I am a young woman from the United States who has recently lived in Zambia for close to three years. From 2005 to late 2007, I was a volunteer with the US Peace Corps serving as an extension agent for the forestry department; I worked with local farming and women’s groups to promote sustainable agriculture, gender equality, HIV and AIDS education and youth development. I lived in both the Eastern and Northern Provinces in villages outside of Chipata and Kasama and had a unique chance to get to know the culture, languages and people outside of the tourist trade. I was very moved by my experience and even returned on my own this past summer for 3 months to re-visit some of the projects that I had been working on.
Back in the United States now in Washington, DC, I have founded a non profit organization to support community led development within Zambia through the administration of micro-loans. We aim to bolster rural efforts to alleviate poverty by giving poor communities access to the resources that they need to begin small enterprises; the loans cover material start-up costs and each group is also required to participate in trainings on small business skills and group leadership.
Our priority is to support sustainability through focus on capacity building and environmental stewardship; each group will have the option of receiving loan forgiveness of one USD for every tree that they successfully raise in a nursery and transplant before the rains. We are currently working with local Peace Corps volunteers who are living in the villages to serve as a guide for applicants in select areas of the country and to assist with monitoring and evaluation for at least one year after inception of a program. Ultimately, I would like to afford our own staff within country to serve as monitors and trainers for our partner groups; until we have that financial capacity however, we will rely on NGO and government extension agents to volunteer their time to assist groups in the village, conduct business and skills related trainings, and to offer monthly reports on the status of the project (all transport to and from the work site for the volunteers will be paid by our organization).
I am looking for advice from Zambians and those with experience in the development sector regarding program planning and implementation. I have never worked with micro-loans before but after living in the village, realize how important it is to instill a sense of ownership amongst the community for their programs. One area I am struggling in is what to do when a group defaults on their loan since hardly anyone owns their own land to place as collateral, and so how so we hold people accountable for their financial payments? Also I am looking for as many contacts within country as possible since the bulk of our energy is going to be spent on quality monitoring of each project as well as support for capacity building trainings.
I offer the floor to anyone and everyone who might like to become involved or offer support. Our web site is still being worked on, however I can be reached at email@example.com and will be happy to provide anyone with more information. Our name is “Colour Me In”, based on my experience one day when a group of young children drew coffins when asked to depict the uses of trees. I was struck, and the nature of our corporation is one in which we aim to help communities to paint a better future based on the vision that they have for themselves and who simply need help accessing the resources to fill in the lines.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to benefiting from a healthy dialogue and to learning from the expertise of this community.
All the best ndi zikomo kwambili,
Sarah Grant / USA
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Supporting rural development - (Guest Blog : Sarah)