Like always the bad news first: the goats had been stolen…………
A widow, mother of four children, that had received in September a credit of 40`000 rupees to buy goats was sitting completely devastated at Zariya`s house. She told me that all the goats had been stolen, only six weeks after the purchase.
According to her file she had repaid her rates anyway. She told me that she got some small funding from an NGO to support her children and that she had taken that money to repay the credit! She showed me a copy of the police report about the theft. Even the branding of the animals had not been effective, as they had most probably ended up in a cooking pot!
At the beginning of the project we had considered including some kind of insurance for cases like that but we had turned the idea down so as not to make things unnecessary complicated.
Quite clueless, I asked the woman how she would solve the problem. She admitted rather clueless herself that she had been making mistakes that would not happen to her again and that raising goats would have been a good income source for her and her children.
After a short brainstorm, me, myself and I, decided to write off the rest of her credit of 35`000 rupees and I handed her a new one of 30`000 rupees. Our next visit in the Fall would show whether my decision to do so had been the right thing.
As well as the stolen goats, there was the credit for the lady that had left the country that had not been paid. All the payments had been made by the other widows. To me, it was more than a good financial statement!
One of the widows had even received a second credit as she had paid off the first one already.
Thanks to the repeated help from the Bank Cial and contributions from Swisscom, we had been thinking of helping the seamstress Chammi open a tailoring shop away from her house. She had impressed us with her initiative more than once.
As I have mentioned before, because of running her business in her private home, the Chamber of Commerce refused to register her as a business and she was therefore not able to get insurance coverage for her sewing machines.
We were even thinking of buying a piece of land to build a simple small factory. I had sent her a letter at the beginning of the year to let her know that we would like to support her in this venture. I also had told her to keep quiet about that matter, as the prices would sky rocket once it would be known that she had some long nosed sponsors. The cheaper it would be, the bigger the chances to get it realized.
Her answer came only three days prior to my departure and I was more than surprised.
After sending the letter off, we (well mostly Michel) were having second thoughts about our offer. We were afraid that we would have raised expectations that we would not be able to meet.
All that Chammi was asking for, was some help to be able to rent a little shop. It would be perfect to be able to do this before the upcoming New Year celebrations in mid-April, to take advantage of the expected good business. (Whomever can afford it, wears new clothes for the Near Year celebrations.)
The down payment for the shop was supposed to be 12`000 rupees and the monthly rent 2`000 rupees, all in all, about 400 Swiss francs for a year.
I asked by SMS for further clarifications and was very pleased by her answers. I would have loved to see her face when she received my SMS saying, “Go for it!”. I would be in Hambantota the following Monday to hand her the money in person, for the down payment and the rent.
The whole circumstances and the fact that I had arrived much later than I had announced must have been quite unnerving to Chammi. When I handed her the money, the strong, brave Chammi broke out in tears. She had borrowed the 12`000 rupees from different sources and without me showing up, she would have been lost.
I told her that it had not been easy to convince Michel to part with the money as it was not the intention of the credit program to give money away. But since it would not be wise to get an even bigger loan than she already had, I might have come up with another idea.
There was a widow in the program with four children. Her 17 year old daughter was attending a 6 month tailor training program at the Singer shop and I thought that Chammi might be able to give her a job after the girl had completed the class, as kind of a trade-off for the money.
Chammi had been listening to me quietly and after a short glance at the envelope in her hand, she sighed. She told me that she was not able to promise that, as there were many girls who simply were not clever enough for the job and on top of that lazy. She would have to look at the girl first, before deciding. Besides, she already had two girls that had few chances to get a job somewhere else. One was born dumb (unable to speak) and had already worked with her for more than a year and was doing a good job. As for the other girl, Chammi wanted to watch her progress a while longer to decide whether she could keep her.
Needles would be quite expensive, so there was no use in having a girl breaking needles all of the time. Chammi knew that she would be only able to set up a business with good quality. The 17 year old daughter of the other widow would get to introduce herself to Chammi in two months time, after finishing her training. It would be up to her whether she would be able to prove her worth, to make use of the opportunity given to her.
I visited Chammi the next day in the shop and she almost excused herself for the fact that it was not very big, but she did not want to rush things. The shop was in a very good location and she hoped to move to something bigger within a year.
I was sure that she would achieve that by remaining true to herself and without telling others what they wanted to hear.
I also visited with the other widows. It was such a great feeling to walk through Hambantota town and meet some of them by accident.
We hope to finally have a get together with all the widows in the Fall.
Monika had handed me 300 Swiss francs for the women, which I forwarded to four of whom she had met in person the year before. This help was received very thankfully.