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Building Businesses

The following is a story from a partner in Asia.

“If you’re rich it’s a comfortable life here” our neighbours were telling each other. “If you need anything, you just say the word, and you have it!” I know they were talking about us. It’s hard to hide our relative wealth, and living here makes us think twice before using it.

Like that time my wife was baking biscuits when our next-door neighbour barged into the kitchen and poured out all her money woes. It was an attempt to follow orders from home to “Eat more! You’re looking skinny!” but suddenly my wife was conscious of all the margarine, flour, sugar and oats laid out before her, while our friend wept about the cost of milk for her baby grandson. She was intending to add some of that whopping bar of Whittaker’s Chocolate recently brought over by a friend. We’d been saving it in the chilli bin, but she couldn’t bring herself to get it out of in front of our distraught neighbour. And so later we munched the dry, dull biscuits with a cup of tea, grumbling about the hardships we endure. In an almost comic rebuke of our ‘luxury,’ the remaining biscuits were eaten by rats and ants that night.

The neighbours’ descent into poverty began (so it appears) when their grandson was born. Paying around $8 every five days for baby formula slowly depleted the capital of their shop over the last six months, until it was barely operational. However they tell a different story. “We are being bewitched. An evil person is using magic against us, and inciting spirits to steal our money.” Our vocab isn’t quite up to this line of discussion so we’re still hazy on the details. “We’re like that: always trying to bring each other down to get ahead. Not like you Christians – you help each other.” Convinced their house is cursed, they are currently rebuilding in a different community.

Their financial woes motivated us to seek out a Christian NGO specialising in microfinance. Initial meetings have been very positive, and many of our neighbours are interested in their low interest rates (as opposed to 20%+ from the usual loan peddlers) with accompanying small-business training. In a fortuitous turn of events, the NGO discovered that our community was the ideal place to pilot their plans for a sewing business project, and that my wife would be the ideal trainer for a group of local women to make this happen. It helps that we can also connect them with the adjacent charity school that have several sewing machines already.