Monday, December 27, 2010

Grief Work continued...

I told myself after the six month mark, September 20, that I wasn't going to write about the grieving process again until we got to the year anniversary of Bob's death.  I felt like I was being a little too honest, a little too open, a little too me-centered instead of celebrating the work being done and highlighting the situation in the majority world.

But I want to write this post about grieving.  It's now been nine months since Bob died.  In the past eight weeks, I passed our 20th anniversary, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving which was always "decorate the house for Christmas day", my birthday, Christmas and soon New Years.  Each of these events have spun me through a cycle of grieving that wears me out.  I have written before that Dave Graf and Judy King have been listening/counseling/praying with me every week since Bob died.  Jackie Venegas (wife of Dante Venegas) and Mary Katerberg (wife of Norm Katerberg) have now joined this group.  If you followed our Reeds in Liberia blog ( you will remember the posts that we did when each of their husbands passed away - both Pastor Dante and Norm were near and dear to our hearts.  I have had very little contact with other widows and have had no access to grief support groups, so when Jackie and Mary offered to be on calls with me, I quickly said yes.

It has been so helpful, especially in normalizing what I'm learning to see is the "new normal".  I have learned about "widow brain", which I had been experiencing and worrying about but hadn't known about.  If you google it, it will say "it is a side effect of grief where your brain tries to protect you from pain - unfortunately it causes you to forget pretty much everything."  I can't tell you how often Hannah has said to me in the last few months, "Mom, I already told you three times."  I was reminded that the grieving process is a matter of many private mini-crises - which I really experienced on the trip through Southern Africa with countless reminders on a daily basis when spending time with married people who talked and laughed about marriage, retirement plans, filling out forms at the border that give choices like "married, single", etc.  Normal things but each time felt like a punch in the stomach.  Not something that you share with people but deal with privately, every day, multiple times a day.  I was told that grief is a jagged hole in the soul and the heart - eventually the jaggedness smooths out but the hole never goes away.

But one thing that I have been surprised at (and has been confirmed by other widows) is how few people ask me how I'm really doing.  How few people ask about what happened.  How some people who knew Bob, haven't seen us since his death, will spend time with us and never mention his absence.  I bring it up, hoping to engage a conversation about it - because much of the time, that's all I'd rather talk about - but no bite.

I wonder why that is.  Are they really trying to take care of me by not wanting to "cause me pain"?  Or are they really trying to take care of themselves and avoid being uncomfortable?

I guess that's why I wanted to write this blog - to encourage communication between grieving people and those who love them.  I can't speak on behalf of all those who are grieving or even all widows, but my sense is that more questions, more people entering the conversation that is going pretty much non-stop in our heads anyway, more people joining us in the acknowledgement of our loss, would be a good thing. If we cry, it's because we need to, not because you made us.  If we don't want to talk about it, we can let you know. 

Jackie Venegas surprised me when I was home in October by giving me a copy of an email that Bob had written to her after Dante died.  It was like he was writing it for me and I want to share it with you.

June 26, 2007

Dear Jackie,
I'm sorry to hear about the pain you are experiencing.  And I'm sure you knew in your head, this is the beginning of the most painful part of Dante's death.  Is it not more painful even than those last four months?
 You are absolutely right - before you can even think about a "new phase in life," you must do what you need to regain strength and stamina.  Your primary life task is to mourn, to grieve.  That takes an enormous amount of energy.  I agree with those who have told you (and you have told others grieving, I'm sure) to rest.  When you are tired, rest.  If you need to talk and you trust there are people to listen, then by all means talk.  This will help by giving vent to the emotion produced by overwhelming memories and the sense of loss.  I suspect you will need to vent.  A lot.  Perhaps far more than you think you "should."  Well, I hope you already know this:  when it comes to grief, there are no shoulds, no rules, no books.  Everybody writes their own.
Believe it or not, you are not going crazy.
There is almost nothing else I can say.  If I were there, I'd just sit with you.  This terrible part of your grief journey is inevitable, and it is yours alone (though you are not alone).  No one can ease the agony, no one can enter in at the level you experience it.  And no one knows how long the acute deep pain will last either.  But it will ebb in time.  the ebbing of acute pain will bring new challenges, but those are for that time, not to be spoken of now.
Your friend,
Bob Reed
It's great to hear his "voice" about this issue.  He's exactly right that I need to vent.  But the person I need to vent to is him.  I don't have family, friends, or support groups in Ghana.  So that means a huge amount of stuffing emotions every single day.  Which is exhausting.

