by Joyce Erickson, Oikocredit Northwest Support Association
The Oikocredit Northwest Support Association has been around for more than two years, but this is the first time I have participated in the Annual General Meeting. This summer the meeting was in Dar es Salaam and proved to be a powerful experience. On this trip, I have had the opportunity to meet international and local East African staff as well as other support associations representatives from around the world. As constituents of Oikocredit we were able to see for ourselves how our investments improve the lives of poor and low-income people.
On Friday, the last day of our meeting, participants traveled to projects in Tanzania to see the results of those investments first hand. I chose to visit BELITA (Better Life for Tanzanians), a woman-led microfinance institution that has partnered with Oikocredit since 2009. The founder, Helena Lutege, is ebullient and full of energy, chatting with us almost non-stop in her Tanzanian-accented English. She started BELITA with her own savings and shares her amazement that from small beginnings she now has more than 3,000 clients and 30 branches, all helping to improve lives in the slow climb out of poverty.
From our hotel in Dar es Salaam, we journeyed two hours to the village of north of Dar (as locals affectionately style this city). We were greeted by staff, traditional Tanzanian dancers, and local borrowers proudly wearing blue tee shirts that identified them as borrowers. We headed out to the market area where we had the opportunity to meet and learn about some of BELITA’s clients. The first client we talked to took his loan to become a distributor of fish. He told us that he was able to buy a vehicle to transport his product to area hotels. Smaller fishes are sold to people in the villages and the bigger fishes are sold to hotels.
Other clients we visited had equally compelling stories: a local woman who made fried dumplings (mandazi) in her home and brought them to market to sell. The money she made from selling these delicious morsels helped her feed her children and pay for their school fees and uniforms. Another sold traditional medicines, hundreds of herbs and other medicines that earned him $100 per month after accounting for expenses, which earns him a bit more than $3 per day, putting him just above the poverty line ($2.70 per day). The last client we saw before we headed back to the bus to return to Dar ran a shop called “Biofarm,” where he sells seeds for vegetables and small equipment, and provides assistance services to farmers.
All in all, a gratifying experience that confirmed my commitment to Oikocredit’s mission to invest in people.
Joyce Erickson is the President of Oikocredit USA, a support organization based in Seattle, Washington, covering Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. She has been an investor in Oikocredit for more than six years.
The Northwest Support Association is one of two legally established volunteer organizations in the US that raise awareness of Oikocredit, microfinance, and sustainable development.