Emma in Zambia: Week 2

Two weeks in, nine to go. Work is going well in Zambia; creating and implementing the procedures for lendwithcare has not taken as long as anticipated. I’m really happy about this as it means most of my time will be spent monitoring the programme, and training the Officer we hire to take over from me. Long-term, these things should hopefully be really beneficial for MicroLoan Foundation and most importantly, the women they support.

During week one I visited some of our clients in Chipata. On the Tuesday morning I was given a motorbike helmet. I stood with a deadpan expression and everyone laughed as I asked them to tell my family and friends that I love them were anything to happen to me. On the back of the bike I went and once we had turned our second corner and driven over our second “speed bump” I relaxed, thighs fully clenched, into the ride. I was expecting a 20 minute journey… 60 minutes later we arrived at the client meeting! I clambered down from the bike and stumbled over to meet the Safwa group… needless to say, my thighs were a little shaky.

What a welcome to their life! The first thing I did was use the toilet – a drop hole similar to ones I used as a child in the mountains in Cyprus – and watched as if in slow motion my sunglasses unhooked themselves from my t-shirt and fell down the hole…oops! Everyone thought this was quite funny and a wonderful way to introduce myself. They were all so happy and excited to meet me, and I too with them. They laughed as I repeated their greeting to them: mulibwanji. At first I thought they were laughing at the mzungu (“white person”) trying to speak their language – apparently not! I was not meant to repeat, but instead reply nilibwinomulibwanj. How was I supposed to know!

The Loan Officer I had travelled with started the meeting; this meeting was for clients to repay some of their loans, and receive training on the importance of savings. At the end of the session, the Loan Officer translated some questions I had for the women: what impact the loans had made for them and their family; what the consensus was among the community about women becoming the breadwinners etc. I was so pleased to hear all very positive answers. These loans had clearly changed their lives and they wanted to be sure that I felt their gratitude. They even sang a song about me to which we all clapped and danced. I felt so honoured by their welcome and kept reiterating that MicroLoan, and already some lendwithcare lenders, may have given them their loans, but they were the ones working each day to ensure their businesses succeed.

My favourite group member (if it’s ok to say I had a favourite!) was the group’s Treasurer; it seemed as though her eyes could tell a thousand stories but she still looked young, and hopeful. Throughout my time with them she was smiling at me. She initiated the song they sang and kept engaging with me. She explained to me that she was generating enough profit from her business to allow her to start building a second house for her family; for her son when he grows up. Clearly the proud mother, she took me to see the work in progress and in only a short period of time the foundations had been laid, and the outer walls were being built.

More from me next week…