I miss him.  But having my mom here over Christmas has helped a lot and I thank God for her.

Meanwhile, during Christmas...

...baking together became a challenge as Noah and Hannah frequently chose to attack their poor mother.

...someone (I won't mention any names) decided it would be a good idea to give Noah boxing gloves...hmmmmmmm....
Hannah is delighted to find makeup and manicure sets under the tree.  Before....
And after!  [Note the curly hair - she did NOT curl her hair at all - she got a hair cut this week and discovered the joy (finally!) of the effect of humidity on her natural curls:-)]
Waltzing in the kitchen during last minute baking details.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome/Ngiyanemukela (Zulu)/Welkom (Afrikaans)!

When you tell your 10-year-old and 12-year-old that you are moving to Africa, there are two pictures that most likely come to their minds - animals and poverty.  Hannah and Noah have seen a fair amount of poverty in the past five years of living in West Africa, but as they recently pointed out to me, no animals to speak of.  Since Hannah is leaving Africa in June, and we don't know if or when she will come back to Africa, I thought it was time to rectify the situation.

Hannah will share with you our week long vacation in South Africa last week in the words and pictures below:

So, as most if not all of you know, we, the Reeds, along with my Oma spent the last week in the beautiful country of South Africa.  Since pictures are worth a thousand words, there will be more on this than usual, and they will hopefully do a lot of the talking for me.  But here’s an overview of the week in South Africa:

Tuesday, Day One: We arrived in Johannesburg in the morning, and spent most of the day resting and exploring the area around the hotel we were staying at. 

Wednesday, Day Two: This is where the excitement started.  We awoke bright an early at 6 am, and were on the road to Kruger National Park by 7.  We were going on safari for three days!  It was a very long drive, but in gave us time to get to know our guide.  His name was ‘H’.  Not really, but that is what he said to call him, because he said it would be easier.  We got to the Kruger in the mid-afternoon, and started off with a lot of excitement.  Within the first couple hours, we saw impala, giraffes, zebra, beautiful birds, and a black rhinoceros.  The black rhino was the most exciting, as it is extremely rare to see one.  We got to our bungalows and put our luggage down, then went out on safari again, this time seeing hyenas, baboons, and even some hippos and crocodiles from a distance.  We had a delicious South African dish for dinner, and went to bed around 9:30.

Thursday, Day Three: We got up way too early, around 4 am and were on the road by 4:45, as H told us that early in the morning was a great time to see animals before it got too hot.  So we drove around, looking every which way for animals, in the open jeep H picked us up in.  We all got fairly cold, but warmed up with some hot chocolate a couple hours later.  It was in this early-morning time that we had one of the most exciting experiences, if not the most exciting experience, of our trip.  We were driving along a dirt road and up ahead of us we saw a huge bull elephant standing in the middle of the road.  As we approached, he moved off onto the side of the road, and began eating the leaves of a tree, still only maybe 10 meters away from our vehicle.  Then, all of a sudden, he moved directly in front of our jeep, so close that he was touching the front of it, just calmly eating.  It was very tense in the car, as elephants will scare easily and are big enough to tip and trample our car.  But H made the decision to turn on the jeep and quickly back away, and as he did the bull elephant backed off too, waving his huge head and he strode back to his tree and began eating again.  Since the road was a narrow one, and the way back was long, H moved forward again, coming to stop again so we could watch the elephant eating.  Since the elephant was still riled, we had to be very careful and not make a sound.  Then, when H believed that he was calm again, he started the engine of the jeep.  As he did so, the elephant charged!!  It was only a mock charge, but he came so close he almost rammed into the jeep!  It was terrifying, and exhilarating.  We got away and the elephant, thankfully, decided not to chase us.  It wasn’t until we were a good distance away that my hand came away from my mouth and H stopped shaking.  Mom’s reaction?  To burst out laughing.  So anyways, after a while longer, we went and had breakfast, rested up a bit at the bungalows, and then in the evening, went out on safari again, this time with a larger group.  We started out as the sun was going down, and would be gone until after dark.  It was fairly uneventful at the start… until we heard about the lions that had taken down an impala.  So the man driving (not H this time, since we were with a large group) started driving.  It took a good 45 minutes, but the time was well rewarded as we came across a beautiful male lion up the road.  We pulled up alongside it and when it roared, which it did several times, you could feel the vibrations throughout your whole body.  It was terrifying, and awe inspiring.  A couple miles further, and we came upon the lion’s pride, noisily devouring an impala.   Once we turned around and headed back, we came across another elephant in the road.  It left the road once we came, but it trumpeted several times while still close to us.  That sound, like the lion’s roar, was incredibly loud, and extremely cool to hear.  The matriarch of that herd mock-charged us, and we quickly left.  When we got back, H was waiting, and we went to eat dinner.  

