A Catholic nun creates a nonprofit that promotes financial independence for more than 10,000 people in Africa.
Ever since childhood, I dreamed of going to Africa. In 2003, after four decades in ministry and counseling, I took a sabbatical, trekking to 18 countries, from Cairo to Capetown, with 21 young adults. We traveled by truck and slept in tents. Village women would ask, “How far in a day do you walk for water?” and “How do you decide daily which child to feed?” Their questions burned in my heart as I returned to the U.S.
I soon realized that the cost of my lunch could provide a small loan, enough for an African woman to start a business. I invited friends to dream with me, which led to Microfinancing Partners in Africa, and in 2007, our partnership with Jamii Bora, a microfinancing group in Nairobi, Kenya.
MPA raises funds for organizations that provide loans to people living in extreme poverty. MPA provides financial support; our African partners provide the infrastructure, identifying and educating participants so they can start small businesses. We presently work in four countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
- MPA supports grassroots projects that enrich and empower 2,000 individuals and their families in four African nations.
- The Cow Project, which gives living loans of pregnant cows to poor families, has improved nutrition, health, education and general well-being, according to academic researchers.
- Programs supported by MPA promote upward mobility in countries that often lack robust government and social services.
Our original partner in Kenya began with small loans, but now offers savings accounts, small-business loans and other services. Some original members, former street people, have become social workers.
In Uganda, we support the Cow Project, which provides ‘living loans’ of a pregnant cow. Families repay the loan by giving another family their first female calf. The milk boosts the family’s nutrition and can be sold to the dairy. Families may also take out a biofuel loan (repaid with a liter of milk a day), for a tank that converts waste into clean energy for a cook plate and a light. We’ve provided 850 cows.
In Tanzania, we have helped the Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association grow to 440 members, who collaborate on projects that earn extra cash. We also partner with religious sisters in Tanzania, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who use a revolving loan fund and microfinancing support to organize local group projects, from sewing school uniforms to manufacturing furniture and processing sunflower oil.
We believe that the alleviation of poverty is a necessary ingredient for world peace. For families in Africa living on less than $1.25 a day, the weight of poverty can suffocate hope and stifle the potential of a village, a neighborhood, a community. But with a small amount of credit and a lot of support, people lift themselves out of poverty.
As I became more involved with this work, I recalled a story of my widowed grandmother keeping food on the table for her 10 children because of a small loan and good business advice from a local priest, merchant and businessman. I see my grandmother’s strength and struggles in the women I meet in Africa.
My life has come full-circle: By helping other people, I am repaying the generous people who helped my grandmother. Remember your childhood dreams and gather dreamers around you. We can make a difference, one microloan at a time.