Lion November 2013 : Page 42

Major Changes Thanks to Microloans by Jay Copp One day a field worker from a group that helps the blind in India visited the home of Dinesh Kumar, 36, who is blind. The worker explained to Kumar’s mother about support and job training. Her son, who most days sat idly because of his disability and lack of education, could actually work and lead a decent life. The mother listened for a short time, angrily rebuked the worker and stomped off. 42 LION NOVEMBER 2013

The Power of Microfinance

Jay Copp

Major Changes Thanks to Microloans<br /> <br /> One day a field worker from a group that helps the blind in India visited the home of Dinesh Kumar, 36, who is blind. The worker explained to Kumar’s mother about support and job training. Her son, who most days sat idly because of his disability and lack of education, could actually work and lead a decent life. The mother listened for a short time, angrily rebuked the worker and stomped off.<br /> <br /> Kumar’s mother was realistic. None of her six children, except for one, even went to school. Their father toiled long hours as a laborer and earned little. The region offered no schools or programs for the blind. Kumar, blind since 16, had little self-confidence. Loving but hardened by experience, his family was convinced he was incapable of doing anything meaningful or productive.<br /> <br /> The field worker was not bothered by the mother’s harsh reaction. He was accustomed to such resistance in a society often lacking resources to help the disabled. So he met with a relative of Kumar’s mother whom she held in high regard. The worker explained to the relative how other blind people had received basic mobility and daily living skills and started their own small businesses with microloans, small, interest-free loans. The relative convinced Kumar’s mother to give it a try.<br /> <br /> After 14 weeks of training, Kumar, once morose and listless, began making his way around the village by himself with a white cane. “His siblings were awe-struck,” reported the field worker. When he began to raise poultry, sold eggs and boosted the family’s income, his mother literally believed a miracle had occurred. “She thought some special providential intervention had taken place,” said the worker.<br /> <br /> Kumar is one of 500 people who will receive mobility and vocational training and one of 250 to receive microloans thanks to Lions of India and a SightFirst grant. Lions are partnering with the All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB) to help those with vision impairments in the Kaushambi District, where 60 percent of the 1.6 million residents make less than 53 cents a day. The US$106,724 grant will support not only the training and microloans but also 50,000 eye screenings, 1,000 cataract surgeries, assistive devices for the blind, Braille books and counseling/ mentoring for blind children’s parents, who often need guidance on educational opportunities and other pathways to independence possibly available to their children.<br /> <br /> Because communications are poor or unreliable, teams of field workers and optometrists are going door to door providing eye care and identifying those in need. AICB has a solid track record in microfinance. Nearly 85 percent of the 1,266 people given microloans through AICB continue to run their microenterprises, and most are repaying their loans.<br /> <br /> The independent-living training and microloans have turned people’s lives around. Bitterness and helplessness have dissolved, and self-reliance and self-esteem have mushroomed. Among those helped by Lions are Mohammed Mobin, blind since birth. He hired a small boy to take him begging so he could support his ailing wife. He initially told the field worker not to waste “his sermons” on him. After the field worker persistently lobbied him, a relative agreed to provide food and money so Mobin could take part in the training sessions. He now runs a small shop. “He says with some pride that begging would be disgraceful for him now,” the field worker reported.<br /> <br /> Phoolkumari Pasi, a mother of five, sunk into a depression when she lost her sight at 30. A female field worker consoled and encouraged her as she cried and unburdened herself. An eye specialist treated her. She can now see two feet in front of her, and she raises pigs.<br /> <br /> Phoolmati Pasi lost her sight from a disease at the age of six. Her family sharply told the field worker that “a blind woman cannot do anything … Mind your own business.” But the worker made headway with her younger brother. Pasi now runs a small shop and gets along better with her family. “Every day she looks forward to opening her shop,” the field worker reported. “She feels that life has smiled on her again.”

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