Friday, Day Four: This day happened to be December 17, mom’s birthday!!!  Happy Birthday Mom!!!! We got up at 4:30 this time (yay, an extra 30 minutes!!), packed our stuff, and headed out of the Kruger.  It was hard to say good bye to such a peaceful, beautiful place.  But the day’s excitements had just begun.  On the way back, we had a couple stops planned to see some of South Africa’s beautiful sites.  The first stop was at an absolutely breathtaking waterfall, called Lisbon Falls.  The second stop was at a place called the Three Rendevals.  Neither of these places could possibly be described with words, and even pictures won’t do them justice, but hey, we tried.  They were absolutely breathtaking.  We got back to the hotel after hours and hours of driving, at around 4 pm and rested for the remainder of the day.

Saturday, Day Five: We got to sleep in on this day, until an incredible 8 o’clock, and left at 9 to go to South Africa’s Apartheid Museum.  The Apartheid Museum is filled with everything to do with the apartheid in South Africa, which started in 1948 and ended in 1994.  It showed videos, pictures, and had lots of information about what apartheid involved, how it began, and how it ended.  After the museum, we went to the Gold Reef City, an amusement park literally next door to the museum.  We went on some rides, which is always fun, but the main attraction for us there was the gold mine that the park was built over.  We got to take a tour down into the mine and saw and learned about the lives of miners in the mines, and how the mine worked.  It was fascinating to actually be in the mine, where it was dark and damp, with rock and dirt all around.  At about 5:30 we headed back, and stopped off at a restaurant to belatedly celebrate mom’s birthday.

Sunday, Day 6: This was supposed to be a ‘relax at the hotel’ day, and it turned out to be just that for Mom and Oma.  The huge storm that rolled around in the late afternoon was unexpected, but they were still able to rest after the business of the days before.  For Noah and me however, it was a fun-filled day that also turned out to be the kind of fun that’s restful.  We went over to Noah’s best friend’s house, a good friend of mine too, and hung out there for the day.  We swam in a pool that was close to his house, I watched him and Noah jam on the guitar and failed miserably when they gave the guitar to me to try, we went on their boat out onto the dam they live next to, went knee boarding, and watched him go wakeboarding and bruise his ribs after falling.  All in all, a very fun day, and Noah and I went back to the hotel happy and sunburned in the evening.

Monday, Day Seven: Our last day in South Africa.  We spent this day at the mall, doing some shopping for goodies that are difficult to come across in Ghana.  We left for the airport around 1:30, ate KFC after checking in, and got on the plane around 4:45.  After a 5 and a half our plane flight, we arrived safely back in Ghana, luggage in tow and happy to be home.

