|Church fights poverty with jam project, financing|
Children shield themselves from the sun as they walk to the market
in Lahou-Plage, Côte d'Ivoire. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
By Tim Tanton*
July 23, 2009 | ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire (UMNS)
Adèle Yed had a vision for lifting people out of poverty, and she staked her savings on her dream.
In 2001, she put up 6 million central African francs – about $12,400 – obtained the necessary government approval and opened a microfinancing bank. She wanted to provide loans to help people start or expand small businesses.
Fatou Bamba washes chunks of cassava root in the street outside Trinity United Methodist Church in Yopougon.
The Clef Sarepta bank was born.
“People who are most affected by poverty in Côte d’Ivoire are women and young people,” says Yed, a United Methodist, speaking in French. “Sometimes we wonder if a remedy exists because every day it seems we are going deeper and deeper into poverty, day by day.”
Poverty is evident everywhere in this beautiful West African country – in crumbling dwellings and market stalls, in crime and unemployment rates. It is an underlying cause of infant mortality due to malnutrition and to the inability of families to afford medicine for diseases such as malaria. It is reflected in the scant resources available to local governments to deal with the roadside piles of garbage that are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and disease.
United Methodists are challenging the nearly 50 percent poverty rate in innovative ways. In Abidjan’s Yopougon District, church women operate a jam project to generate income for people in poverty. At Jordan United Methodist Church in the Marcory District, a women’s group operates a similar program with soy products, while the youth group there wants to help young people create their own jobs.
Garbage is piled in the streets
on the outskirts of Abidjan.
Getting a first job is difficult for young people, says Samuel Ahoto, president of Jordan’s young people’s group. His group has a program that provides credit to help members develop their own jobs, but financial support is needed, he says.
Money is a constant need.
Though she has received funding support from United Methodist women in her area, Yed’s dream has taken her near the financial precipice more than once. When that happens, she sits down and pulls up an empty chair next to hers. She asks God to sit with her and show her what to do. The following day, she says, investors step forward to help her.
For Yed, faith is the difference, and she relies on it not only for her own success but to transform the lives of others.
“We as lay people should help the church move forward because the church is us,” she says. “If I’m poor, my church is poor. But we refuse to be called poor because our heavenly Father is rich.”
One of the tastiest ministries in the church can be found in the Yopougon District, a region rich with fruit, producing mangos, pineapples, bananas, oranges and other items.
The jam project helps women who raise produce by giving them an outlet for selling what they grow. In the public market, if the produce doesn’t sell, it could spoil quickly. The jam project offers an alternative, paying the women for their produce and generating money for church ministries through jam sales.
Ranatu Ibitowa (center) and a
group of other United Methodist
Women host a demonstration of
their jam-making project at Trinity
United Methodist Church.
A jar of the jam sells for 800 to 2,000 cfa, or a little more than US$4, and the project can help someone in need become self-supporting, says Ranatu Ibitowa, president of the United Methodist Women of the Yopougon District.
At Trinity United Methodist Church, Ibitowa and other women demonstrate how they take cassava, remove its core, change it into paste, press it with a machine to expel the water, remove the dust and cook. The jam contains no chemicals and can keep for a year.
Women from the district’s 62 churches sell the jam in their congregations, as well as homemade soap. However, government regulations prevent them from selling the jam in the market. The hitch is the jars: the women have to sterilize and reuse other jars for their jam. They need a supplier.
“We want to acquire our own facilities to meet the international standards for manufacturing jam,” Ibitowa says.
The women’s dream is to have the materials and finances to expand, and they want to make their jam more available to poor families. “We also dream of exporting our product,” she adds.
In addition to leading the jam project, Ibitowa is a guiding presence with Adèle Yed in the Clef Sarepta microfinancing program. “Clef” means “key,” and “Sarepta” refers to Zarephath, the region in 1 Kings 17:8-16, where the prophet Elijah lived during a time of famine imposed by God.
