Category Archives: Beating poverty

Two Steps Forward … One Step Back

The nature of micro finance is that each borrower is fragile. They often lack the financial stability to change their circumstances for the better. The aim of micro borrowing is establish the additional help to make a change. The amounts are deliberately small so that individuals and fragile small families can introduce a transformation that will generate a better financial, social, or health outcome.
In the context of creating upwards change, the use of micro-loans seems well placed, sufficiently gentle, and effectively attainable. However, sometimes there are bigger forces at play. Acts and fluctuations that can emerge that are beyond the control of anyone, let alone those who survive close to the poverty line.
In Indonesia the poorest of folk can often demonstrate their resolve and their tenacity in the face of overwhelming difficulties. In May 2016, one of Malang’s best known market places suffered a large fire. Known as the Pasar Besar, this market was a ‘must see’ market for both locals and visitors to the city of Malang. It included an enormous range of pop up stalls, food and drink, goods for sale, and services aimed at the repair and mending all manner of items. The impact of the fire was unkind to some, and fairer to others. More than a dozen of Bamboo’s micro borrowers were affected. The fire tore through large parts of the upper levels of the multi-storey market block. Stallholders on the outside and at the fringes were spared from too much damage. Those in the inner parts were dealt the unkindness of total destruction.
For some it meant that their location in the market was gone, and that they needed to find a new place to sell their snack foods, or their drinks, or their magazines. For others, their opportunity was turned upside down. Micro-lending is commonly used to provide money to buy stock. In the case of the fire at the Pasar Besar, several Bamboo borrowers lost their entire business venture. No stall, no customers, and nothing the sell.
For those of us in developed economies, there are safety nets, payouts, insurance claims, and a range of services designed to get us back on our feet. In Indonesia, most of that protection simply does not exist. Without unemployment benefits, some small business owners are worse off than before. Without the stock or the customers to sell to, they are left with no money, little prospect, and they are stuck with a financial debt. In the business of lending, no bank ever wants to talk about writing off a debt. However, sometimes the best type of debt is the one that is forgiven. Taking risks (albeit calculated ones) means accepted the challenge of poverty alleviation. For Bamboo Micro Credit, the distinction between micro-lending and charity is an important one. Giving money to poor people is not helpful when compared to providing funds that enable a family to help themselves. An interest free loan can make all the difference to a family trying to lift itself out of subsistence. Such loans are not designed to create millionaires, but they are intended to provide opportunity in the face of greed and discrimination.
Even those businesses that start and fail are known to generate valuable experiences. The lessons learned, the knowledge gained, and the practice of endeavouring to make a change, are all useful elements in the journey to alleviating poverty. Micro-lending groups such as Bamboo Micro Credit offer small scale, interest free loans specifically to help lift people out of poverty and to make them seek out their own self-sufficiencies. It’s not always perfect, and the path to greater strength and stability is sometimes cruel and inconsistent. Two steps forward … one step back.

Photo of fire at Pasar Besar
May 2016 Fire at the Pasar Besar market in Malang East Java

Bamboo Micro Credit:
It’s not a handout … It’s a hand up

David Cook is a Director of Bamboo Micro Credit.
Pasar BesarPasar Besar

Living in the half light

If there is one thing that well-off people take for granted, it has to be the ability the see clearly. In Indonesia that visibility is challenged, overwhelmed, and mercilessly beaten.  For some the prospect of working in low levels of darkness is simply an everyday challenge.  Electricity is not well distributed in farms and villages. Many people work in their fields and paddies under the shadow of night.

There are dangers to working in low light, or half-light. There are holes to fall down, potholes in roads, and many uneven pathways and roads that have been carved into the landscape, neither flat nor firm, but instead representative of something more akin to an obstacle course.

For those in need of more income, working through the night can give the chance to earn a tiny bit more money. For some it is the means to buy food, whilst for many it just means being able to exist. In rural areas and in villages, there are few who can afford prescription glasses. It is estimated that more than a quarter of all Indonesians are in need of glasses to see clearly.

Spare a thought then for those who live in no light at all. In Indonesia there are more than 3.5 million blind people.  What opportunities are available for the blind and the acutely vision-impaired?  Orang Buta can be found everywhere. If they are lucky enough they can be helped by their family. Led by the hands of children, and allowed to sleep under a roof at night, and under shelter from the rain.

However, many blind Indonesians live alone or segregated in groups of blind people.  Families know the risk of caring for the blind. Another mouth to feed, another sick soul to care for. Where poverty is at its cruellest, one can always find the blind.  Empathy stands aside, and the blind are separated, segregated, and seen as a burden to the rest of society. Only those young blind folk from wealthy families get to attend school. The rest are often left to fend for themselves. Many do not survive.

Micro finance is often directed at the able bodied people, or at least to those with the clearer prospect of starting a small venture, and obtaining some small measure of independence and financial resilience. Microcredit often falls short of helping those in poverty but who cannot see.  The value of no-interest micro finance is that it can be channelled in any direction. It does not seek to favour the healthy, but rather it is purpose built to lift up those in need.

Some of the best micro finance programs have helped the blind in projects such as weaving, vegetable growing, and mushroom farms. For many it is the chance to use their hands and to add value to raw materials and basic produce. In Jakarta there are blind people in print shops, in Balikpapan there are blind fishermen, and in the hills of Malang there are blind people turning apples into Dodol (apple toffee). Micro finance finds opportunities in the strangest places.

Bamboo Micro Credit.

Its not a handout … it’s a hand up.

About the Author

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David Cook is an Indonesianist, a technologist and an academic interested in poverty, social justice, CSR and Human Computer Interaction. He is a Director of Bamboo Micro Credit.strangest placesstrangest places