Mali trip in 2006
Trip report on a grass roots impact study of a micro-credit project for rural women’s associations in Mali
Invited by its Malian NGO partner Promethée to study the impact of this very hopeful project, the WWSF delegated one of its volunteers, Pierre Pradervand, to meet grass roots women's associations in the Mopti area (Eastern Mali, which includes the renowned Dogon area). Pierre has extended knowledge of this particular region, having travelled there 20 years ago to prepare his book Listening to Africa (Praeger, 1989), and having worked there with grass roots peasant organisations in the eighties and nineties. His report follows.
My contacts were essentially with women's grass roots village associations one finds all over the Sahel. The ones I met all work in partnership with Prométhée, a unique African NGO, working with over 12'000 poor rural women in one of the poorest countries of the world (in Mali, 75% of the population has an income of one dollar per day). They comprise anything between 25 and 100 members (sometimes even more). All have names which stress the importance of solidarity, the key to survival in rural areas: Bankadi (Getting on together is good), Hola- Goto (One word only), Sobaye (Let us stay united).
In the Dogon village of Ambilé, we (the Prométhée people and I) received the most incredible welcome: the women danced literally the whole night to celebrate our arrival. (Prométhée has made it a matter of policy to work with some of the most remote, isolated villages in the region, those where other NGOs – not to mention the government – never ever set foot. We took ages to reach Ambilé, crawling at 4km per hour over large slates of rock). The only literate person of the 600 or so inhabitants is the traditional midwife trained by Prométhée. The whole village, being built on rock, does not even have toilets or a well – its inhabitants do not have the money needed to purchase dynamite to build them.
The women's associations who receive the credit for sheep have to pay a 20 % interest rate – 10 % is reinvested in their own projects, and 10 % goes to Prométhée (that invests it entirely in new micro-credits. The NGO pays its operating costs from other sources.) Initially the loans were given without interest, but this system did not work at all, and in the village of Waïfirdé, which in 2003 received an interest free-loan, not yet reimbursed, the women themselves told me they wanted to start paying interest in a fixed time span (which is usually six months). In all the villages I visited which are on a loan with interest system, reimbursement rates reached 100 per cent (on time!), despite the fact that the village associations have decided that a woman has to reimburse her loan even if her sheep dies or is stolen. Women make it a point of honor to reimburse their loans on time, and there is an amazing solidarity between them.
The purchasing price for one sheep is around €35-50, very rarely less, and can reach € 65-70 for a really good lamb. After 6-12 months of fattening, women can sell their sheep with profits easily reaching 100 %, if not more. This explains the immense request for micro-credit loans: most villages told me they could easily absorb 3-6 times the funds they had received. (Prométhée works with 130 women village associations).
A fascinating dimension of this project is the very positive impact it is having on man-woman relations. With a purse that is heavier than that of their husbands, women can put pressure on their spouses – and they do! In the village of Goura-Bozo, the husbands of Hawa Kampo, Aïssata Lembé and a third women remarried the women they had formerly divorced because they were so well off! Women are beaten less often, and some woman no longer feed their husbands if they « go around » at night time (i.e. chase other women). But above all, « the sheep become a break on polygamy » Tata Traoré of the village of Kalassirou tells me, because the wife will no longer accept that another woman « eats up » the family income. « Since women have more money, there is only peace between the women and the men » claims Tiko Tamboura of the same village. I have never read about this dimension of micro-credit schemes in any report on this practice. Possibly this is the kind of information one only discovers when one is accompanied by a partner such as Prométhée which is totally accepted by the local population, as the extremely cordial welcome we received everywhere demonstrated.
Tobacco and poverty
Tobacco is extracting an unacceptably heavy toll from the poorest of the poor. It is very literally taking the food out of the mouths of children and putting poison into that of their smoking fathers. In the village of Saré Bambara, I noticed a young man in his twenties who only smoked 4 cigarettes per day. I rapidly calculated what he spent on tobacco in a year, took the equivalent out of my purse, and gave him some matches, asking him to burn the money! He looked shocked and evidently refused. I then told him that in a year he « burned » enough money to purchase a good quality sheep. He there and then swore in front of the villagers to stop smoking. Twenty years ago, I played the same scenario all over Africa – with occasionally some amazing results. And of course in most of Africa there are none of the health warnings that exist in the West, cigarettes are often more dangerous, and the financial toll simply shocking.
I would like to conclude by expressing my unlimited respect and admiration to the extraordinarily courageous and determined women who face with the most amazing resiliency one of the most challenging situations of the planet in terms of environmental degradation – and still manage to keep such a sense of joy and celebration. Winston Churchill once said « If you are going through hell, keep going ». They are doing that every day – and they not only keep going, they laugh with you with an incredible sparkle in their eyes.
Thank you, African sisters, for being the salt of the earth – and of the continent.
You Have Reached Depths Of Hardship
And Still You Continue On With Life
You Have Given Life To Others, And Humbly You Love
You Have Heard Others Call Your Name In Vain, And Still You Know What You Know
Courageous Woman, You Walk With The Eyes Of A Soul Seer
Courageous Woman In The Desert, Mountains, Or In The City With Luxury Abound
Go On With Integrity, Walk On With Grace
You Courageous Woman You, Make This World A Better Place
Courageous Woman Seen Or Unseen
We Thank You, We Honor You,
May Your Soul Filled Courageous Heart, Receive Our Love.
Poem with permission - © Copyright Joana Ukali 2006