Adèle Yed started a microfinance
operation, Clef Sarepta bank, in Abidjan.
When Yed started Clef Sarepta in 2001, she first shared her idea with the women of her church district and drew support from circuit pastors.
Seeing young women without work “pained me in the heart,” she explains.
Yed rented a public hall for an organizational meeting, and invited a large number of pastors and government ministers. No one showed up. She was crushed.
“I cried the whole day. I didn’t eat,” she recalls. Early one morning, she and her husband were reading Scripture, and the commentary with their passage stated that God loves those who help the poor and that they should be optimistic. Yed persevered, and support materialized.
Yed has been able to support staff salaries and other expenses by the grace of God, Ibitowa says. “She made a lot of sacrifices. For several years, she paid the staff from her own pocket.”
The bank has five employees in Abidjan, two in Sikensi and two in Dabou. A 17-member volunteer board of administration oversees Clef Sarepta.
The Clef Sarepta provides loans
to help people start or expand
Yed also credits the denomination’s Women’s Division, which started a microfinancing program to provide loans to people for income-generating activities. The division sent 5 million cfa, or $10,300, to buy equipment and furnish offices for Clef Sarepta.
People – usually women from various churches -- can open accounts as individuals or as groups.
The normal account is 10,000 cfa – slightly more than US$20. If the person expects to get a loan, she can open a second account of 5,000 cfa. If she puts money into the second account and saves 1 million cfa, or about US$2,100, the microfinancing program can give her a loan of up to 3 million.
The client must save for six months with the bank before applying for a loan. The annual interest rate is around 17 percent.
For borrowers such as Emilienne N’Guetta, the bank has made all the difference.
Supporting 11 children
“I started with 50,000 (cfa) as a loan,” says N’Guetta, 50, of Yopougon, speaking in French. Upon completing school, she had difficulty finding work, and she and her husband had 11 children.
Upon obtaining a loan in 2005, N’Guetta began selling school pens and school bags, along with sponges, towels and furniture in the local market. When she had saved 100,000 cfa, she got another loan from Clef Sarepta for 300,000 and expanded to selling seasonal items such as Christmas, Easter and back-to-school merchandise. As business improved, she went back to the bank yet again for a 500,000 cfa loan – about $1,030.
Madeline Gnakouri operates a small restaurant at the back of her home in Abidjan, with the help of a microfinance loan from Clef Sarepta.
She is helping support her husband and the education of their children, and her business has created work for others – an employee plus three tutors for her kids.
Another client, Madeleine Gnakouri of Abidjan, borrowed to expand a restaurant business, The Marquis, in her home near the main Clef Sarepta office.
Loans have been made to finance the purchase of machines for making attiéké, a cassava-based staple that is more common than rice in Côte d’Ivoire, the acquisition of a vehicle for a pastor and musical instruments for choirs.
The microfinancing bank has 1,500 clients in Abidjan, Ibitowa says, adding: “We cannot give to everybody at the same time.” The bank has given more than 121 million cfa in loans, or about US$250,000, since its start. The smallest amount given is 50,000 cfa – a little more than US$100 -- to start a business. The bank has provided up to 5 million cfa, or $10,300, in financing for different enterprises.
All of the money has been reimbursed, though not always by the expected date, Yed says.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Yopougon, a district of Abidjan.
The bank provides a workshop on how to manage an income-generating activity, and before giving a loan, it trains the borrower on money management. The organization puts God ahead of everything, Ibitowa says, “so besides a technical training, we also have a spiritual training.”
The bank has acquired land in a village for an agricultural center and it has built a training hall for teaching young people to be self-sufficient, Yed says. As with many church projects, more money is needed.
Yed notes that church agencies and other entities can save in the bank and get a 3.5 percent rate of return. The real return, however, goes beyond percentages.
“By coming and saving in our bank,” she says, “you not only share in our vision, but you also help others.”
*Tanton directs the Media Group for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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