October 25, 2008

Walking the walk

Several times last month, after I had given my slide presentation on Itipini, people would ask, “Where are all the men?” because I had shown a lot of pictures of women and children but not so many of men. I responded with a shortened version of some of the thoughts I have shared on this topic on this blog. And I always added something like, “One of my goals for this next year is to get to know more men better.” I thought this made me sound reasonable and mature but deep inside I had no idea how I would begin and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to.

On the day I returned to Itipini a few weeks ago, I was almost immediately handed some papers. It turns out a group of young men had banded together in my absence and formed what we might call a cooperative to make and sell such things as soap and candles. What they needed was funding. Since I am the micro-credit guy in Itipini, it became my job to work with them and figure out how to make the idea work. Sometimes I like it when God is a little more subtle than this.

Since that first day we have had a few meetings with no discernible progress as of yet. As with any other business proposal, I am trying to strike the right balance between making them cross enough hurdles to prove their seriousness but not create so many they lose hope. I am additionally skeptical because I have seen so many of these young men outside the shebeens (bars) in Itipini, drunk as can be, and I’m a bit wary of them taking whatever money we might give them and spending it there. The most recent hurdle was for them to go into town to figure out how much everything would cost and tell me. That was a week ago and they promised to look into it right away and let me know but I haven’t heard from anyone yet.

In thinking about this, I’ve also had to come to grips with my own feelings of dislike and distaste I have for these young men. I wrote about this before in regards to one particular person but I’ve come to realize it is just hard for me to like this group of people more generally. Often when I see them they are working out in the gym or playing pool while so many women are working so hard around them. I know several them are fathers of the children in the pre-school and yet I act like a better father than they do. Many of their girlfriends are HIV-positive but so few of them have even been tested for HIV. Sometimes I just want to throttle all of them and knock some sense into them.
Clearly, the situation I’ve just described is in need of many things but one thing might be a sort of mentor figure who could help provide a little positive direction in their lives.

And there’s one obvious candidate for that job.


Anonymous said...

hey, you should totally talk to my friend mary at massey who does research in india on microcredit lending (when it is effective, who it is more effective to give to, etc). have you considered lending to small groups and not individuals?