These were the first animals we saw upon entering Kruger park.  They are Impala, which are plentiful withing the park and fall prey to many of the animals within the park.  They are part of the antelope family and are very beautiful and graceful.
This was one of our more exciting sightings, a rare black rhinoceros.  White rhinos are more common.  Even H, our guide, had never seen one before at Kruger.  (Hannah spotted it - good eye, Hannah!)
One of our first sightings of zebra, with the added bonus of seeing a giraffe as well!  Both are calm animals, and as you can see, get along pretty well.
A troop of baboons, hanging out by the side of the road.  they babies were so funny as they tried to play on the rail and kept falling off!
Just a boring ol' picture of us, in the open jeep where we spent most of the safari.
At mom's startled cry of "Ohh!", this Kudu took off running, but not before we got a glimpse of him and his massive horns.
A huge heard of buffalo crossing the road.  And I mean, it was huge - hundreds of buffalo.  Very cool to watch.
Our first elephant sighting!!! It was a small herd of only 3, and they were a distance away, but still very exciting.
This was the elephant that mock-charged us first.  It was so close, absolutely terrifying and awesome at the same time.
This shot is of the elephant starting to charge the vehicle.  Thankfully, we got away with no injury to ourselves or the jeep.
This lovely little cackle of hyenas (yes, a group of hyenas is really called a cackle.  Guess what a group of zebras is called?  A Dazzle.  Guess what a group of giraffes is called?  A tower of giraffes.  Cool huh?) was relaxing by the side of the road just waiting for their picture to be taken.

This is the lion that we saw on the evening safari.  It was an awe-inspiring thing to hear it roar.  [Video of this is below.  If you carefully at the end, you will see Hannah in the rear-view mirror, looking awed!]

The bungalows where we stayed.
These are the guys who helped us with the tour in Kruger.  On the right is Jonathan who cooked some delicious meals; in the middle is Hilke (or "H"), our awesom tour guide, and on the left is a guy from Australia who hung ouut with us on our 2nd night in Kruger.
This is the beautiful Lisbon Falls.  The picture does not do real justice to its beauty.  Surrounded by mountains, and beautiful green fields, it is in the mountains of South Africa.
A picture of the Three Rondavels.  It was dizzyingly high, but absolutely breathtaking.  There just aren't words for the beauty of this area.  BTW, if you have ever watched the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, this is where the bushman throws the coke bottle off the edge of the earth.  Often clouds will fill this place.

Us in front of the Three Rondavels.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trip to Southern Africa, Part 2: Zambia and Malawi

Last week, I shared a little about work being done in Swaziland and Mozambique.  This week I'll share a bit about South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi.

In South Africa, one of our partnerships are working to create sustainable businesses for those with HIV/AIDs.  Here we sit to discuss the different co-ops that they are developing.  One that holds a lot of potential is through a contract with the government to place small theaters in 1200 parks, with 21 jobs in each one, creating over 25,000 new jobs, and creating a healthy place for youth to hang out.

From here, we flew to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and spent some time meeting with some partners before driving to Chipata.  Zambia appears to be a beautiful county with lots of green and rolling hills, and lots of space.  Our primary partnerships in both Zambia and Malawi are for programs called "Farmer to Farmer", in conjunction with CRWRC (the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee) and the Food Resource Bank.  These programs currently focus primarily on food security, and the goal of Partners Worldwide is to move these farmers from food security to agri-business, producing enough to sell, to make a profit, and to develop a value chain that will bring the goods to the next level of processing and exporting.
Set in front of this beautiful vista is a small village.  Zambia is slightly larger than Texas, with a population of 13 million.

Again, I'm not sure if you can see it, but another village set in the quiet, peaceful, and beautiful countryside.  The kind of place where I'd like to hang my hat for a while.
A beautiful suspension bridge (in need of some repair but nevertheless) in the countryside of Zambia.
I was happily surprised to see a number of these community faucets with meters in Chipata.
As we enter Malawi, you see a pretty dramatic change in the landscape.  It is suddenly browner, which you come to realize is not because it is so much dryer (the countries are right next to each other) but because so much of the land in Malawi is being used for farming.  Malawi is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania and the population here is over 15 million.  90% of the labor force are engaged in agriculture.
Everywhere you looked, people had houses surrounded by crops.  Since we were entering the rainy season, many people were working in their fields preparing for the rains.

