Smiles You Can Count
A micro-credit loan program has breathed new life into the communities of rural Lebanon.
by Marilyn Raschka and Armineh Johannes
For the time being, Jean Khoury only smiles on the inside. Jeans rural upbringing included plenty of fresh air and green grass, but very little dental care. So he keeps his smiles tucked inside.
But hidden as they are, those smiles and more to come are there thanks to the Micro Enterprise Credit Program, run by CNEWAs operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission.
To fulfill its goal to assist reconstruction and revitalization of postwar rural Lebanon, CNEWAs Beirut office implemented a micro-credit program in Lebanons Shouf, Aley and Baabda regions as well as in poor or underdeveloped areas like the Akkar valley. The program, launched in 1997, aims at providing micro-enterprise loans from $1,000 to $5,000.
In addition to the loan, CNEWAs staff in Lebanon provides technical assistance to the beneficiaries. By the end of the year 2000, 99 loans totaling $462,400 had been distributed to individuals and groups working in agriculture, construction, trade, handicrafts and services in 15 villages.
Qualified applicants are defined as either residents living in the areas or those wishing to return to the area on a permanent basis.
Experienced leaders from CNEWA and Misereor, an aid organization of the German Catholic bishops active in Lebanon, spent long hours organizing a workshop for a dream team of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In addition to their own staffs, the workshop was offered to those working with the YMCA, World Vision, Caritas, Mercy Corps, UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and USAID.
The goal of the workshop was to introduce the concepts of the micro-credit program with its revolving funds concept and its inevitable challenges.
Maps were tacked to the walls to show where needs were the greatest, where needs were already met and by whom.
The bottom line was a workable list of criteria. At the top was a concern that the project could negatively affect economic activity. The planners wanted to ensure the projects would be profitable, but at the same time not alienate local business people who might view the new enterprise as competition. Another stipulation was that the projects be economically feasible and environmentally friendly.
At the end of the workshop the NGOs were smiling. They all agreed that this was doable.
Beneficiaries had to be credit worthy and willing to accept interest rates. They had to have some experience in operating a viable business or activity. The details payments and repayments, loan durations and grace periods and, of course, follow-ups were then agreed upon.
At the end, everyone was smiling from the original committee to the participating banks to the beneficiaries themselves. This program was going to be a winner.
The link between the individual recipients-to-be and the NGOs were local committees. They acted as bearers of the good tidings and posted information fliers around the villages. Municipalities offered their village halls for meetings and helped with filling out applications.
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