Microfinance – An Eternity of Opportunity
We sure live in a blessed country. Occasionally we need reminding that around the world, extreme poverty still exists, most often appearing in marginalised communities that suffer a lack of basic necessities, such as clean water, food, employment, education, and health care. It is amongst these narrow choices that we often see an escalation in the most heinous of crimes against humanity—human trafficking. In truth, extreme poverty is the condition that traffickers and loan sharks use to target vulnerable children and families for exploitation.
“There are as many as 8.4 million children who are in what we consider the worst forms of child labour,” said UNICEF’s senior advisor on child protection, Gopalan Balagopal, a couple of years back. It is critical that individuals and organisations who advocate for child rights recognize this and urgently find a solution to the problem. Through the use of proactive development programs, ICC Australia and its partners have been taking action to reduce the risk of traffickers targeting children and families in poor communities.
One such innovative Sustainable Livelihoods program that brings economic empowerment to individuals and community is Microfinance, a loan plan that is made available to a poor family who have created a small, approved business proposal. These loans are often used to expand an existing business through the purchase of tools of trade, or to create a new one such as small animal husbandry projects, garment manufacturing, or selling baked goods, etc. As part of the program, loan clients meet weekly to repay loans, share their business experience, listen to the Bible being read (often for the first time), and participate in worship with their new loan group.
Since the first loan was given in 2010 in the Philippines, ICC Australia has seen some exponential kingdom growth: 73 home church groups have sprung up, 21 Bible workers have been trained, 540 confessions of faith/baptisms have taken place, and now over 2,200 poor mothers have heard the Good News about Jesus—and returned 100 percent of their loans!
Consider how this mother must now feel: “My name is Rachel and I am 35 years old. I live on a small island in the Philippines where poverty is widespread. While I have been blessed with a wonderful husband and two children, I’ve had to live alone for many years. My husband, Jack,2 is a fisherman who has struggled to provide us with enough money to survive as he travelled with his crew in search of fish. Many times not catching enough, I’d have to borrow money at high interest to feed the children.
“One day I heard about a special program being run for children that were hungry and needing nourishment. The municipal health nurse had noticed that my children were malnourished and was concerned. Three times a week I was able to take my children to the program supported by ICC Australia to receive a healthy meal in exchange for some of my time working in the ICC community garden.
“The staff helped me to regain my faith in God. I learned so much from them and my children enjoyed the special program they ran for them on Saturday mornings. I was helped to start my own vegetable garden behind my home to provide more food for my children.
“Soon, I was able to secure a small microfinance loan $120 to help me start my own small business. This was an exciting time as I had never had any experience like this before, but I was confident as the training I received helped me to understand how to run a small business. My business is a small general store on the street outside my home.
“This business has changed our lives. I can now provide for my children and send them to school in a uniform. They are so happy to receive an education now. This really gives me hope for the future. ICC has helped to bring security to our family. I really thank them for that. I can also really thank God because He is the one that has helped my family.”