Here is a brief video of the road side in Malawi.
Pictures just don't capture it.  
(You might want to hit "mute" as there is no sound other than the rumbling of the car:-). 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reed 2010 Year End Letter

To read the Reed Family Year End letter for 2010, please click here and select "Download".

Monday, December 6, 2010

Southern Africa Road Trip

The past week has been whirlwind of travel through five different countries in seven days.  Since most of it was done by road, we saw a lot of land, had a lot of good conversations in the car, had meetings in each country with our partners, and then moved on.  Not a tourist trip at all – no time to shop or even buy phone cards in each country for my phone so that I could contact Hannah and Noah.  But the trip went well, Hannah and Noah did okay, and we thank God.

My blog this week and probably next week will be a series of pictures from what I saw – most of the time taken from the car window, either at high speed or through a dirty window, so the pictures might not always be the best quality!  I’ll start with where we started – in South Africa.
South Africa – a country of contrasts – at times it is like driving through the US or Canada.  Big beautiful farms (I’m told 99% are still owned by white South Africans); note the sprinklers in the background; modern cities; huge malls.  And at times, you are reminded of the huge pockets of poverty and the high prevalence of HIV/AIDs.  What struck me in South Africa is that the end of apartheid is still quite recent.  As I think about the racial reconciliation work that is still being done in the US, fifty years after the civil rights movement, the end of apartheid was just fifteen years ago.  There still is such a long road ahead for recovery, trust, and health.  We had some very frank discussions with Black South Africans and Zimbabweans about this.

Entering the Kingdom of Swaziland, a beautiful country made up of mostly mountains and hills, with a population of 1.3 million people.
Swaziland has the last world’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III.  It is slightly smaller than New Jersey, and is landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique.  It has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDs with 26.1% of the population infected - that's one in every four persons.
 Africa Works, a partner with Partners Worldwide, is developing poultry farms in Swaziland for those who are caring for orphans in their homes.  The hope is to grow these businesses to the point where another business can be brought in to begin processing these broilers and export to neighboring countries.  The poultry farms are there in the distance.

Tinashe Chitambira, the Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide in Southern Africa, insisted on proving that I was in Swaziland and took my picture at the chicken houses.
Maputo, Mozambique – the capital of Mozambique.  Most of the labor force is involved in agriculture in Mozambique, with a 21% unemployment rate and 70% living below the poverty line. Africa Works is working with farmers to move families from subsistence farming to small scale commercial farming.
Mozambique became independent from Portugal in 1975, after 500 years of colonization.  A prolonged civil war impacted development until the mid-1990s, but since then has been doing well.  Africa Works also is doing great work here – that will be a separate blog about this dynamic organization and staff.
 Here is an irrigation pump that Africa Works put in with about 100 farmers who are doing flood irrigation.  This pump helped to increase their yield by about four-fold.
My first view of the Indian Ocean.
Proof that I was there – with me, Lou Haveman and Ken Van Guilst  The Indian Ocean is normally very blue but there had just been a significant rain storm and so the wind was heavy and the water flowing into the ocean from the nearby river, turned the water brown.

 The surreal juxtaposition of life happened yet again, as we watched a cruise ship from Greece glide by while in Maputo, Mozambique.

Here are some of the staff of Africa Works, each with their own unique story of how God has called them, carried them, blessed them, and challenged them.  On the left is Claudein, the Managing Director of Africa Works Mozambique; in the middle is Sam Grottis, the founder and President of Africa Works Africa; and on the right is Cladio, the veterinarian working for the poultry farms for Africa Works.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the road again...

Lou Haveman
Tinashe Chitambira and family
On Saturday, November 27, I leave for a nine day trip to Southern Africa with my former colleague, Lou Haveman, and my new colleague, Tinashe Chitambira.  During this time we will be visiting our partners in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and will spend some time in Swaziland as well.  A number of North American guests and partners will be traveling with us for portions of this trip, to learn more about the work that we do and to visit partners with whom they are already connected.  The main purpose of this trip is the transitioning of partnerships from Lou, as Southern Africa Regional Facilitator, to Tinashe.  My role is to support Tinashe in his new position, as he is new to Partners Worldwide.  I look forward to spending time with Lou, who has been such a support to me in this work, and I also look forward to getting to know Tinashe, working towards building a strong Africa team.  I'm excited that we now have two Africans as regional facilitators:  Tinashe for Southern Africa and Martin Mutuku for East Africa.  I'm hoping that one day my position will be turned over to a West African as well.

