives are underway to extend money transfer services through mobile phones in remote, hard-to-reach communities.
I look forward to the day when one of the small roadside vendors in Jhapa will pull out her mobile phone and ask me to pay for my meal with an instant mobile money transfer.
That day may not be so far off.
Shane Nichols is Good Return’s Program Director, and he was recently in Nepal.
From the classroom to the workforce: How financial literacy training is empowering lives in Indonesia
In January of 2013, Good Return’s Financial Literacy Specialist joined forces with our Indonesia Program Coordinator to carry out an eight day train the trainer program at CUKK – our microfinance institution partner in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Trainees consisted of 16 CUKK staff members and 18 borrowers, all of whom were there not only to better understand the processes involved in microfinance, but to learn the skills that will enable them to pass on our financial literacy training to others within their community.
The initial day of training focused mainly on encouraging participants to write about their hopes and fears, to help create a comfortable classroom environment and to help guide the Good Return team on their participants’ wants and needs.
By the fourth day of training, participants had been provided with a wide range of training material focused on topics from financial literacy to adult perspectives and characteristics, concepts of adult education, basic skills of facilitation, questioning and listening techniques, and observation abilities.
Group discussions were encouraged during training, not only as a means of helping participants in their understanding of the technical aspects of financial literacy, but also to improve their self-confidence to become future financial literacy trainers. During the final three days of training participants were also able to practice their newly developed training techniques in class through the enactment of real-life scenarios.
This training program at CUKK in Indonesia was just one of many programs which have been, and continue to be, run by Good Return each year to educate our borrowers on how to utilise and manage their loans in the most productive ways possible, and ultimately, to improve the living standards of those who need it most through financial empowerment.
Candy was the final woman I met with on my trip to the Philippines in January. Soft spoken with an ever-present and contagious smile, she is prominent in my memory for two reasons. The first: how she carefully wrote “plain housewife” as her occupation. The second: the joy and pride she felt from having a microfinance loan, because it meant that someone believed in her.
The first thing that needs saying about Candy is that she is not just a plain housewife. In our conversation she talked about cooking and selling native foods and delicacies, raising and selling pigs for the local market, selling solar lamps and energy efficient stoves to her village, and her most recent passion, making peanut butter and other preserved foods. She also has seven grandchildren. You’d think that she’d be busy enough with all of this, but Candy has even more she wants to do – she wants to learn how to sew, and establish a new church with her family.
I told Candy outright that she wasn’t a plain housewife – she’s a business woman! But her laugh and smile were dismissive of this idea. In the Philippines, a colleague told me earlier in the trip, women give up professional careers all the time to be at home with their family. In fact, I interviewed three women with college degrees who had done just that. Instead of seeking professional jobs, they work hard at home and struggle just to make ends meet.
Candy has been a member of SECDEP, Good Return’s microfinance partner in the Philippines, for three years. She told me that she and her husband used to sell dried fish – a delicacy in the Philippines – but neither of them could find permanent work.
This was a time of hardship for Candy and her family, because her highest priority was making sure her children could stay in school. Making sure her children can provide for their own families one day is Candy’s dream. This is what has motivated her through repaying six loans and taking out a seventh; an impressive accomplishment for anyone.
When I asked Candy how she felt after receiving her first microfinance loan, she gave me a huge smile and nodded vigorously.
“I was so proud,” she said. “It made me very happy. No one else would lend me any money to start a business. I was so encouraged by SECDEP – their loans are much lower interest, I was very proud to be chosen! I can access money now, and I couldn’t before.”
The humility she expressed was amazing to me – that just obtaining two thousand pesos (about $50 AUD) made her feel like a worthwhile person. She told me that her family is very close, that her grown children still live in the same community. She and her husband were recently able to move to a larger house, but didn’t sell the old one – instead giving it to her son and his wife.
“We just want to live a simple life,” Candy explained to me. “Others have advanced so much. We just want to be content with what we have, and not be too demanding on anyone.”
The money that Candy has made from her various enterprises has gone to making sure that her children received schooling. Her eldest daughter is now a teacher, and Candy is even helping to pay for her grandchildren’s education as well.
The last thing she told me was that she encouraged her two daughters to join SECDEP as well, because of the benefits of the loans and insurance. (Members of SECDEP pay a very low premium for life and property insurance, which they would not be able to afford or even qualify for at any other institution.) Her wise advice to them – only get loans that you can repay.
