Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I’ve never considered myself a teacher, and I definitely do not enjoy speaking in front of people, so when I was asked to teach a business seminar at the church I was a little nervous. But I knew that I it would be a good opportunity to teach others and a good learning experience for me as well, so I agreed.

On Thursday last week 70 people came to the church to learn more about small business and entrepreneurship. I prepared a lesson for everyone based on what I learned from interviewing them over the past few months. After opening with a Bible study about counting the costs and making good plans, I taught about various aspects of marketing and business. I’m definitely no expert on these topics, but with my background in economics, the microcredit summit I attended in Nairobi, and personal experiences I was able to pull together a few things to talk about. I also invited a few other staff members to help me teach about accounting and creative business practices.

Afterwards I realized that I had nothing to worry about—everything went smoothly and all the participants seemed very appreciative. The participants were clients from the home based care program, parents of the orphans and vulnerable children program, and parents of the child survivor program, all of which are programs run out of KMT (the Mennonite church) Dodoma.

Form my interviews with the clients, I have learned that the majority of the people who have taken a loan from the church have failed to pay it back. This is a common problem when a faith based institution hands out money—people assume that it is charity and don’t need to pay anything back. Many of the loan clients didn’t realize that they were actually expected to pay back the money that was given to them. Another problem was that many people ended up not even using the loan for their business, but used it for immediate needs instead, such as food or medicine.

It is a challenge, especially for a church, to just give out loans and expect everyone to be successful in using their loan and be able to pay it back. Instead, I think it works better when people work through community groups. In Tanzania, there are VICOBAs, village community banks, where groups meet weekly to save together and take individual loans from each other. This method is simple and has proven to work well worldwide.

The Mennonite church here in Dodoma has tried to start a VICOBA group, but it has faced a lot of challenges. So the director of Grace and Healing Ministries of KMT thought it would be a good idea if we took a few members of our VICOBA group on a little ‘field trip’ to go and learn from a successful VICOBA just outside of Dodoma. I thought this sounded like a great idea, and I thought it would be interesting to see how this sort of group works here in Tanzania. So I made a budget for out trip, calculating the mileage at 150km round trip—not too far.

…Only, we didn’t realize that we’d have to travel 150km and three hours one way! Five of us, plus the driver crammed into a little pick up truck and drove 77km east of Dodoma on a nice, paved road and then another 70-some km North on a very bumpy gravel road. Before we left, I was told that it would take 2 hours to get there, we’d have 2 hours to meet and share ideas, and then another 2 hours to get back by 6pm. Well, T.I.A.: we didn’t leave until noon, it took at least three hours to get there, and we had to leave after only meeting for 45 minutes so that we didn’t get back super late! It was actually pretty funny—we weren’t sure exactly how far we had to travel on the gravel road, so whenever we would pull over and ask someone how much further we had to go they kept saying ‘mbali sana’ (a long ways) or ‘badaa ya kupanda mlima’ (after you climb up the mountain). That happened about four times before we finally reached our destination. But, like many things here, it ended up being fun just because it was so ridiculous. And even though we were there for a short time, the members of our VICOBA group said they learned a lot to share with their other members and maybe even try to start another group.

This weekend all the other MCC volunteers are coming to Dodoma for team meetings. (I helped convince everyone to come to Dodoma instead of going to Arusha…) And on the 4th we are going to celebrate America’s independence with a BBQ! I’m planning on making guacamole and mango salsa…

I only have two and a half more weeks here in Dodoma!

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