My path for the next nine days.
I'm rather ambivalent about this whole trip.  Bob always wanted to live in Southern Africa and wanted to visit there with me.  Now I go alone.  The couple who stayed with Hannah and Noah the last time are not able to stay this time, so essentially I am leaving them alone.  I haven't been taking care of myself and am pretty exhausted.  I question the wisdom of taking on additional responsibilities in this year especially.  So I am fighting a lot of guilt over going.  But after spending significant time in prayer about this, along with my prayer partners, I am going in faith that God will meet me there and continue to be with the kids at the same time.

I would ask that you join us in prayer for a few things:
  1. Safety, security, comfort and peace for Hannah and Noah while I'm gone.
  2. Wisdom, clarity, safety and security for myself and the team as we travel and plan for the future of these partnerships.
  3. Relationship building between team members and staff, as we learn about each other, our passions, experiences, and gifts, appreciating how God has gifted us in unique and wonderful ways.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Bob carving the turkey in 1993.
This week Thursday is American Thanksgiving.  This was Bob's favorite holiday.  Our most fond Thanksgiving memories were spending them with Dan and Beth Wilcox (Dan was Bob's best friend and spoke at the Memorial Service).  Bob loved trying new stuffing recipes - one of his favorites was stuffing with apples and dried cherries - but of course nothing could beat his mom's stuffing.  Each Thanksgiving was truly a feast.

Last week Tuesday was a Muslim holiday in Ghana, called "Eid-ul-Adha" or Sacrifice Feast, a day in which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as an act of obedience to God before God intervened and provided a ram instead.  [No, I didn't make a mistake - you read it right.  Muslims believe that Abraham was called to sacrifice his eldest child, Ishmael, not Isaac.]  On this Feast day, Muslim families slaughter an animal (depending on income level, it could be a cow, goat, sheep, pig), keep one third for their family, give one third to friends or neighbors, and give another third to the poor.

In my devotions last week, I spent some time in Isaiah 1: 13-20, where the Lord says,
"Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me.  New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations - I cannot bear your assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.  Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."
I'm not trying to be a party pooper.  But I do wonder what God's attitude is this week as we approach Thanksgiving.  Is it a burden for Him?  Is He weary of it and looking forward for it to pass?

I am convicted that an attitude of thanksgiving, generosity, and justice is something that needs to permeate my entire life, not one day prescribed by a calendar.  I need to look at my own hands to see the blood.  The text goes on to talk about our rulers being rebels, loving bribes, chasing after gifts. I realize that the blood on their hands is mine to share as well.  One of Bob's favorite quotes from Martin Luther King was "all that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men to do nothing."

This, of course, leads me to what I am ultimately thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Mercy.  The sacrifice God made through His Son, Jesus.  To begin each day anew, with the hope of doing better.  With the knowledge that when I screw up (not if), I can be forgiven and try again the next day.

But this Thanksgiving, I'm also very thankful for all of you.  I experienced the hands and feet of Christ through His body, the church, in so many ways this past year.  Your prayers, your emails, your comments on the blog...each one was an encouragement, reminding me that I'm not alone.  And I would be remiss if I didn't thank those of you who continue to give financially to support us in our work.  We absolutely couldn't be here without you.  Through you, we have food on our table, water in our cups; because of your partnership with our work, others have food on their table and water in their cups.  We pray that together, we can continue to "seek justice, encourage the oppressed."

May God bless you this Thanksgiving.