Candy’s dedication to her family and community were heart-warming to see. Her gratitude for being a woman to receive a microfinance loan was stunning – I couldn’t have imagined anyone being so proud and empowered. This just goes to show how one loan can make a huge difference in one woman’s life – and for her whole family.
Joni is Good Return’s Digital Marketing Coordinator and visited the Philippines for the first time in January 2013.
Good Return means business. Business opportunities for poor women in the Asia Pacific, that is.
This March, help 300 women lift themselves, their family, and their community out of poverty.
This International Women’s Day, Good Return is calling on Australians to help women in the developing world start their own businesses and help end poverty.
Good Return has set a target of funding 300 micro-loans to women, which has the power to change 1,500 people’s lives.
Guy Winship, Good Return CEO notes: “In these poor communities, children are growing up in poverty and with little education, yet in these same communities are smart women with business ideas but no resources to make them a reality.
“When we pull one woman out of poverty, she takes four other people with her. We have the power to make a massive difference.”
Despite women playing a significant role in ending poverty, most small business in the developing world are owned and run by men. A bare 1-3% of businesses are owned by women.
As 200 million people globally do not have access to financial services, there is a real opportunity for Australians to play a role this International Women’s Day. You could help change the life of a woman like Candy in the Philippines, whose dream is to send all of her children to college. Receiving a loan meant she could finally build a business and provide for her family.
“Before, my husband and I had no permanent work, no steady income,” she said. “When I got my first loan to start raising pigs, I was so happy, and proud!” She told us that it was empowering to finally have someone believe in her – previously, she wasn’t even able to get a loan from money lenders. Now, she also has a small business making peanut butter, and all of her children are in school – the oldest two have graduated college and one is a teacher.
A direct and powerful way to make a difference
Making a loan at www.goodreturn.org is easy – it takes two minutes and creates a lifetime of change for a family. You choose the woman and the business venture you want to support. Loans start at just $25.
End media release.
For more information or for interviews, please contact Diane Bowles, Marketing and Fundraising Director, Good Return, 0439 857 199, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello! I’m Joni, the Digital Marketing Coordinator here at Good Return. Usually, I get to edit photos and tell stories that are passed on to me from our program team – the hard-working and talented folks who travel to our partner countries to help in the coordination of Good Return’s programs (microfinance, education, sustainable energy, and our newest program, social performance management). This time though, I’m lucky enough to be in the field myself!
I am currently in the Philippines, based in Iloilo City on Panay Island. It’s approximately in the middle of the Philippines, and is off of the beaten track for tourists. (Boracay, the most popular tourist destination, is actually off the very northern tip of Panay Island.) Iloilo City is where our partner SECDEP is based.
Iloilo City is home to about a million people, and the island itself hosts about 4 million people. (And has the same square kilometre-age as Sydney.) It doesn’t feel crowded, though. Most homes are spread out in small villages in agricultural areas. Each village is really only a few minutes apart, but with so much agriculture in between that it doesn’t feel like people are living on top of each other.
From what I’ve experienced so far, Filipinos are friendly and helpful (especially towards foreigners) and I’ve felt very safe so far. A great feature of travelling here is that pretty much everyone speaks English to some degree – most people fluently. Ilonggo and Tagalog are the other major languages spoken, and much of the time it seems like the three are spoken together all at once!
It has been quite the experience so far, and you can bet that I’ll be writing about it more in detail! Meeting Good Return and SECDEP’s borrowers has been wonderful – I’ve even met a few women who we’ve written case studies on. (Mary Ann Arevalo, for example, whose story is on our home page at the moment! She was thrilled to see her story in our annual report as well.)
We are also very lucky to be here for the Dinagyang festival, which is this weekend, Jan 26-27. The whole city will be packed with parades, dancing, a food festival, and fireworks! People come from all over to be a part of the festivities; most hotels will be booked out. I can’t wait for the fun, and for all the food!
We had a small taste of the fun on our first day in the Philippines – we took a bus up to Kalibo, and joined in the Ati-Atihan festival. Each tribe dressed in costume and danced their way through the crowded main streets, with onlookers wearing headdresses and joining in the parade whenever they felt like it. The noise was tremendous – each tribe had drummers and other musicians, and it felt like your heart beat was keeping double time with them!
I will leave you with a few of my favourite photos so far – there are many more to come!