Monthly Archives: February 2014

Wilson and the willing women

There was an energy and life in the room. Everyone dressed in their brightest and finest of colors and patterns.  A sense of eagerness and anticipation filled the air…

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The only man pictured in the photo above is Wilson. On a monthly basis he meets with the leaders of about 25 self-help groups, which in total add up to about 345 women, all of whom come from dire situations of poverty in the Tamil Nadu region of India. Each of these groups of 12 – 15 women come together on a regular basis to encourage one another in the running of their own businesses and each take part in a collective micro-loan which allows them to get the business off the ground. Wilson provides coaching and training for the leaders and can act as a sounding board for wisdom with challenges that arise along the way. The women love to meet together…

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These self-help groups have an incredible success rate. Women are able to start supporting themselves and their families, pay back the loans they’ve taken out, and from the collective fund begin hiring and supporting other women in need!

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The women involved in these groups have started many different kinds of businesses – becoming seamstresses, embroiderers, organic vegetable farmers, and even leather-crafters. Business for Orphans has also provided job opportunities through our jewelry business called Dignata. We provide the designs, supplies, and training for the women. Through the jewelry that is made and sold we are able to provide salaries for the women to be self-supported. IMG_5659 copyIMG_5531 copy

It was such a beautiful experience to be able to join with Wilson in visiting the women’s group leaders, as well as provide skill training for new trainees and new designs for those who have already been employed in the work over the last few years. They were so attentive to James’ directives and many new women (more than we had anticipated) were eager to learn the skills. People often think that people living in poverty are lazy…but the thing is, they are just waiting for opportunities to work – to get their hands busy; They are longing to see the fruit of their own work. Poverty goes much much deeper – many find themselves caught in a system of brokenness that has been at work long before these women were even born…

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings”

- When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

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The concept of these self help groups is an incredibly dignifying and holistic way of addressing the issue of poverty. The women are not given handouts which might help in the moment but are quickly dried up and not solving the underlying problems. Instead they are empowered to work and provide for themselves through skill training, loans, as well as the emotional and social support and encouragement of their fellow group members. There is something powerful that happens when the group takes ownership, not only for their own lives, but for the well being of all the women involved.

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Although we are nowhere near solving the issue of poverty -  BFO is taking steps to bring more peace and shalom. How we love seeing smiles such as these: smiles are signs of joy, dignity and wholeness being restored!

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Do not despise small beginnings…

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In the last couple days we’ve held two brainstorming sessions with Freddy – the director of Life Springs water business… There’s something refreshing about seeing each other in real-life conversations after 6 months of only connecting via Skype. Encouragement is all the sweeter and challenge goes all the deeper.

Freddy is new to managing a business – and has faced challenges like any new business owner in the last half a year. But he has the vision to see greater things. His dream is to see his children’s home Rescue and Restore fully funded through Life Springs. There may very well come a day when international relations are strained to the point that foreign funding and gifts no longer possible to send or receive. Or what happens to the kids when the funding drys up? Freddy wants a more local and reliable way to see this home sustained.

In order to see this business thrive – transportation costs need to cut in half in order to deliver the water to customers. We’re still hoping to provide a small used truck for him, but the funding hasn’t come in – However, we haven’t lost hope and believe there is a way before we leave India.

Giving to businesses like Freddy’s is like making a mustard seed investment. A mustard seed is so small – it doesn’t seem to be of any significance or impact. But that investment “… is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” That seed is not something that returns empty: It grows into something much greater than it’s small beginning – even becoming a place of rest and refuge for others.

We believe that investing in this business now will have a much greater return in the future. We may not see the return immediately – but in time it becomes something beyond what we could’ve imagined. We won’t despise these small beginnings…

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What is the Answer to Begging?

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We spent this morning visiting one of the areas hit by the devastating Tsunami of 2004 - Marina Beach where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Ten years have passed, but the weight of the tragedy still seems to hang in the air. We took a moment to pause: reflecting on what happened and praying for those still impacted to this day. As we stood there, people began to gather around us…

We were like magnets for beggars. It started with a man with one leg, he made his way to us on the sand, walking with crutches. We prayed for him and gave him enough money for a good meal. Then the children came, along with their little monkeys drawn on a leash.  The only English word that seemed to come from their mouth was ‘Money! Money! Money!’ and then they would point to their hands to their mouths as though needing something to eat. Rather then giving children cash,  we found some food to buy instead (as they persisted in following us across the beach). Yet they refused and didn’t want to take it… The thing is, these children are just puppets for someone else. They beg and beg in order to give the money to whomever has control over them. Giving them some small change doesn’t help the issue, but feeds into the cycle of begging all the more.

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It was heart wrenching to come face-to-face with these children: seeing the reality of their lives – living and begging off the streets. It’s even more difficult to walk away from them, leaving them still empty handed and feeling powerless to do anything.

But then I realized something – that’s exactly what we’re doing with Business for Orphans. The reality of these children’s situation is complex and cannot be fixed with simply giving them what they’re being forced to ask for. It requires much more investment, time, and wisdom to solve these complex societal problems…

Late this afternoon we visited the children’s home Rescue and Restore. Some of the children who’ve been rescued were actually survivors of the Tsunami. They too could have been left for begging on the beaches, but Freddy and Daisy were courageous enough to intervene and provide the care and investment that they needed.

IMG_5318 copyWe’re incredibly honored to be a partner in supporting the work of Rescue and Restore - a children’s home which we aim to see financially sustained through the water business. Seeing these kids thriving and healthy in their loving home environment brought so much hope after this morning, where we had been left overwhelmed by the need.

While we may have left some children on the beach today, Rescue and Restore has interrupted the cycle and made a difference in the lives of these children. It’s reminiscent of  story, which is told time and again. It’s the story of a boy who walked along a beach throwing starfish (which had washed up to shore after a storm) back into the ocean. An old man came by and told the boy “…there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” And the boy replied while throwing another as far as he could out into the ocean:

“It made a difference to that one!”

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We’re heading back to India

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In just 3 days the Business for Orphans team is flying to Mumbai, along with two others who are joining with us for their first look at the work of BFO.

We’re incredibly excited to return to this country – A land of great contrasts and contradictions: the delight of tasting authentic curries and the disgust of pungent smells of sewer water; to hear the distinct voices singing along with the rhythmic beats on the radio and the loud smattering of beeping horns in traffic; to encounter the weight of the poor and broken on the streets and the wonder of the lovely smiles of the people. It is an experience of color, chaos, and extremes…

Speaking of contrasts: Mumbai, the capital of India, has been ranked sixth among top ten global cities on the billionaire count, and seventh in the list of “Top Ten Cities for Billionaires” by Forbes magazine (March 2013) Mumbai is the third most expensive office market in the world, and was ranked among the fastest cities in the country for business startups in 2009. And yet, widespread poverty and unemployment are rampant in Mumbai with Dharavi, Asia’s second largest slum, housing between 800,000 to one million people in 2.39 square kilometers (0.92 sq mi), making it one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

These slum areas are full of children who often have little or no hope of an education, plagued with disease, and are often forced to work in order to survive. Many of the children living in the homes connected to BFO have come from slum areas of Pune and Chennai, but also from Mumbai.

And these children are the true reason why we are returning to India. We’re heading back to visit the businesses which we’ve invested in to provide more long-term funding for the children’s homes, so that more kids can be rescued from the slums and off the streets.

We’d love for you to join along with us on our journey- we will be posting daily to our blog and twitter account with pictures and thoughts of our encounters along the way. Be sure to check back regularly!