Thursday, May 14, 2009 The Grandmothers

IMG_1894The first thought that struck us when we joined the group of twenty-one “Mamas” today was that some of them looked pretty young. Mr. Manyama explained that there were two reasons for this: In Tanzania it is not unusual for girls to marry quite young and have families, so there were indeed grandmothers who were barely middle aged. Some of the group were widows looking after their own children and some were aunts or sisters. They were the sole providers for the children they were raising and each of these “Mamas” had received a interest-free loan from the Stephen Lewis Foundation through a program administered by Kimara that allowed them to start some type of entrepreneurial enterprise and put food on the table each day. The shocking fact, for us, was that the maximum loan each Mama received could not exceed $200,000Tsh ($200USD). That small start was enough of a leg up for each of them that they were able to eat each day and some could even afford to pay the school fees for their children.
Kimara has administered two rounds of interest-free loans through the Stephen Lewis Program and saved (not too strong a word) thirty-two families. The third round of funding is coming up and they are hoping to add twenty more this time around. Beyond the micro-loans Kimara offers training in small business skills and helps the recipients go on to access money from institutions in Dar es Sallam. Since there are no property laws to speak of in Tanzania, and few people have a proper deed to a farm or a home, it is not possible for them to use these as collateral for a loan. Instead, sometimes individuals will join together and a groups of five will all co-sign for each other.
In turn each of the Mamas spoke and told us their stories. I’ll relate some of them here…
Mama Rhoda cares for nine children. School fees for two of the children are paid by Kimara. Her son has been moved to a program for exceptional children as he is very smart and her greatest hope is that someday he can attend University. Mama Rhoda cooks and sells fish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 The GrandmothersMama Flora’s husband died in 2002. Her children are in grades 5, 6, and 3. She couldn’t afford three meals a day for her children and a friend suggested that she go to talk to Mama Kiwia. With her loan money she set up a road-side stall selling food but was thrown out by the authorities because she didn’t have a permit. Mama Kiwia helped with the permit and now she runs a legal roadside stand. She knows how lucky she is that Kimara was there and, Mr. Manyama translates, “Now she can have breakfast with toast just like everyone else”.

The third grandmother started off with a prayer in Sawhili. Her husband died in 1999. When her child died she was left to look after her grandchildren (I’m not sure how many. Sometimes numbers get lost in translation.) She sells charcoal. Which she buys from the “wholesaler” in large sacks, repackages, and sells. Because of this, her grandchildren can afford bus fare to school.

Christina had three children. One survived. She takes care of her grandchildren. Christina does baking. With her Steven Lewis loan she bought a cow. And in a two for one deal, the cow calved not long after! From her cow she is able to collect 18 liters of milk each day, of which she sells 15. A liter of milk costs $1,000Tsh (~$1USD) , so she makes approximately $15/day. She obviously is doing very well on this relative scale. She now has twenty ducks that she raises to sell and has bought a bull. She is paying back her loan (yes, they all pay back these loans!) from milk profits.

Rosemarie was married in 1990. Two and a half years later her husband died leaving her and two children. She had no means of feeding her children. She did any casual labor she could find to buy food and she tried to keep her children in school. One day when she came back from work one of her children (Violet) was missing. It turned out she had gone to see Mama Kiwia who she heard help families like theirs. Mama Kiwia met with the child and told her to have her mother come to speak with her. Kimara paid for the school fees and, when the Stephen Lewis money came, Rose Marie got a grant to set up a business selling second-hand clothing.

Several other Mamas told us their stories. They also told us to “bring back the message to Canadians that the Mamas have ideas. They are not empty-minded”. They blessed us just because we were Canadian and stressed again and again that the Stephen Lewis Foundation saved them and their families. When they were told that Ashley had been the person who suggested the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grant to Kimara, I’m sure they would have canonized her for sainthood, there and then, if they could have.
Later the grandmothers sang and danced. The first song was about Kimara and the Stephen Lewis Foundation and people helping people and lifting each other up. Nikki videotaped it and we promised that the Foundation would get a copy when we returned to Canada.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 The Grandmothers

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