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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections on helping

I find myself back from Malawi and yet my heart is still very much there. I have been thinking through a few things and am hoping to jot down a few last thoughts before closing out my blog.  The processing that takes place after spending a year oversees is more than I had imagined.  I am working to give myself time and grace and to be ok with the tears that so often take me by surprise. 

As I drove through Seattle, I noticed the homeless standing with their signs.  This made me think of the many people who are in need in Malawi.  I struggled with the desire to help while in Malawi, but more so than just fulfilling a temporary need.  I could’ve handed out money each and every day and I do believe this is helping as it provides food for those who are hungry, but I felt a desire to be invested in people’s lives. 

As I thought through this, I realized there were people who I had come to know well who were in need.  I didn’t quite know how to ask about helping and so I waited, thinking through the best way to approach this.  I was thrilled when one day one of the cleaners at the academy asked to meet with me.  She shared her dream of starting her own business.  As she talked, I could tell she had spent years thinking through this and she came to me well prepared with the details.  She wanted to make freezies, which are similar to Otter Pops or other frozen snacks.  These are very popular due to the heat in Malawi.  She knew how much everything would cost and she factored in the profits.  She also had a plan of starting small and selling within her village and then branching out and expanding as she made money.  Her plan sounded manageable, but could not happen without a refrigerator.  She came to me asking for a loan.  She was very clear that she planned on paying me back.  I told her that I loved how she was passionate about this and how she has a vision.  I gave her the money to purchase the fridge and she told me how much she planned on paying me each month. 

As the months passed, I watched how hard she worked.  She would cook into the night and then sell her product after work.  In the beginning, she made no profit, but came out even.  She would come to me with an update and also with the amount she had told me she would pay.  Slowly, she started to expand her business.  She started making enough money to help buy the food her family needed.  Then she started saving up for a portable cooler so that she could take her freezies into town and sell them there.  Her joy and determination were so apparent and I couldn’t wait to hear her updates.  She hired a young man to take the cooler into town and sell the freezies there. 

I realized as I saw the success that was taking place, this was exactly what I had been hoping for as far as investing long term in sustainable living.  Once I realized how successful she was and that her plan had worked, I told her I didn’t want the loan paid back.  I explained that there were people in the states who were giving financially in order that I could be there in Malawi.  I explained that this wasn’t me giving to her, but there were many who were contributing.  This model seemed to work so well when individuals were the ones with the desire to start a small business.  I continued investing in this way and I was amazed at the success that took place.  In many cases, the vision, the desire, and the drive are all there, but the initial funds to get started are the component that is missing. 

There is more research I want to do into giving and supporting in this way.  There is a book I am starting to read called When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  I believe this will help me grasp this concept more fully.  Although I only began to touch the surface, I saw tangible ways in which others were able to grow crops and food that would help to sustain not only themselves, but also the communities in which they live. 

Those of you who gave to my financially are the ones who made this possible.  I wouldn’t have had the funds available to give in this way.  I cannot thank you enough for your support and I hope this story encourages you.  I would give anything to have you meet these women in Malawi who are now successfully running small businesses.  You were a huge part of their story.