Here are some pictures of my beautiful children, for whom I am also very thankful!
Noah is learning bass guitar and is practicing every day.  Hannah is his first groupie:-).
Hannah getting ready to play her first soccer game of the year.  Doesn't she look great?
The game - if you pick up on the fact that it looks hot, let me assure you it was.  Playing from 11 am - 1 pm in 95 F heat was not easy. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Village Savings and Loans

In a book titled, Portfolios of the Poor, How the World's Poor live on $2 a day, the authors make some startling observations.  Of the 40% of humanity (2.5 billion people, of whom 1.1 billion live on $1/day) who survive on this amount, two realizations changed their perspective on world poverty.  First, money management for the poor is a fundamental and well-understood part of everyday life.  [I imagine that the poor have much to teach the wealthy about money management and budgeting - actually, I don't have to imagine it.  I've seen it - both in Africa and in Grand Rapids.] The second realization was that most households in this category rarely consume every penny of income as soon as it is earned - they manage their money by saving when they can and borrowing when they need to.  [The US has been at a negative savings rate - with Americans spending more than they earn - for some time, until just recently with the economic crisis.  Then suddenly people are able to save.  Very interesting dynamic.]

A major frustration among this group of people in poverty is the poor quality or low reliability of the instruments that they use to manage their meager incomes - for both savings and loans. In West Africa, it is very difficult for the poor to get loans, not to mention micro businesses, and even SMEs.  Bank interest rates in Ghana vary from 37-43%; the average in microfinance institutions is 50-60%; the more informal way of saving, often called a susu, has interest rates up to 120%.  Not to mention that if you save with a susu, you normally have to pay the susu man, so you are paying to save instead of being paid to save (as with typical savings accounts in banks).  And it's not unusual for the susu man to run away with the money, leaving you with nothing.

A VSL group in Dodowa
Another VSL group in Akropong
Hopeline Institute, the partner with whom we work in Ghana, has a program that addresses this dilemma very well.  It is called "Village Savings and Loans" (VSL) and they are currently using this methodology in 94 villages.  Each village has a group of 25 persons who have organized themselves, appointed executives, adopted a constitution, all for the purpose of saving and loaning to themselves.  The money goes into a box, held in the box keeper's home, with three different padlocks on it, and each key is held by three other members of the group.  The group saves by buying shares - they decide among themselves how much a share can cost (usually around 25 cents to $1) and each person can only buy 5 shares per week; these shares are marked through stamps in a book.  Once this has gone on for several weeks, people can begin taking loans at an interest rate decided by the group (usually 10%), at no more than three times their savings.  VSL groups are designed to last for nine months and then the share out happens, where everyone cashes out their shares and the interest paid (as well as fines) is divided among group members.   So you can imagine if the share is $0.50 and every person buys five each week for 36 weeks, that is $2250, a good amount for loans.  Additionally, each group charges a social fund fee, usually around $0.20 each week, which goes for sickness, death, or other things that may happen to a group member during the nine months.  While the buying of shares is optional, the social fund is not.  I was quite surprised that most groups still had most of their social fund money by share out time (around $180 US) and they use it for celebration at the end of their work together.

Last week, we also had our second batch graduation of the Small and Medium Enterprise(SME) class with Hopeline.  As a reminder, a person might start working with Hopeline through a VSL group, then move to a micro-finance solidarity group, where a little business training is given and the loans are a little larger than with the VSL.  Then a business owner might move to the SME training, where they receive more in-depth training about running a business and develop a business plan for their business.

Mariama Issah is part of a VSL in Abokobi.  She owns a provision shop and graduated last week from our SME class.  The women in her VSL group is so proud of her that she went through this class.  She stated at the graduation that she is not very educated and didn't think that she could do it but is very proud that she did and she's thankful that she now has a white friend!
Rev. Philip Tutu, national leader of the Global Leadership training for Willow Creek, commissioned all SME graduates as marketplace ministers.  This was a powerful time where business owners committed themselves and their businesses to God, to serve as ministers in the market, working to restore it as Jesus redeemed it.
This precious woman wept throughout her entire statement at the graduation as she shared how she was ready to quit her business and took this class out of desperation.  Through this class, she has felt God's call on her to view her business as a ministry.  She shared the joy in discovering that the work she does can have value in God's eyes and that she has worth as well.  She vowed to view God as the owner and her as the manager.  Praise God!
The second SME class for Hopeline Institute.