Faith Garlington, KF15
GHAPE (Grounded and Holistic Approach for People’s Empowerment)
At GHAPE (Grounded and Holistic Approach for People’s Empowerment) in Cameroon, new borrower centers are established only in areas identified as mostly poor. Individual borrowers are also screened using a tool called the Basic Needs Test to determine whether they qualify as potential GHAPE borrowers – very poor based on a variety of measurable factors. Recently I had the opportunity to accompany GHAPE’s Chief of Administration and Finance and the Assistant Field Manager to conduct a Basic Needs Test for a new borrower center in Bafut, outside Bamenda. The Basic Needs Test is a survey developed by GHAPE staff to first assess the overall poverty level of an area and then to screen potential borrowers to learn their economic status. GHAPE administers micro-loans, beginning as small as $10, to the poorest of the poor. In order to assess whether new clients qualify as very poor, GHAPE visits their home and asks detailed questions. The questions focus on 5 main areas: food consumption (number and quality of meals per day), clothes, cleanliness, house structure, and health. type of toilet, number of school age children in school, and whether or not children under age 6 receive milk every day.
We arrived by motorcycle for the information session meeting. The group of 40 has begun meeting and the Center Treasurer collects savings from each member. However, GHAPE will not disburse loans or collect savings until the groups and Center have been formalized, after the free mandatory 2-day training. The meeting served as a forum for the potential members to ask questions of GHAPE staff to expand on what they had learned from the neighboring Center that was established 2 years ago. I was impressed by how much the group already knew about the GHAPE program, and their questions also matched many of the common questions that are asked of the Microfinance Sector as a whole. What happens if a borrower dies? [The loan is forgiven.] Does GHAPE collect from the borrower’s family? [Never. If a borrower is delinquent or defaults, the Solidarity Group and the Center are responsible.]
After the informational meeting, we visited several households and interviewed half of the potential borrowers. Initially, I was surprised at how many houses had concrete walls and metal roofs and thought maybe these families would not qualify. Then I noticed that none of the homes had electricity, and all of them have to walk at least 10 km to a stream for water that has to be boiled before drinking. Furthermore, despite many of them eating 2-3 meals per day, the meals are primarily carbohydrates. Not one interviewee mentioned a protein source (fish, meat, beans, or even eggs) when listing their typical diet. In addition, almost all of the latrines were constructed with sticks and haphazardly covered.
Thanks again to my handy “white man’s toy” – my friend the pedometer – that goes everywhere with me, I can report that we walked a total of 4.8 miles around the village of Bafut. I am reminded once again how strong Cameroonians are because the walking that tires me so quickly, especially with the sun beating down, the slippery, muddy rocks, and the endless hills – it’s just part of their day to day lives. Ashia. It’s a Cameroon Pidgin word of encouragement or sympathy. I heard it again and again as they encouraged me and demonstrated great patience.
Faith Garlington is a Kiva Fellow volunteering with GHAPE (Grounded and Holistic Approach to People’s Empowerment) in Bamenda, Cameroon. To learn more about GHAPE, visit the Partner page at Kiva or the GHAPE website. Get involved by lending or joining Team GHAPE!