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Years of Happiness and Bitterness, Trials and Hardships

Time:2009-05-15 14:26:06From:ARDY Writer:Li ShiBin (Translated by Jenni Click:
  

Association for Rural Development in Yilong (ARDY) was established independently 12 years ago. Over these ten years, she went through a series of microfinance experiments and proved to society that the “poor can be trusted and can be given loans,” forever eliminating the original idea that “poverty alleviation funds are hard to come by, farmer organizations are hard to build, and the poor never repay their loans.” ARDY has beautifully executed the projects given by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Caritas Germany, Japan’s Sasakawa Foundation, and other international organizations, earning them both national and international attention as well as recognition.

Nowadays, ARDY is actively exploring and helping poor villages to begin their own farmer organizations. With the support from ARDY, farmers are able to work together on their finances, production, and marketing rather than competing with one another. The farmers are progressively moving towards better management and operation. This innovation has been recognized and supported by all levels of government and by society worldwide.

 ARDY will show to the public her proudest side, the side that excites people to rise up.

Here, ARDY will tell you little stories of the work behind her achievements.

Winter Sentiments

As Spring Festival drew near, the people must go to the market to buy New Year goods. They would then happily and peacefully celebrate New Year’s with their family members who have returned after working hard for an entire year.

On New Year’s Day of 1995, three staff members from ARDY braved the heavy snow to travel through the mountain pass leading to Qinyan Village in FengYi Town. To take advantage of the opportunity that most people will return home by the afternoon, the three endured hunger and forgot their fatigue. Despite being past 3 pm, they still have 700 more meters to climb to visit the people.

As they panted heavily, they entered the first home. The door was closed, but there was smoke coming out of the chimney and laughter can be heard. The delicious smell coming out of the kitchen suddenly made the three very hungry especially after climbing a mountain. The three looked at each other and decided to pay to eat there that day.

The door opened. There was a huge party of people eating. The three staff members introduced themselves and explained their purpose.

The owner replied, “You must be the people who does those microfinance things, something about alleviating poverty. One doesn’t receive any loan and must begin repayment. I do not want to borrow and do not want to participate in this kind of association. Please leave. My house is very busy today, no free time.”

At this moment, someone asked, “I heard your association is only for women to participate. Loans are only given to women. What exactly do you do..?”

One staff member began to explain the advantages to microfinance and how women were given priority until someone interrupted, “…are you those bad people who specialize in finding naïve farmers…and deceive women...” and laughed. “Come, come, come. Ignore them. Let’s drink!”

The sun was starting to set, and the snow came down more heavily. The three left a trail of footprints on the white, thick snow as they moved forward and still forward…

Finding Joy in Misery

In the same winter day, one household in SanMen Village in FengYi Town met a marriage problem. The son of that household was past twenty years old and did not marry yet (during that time, males usually marry around twenty years old). Others finally managed to introduce him to a girl with deformities in her extremities. But because his house had no electricity, the talk of marriage was out of question. The whole family worried daily, anxious to find a solution.

After learning about their situation, ARDY staff members also worried for them. According to the regulations, households without electricity were given priority. But if this family wants to join the farmers’ organization, it may be very difficult for them. What should be done to help them?

Staff members found out from neighbors that the girl’s family would agree to the marriage if the son’s family managed to get electricity. The girl’s family just wanted their daughter’s life to be easier and nothing more. Fortunately, two townspeople, who were part of ARDY, knew how to install electricity so ARDY decided to first assist them in this method.

ARDY first told the girl’s family to not call of the marriage because ARDY was willing to help the son’s family. Second, ARDY contacted the two townspeople and made the following agreement: Because of the family’s circumstances, the fees for the installation would be paid through several payments over the next two years without any extra charges.

Soon afterwards, the two townspeople bought the necessary equipment and materials to begin installation. In order to prevent the son’s household from further expenses, they worked during the nights as well, using kerosene torches as light. Three days prior to the wedding, they finished.

Patting away the spider webs and washing away the dirt, the townspeople realized that it was already 4 o’clock in the morning. They saw the smiles of the son’s family under the new lamps and how grateful they were. The two townspeople returned tired smiles after seven hours of continuous work.

The dawn of a winter day was silent and cold. In the dark valley, two burning lights could be seen. They were the two townspeople leaving the son’s household and hurrying back home.

Worries

After receiving notice that more than ten farmer households want to learn how to raise rabbits, ARDY, wanting to improve these farmers’ lifestyles, invited an expert on raising rabbits and livestock to Kunshan village. The expert would provide free training and guidance to these farmers. Following the training, ARDY helped order 18 steel rabbit cages under the request of the farmers. The quality of these rabbit cages was very good. The cages came in sets of three groups, weighing up to 150 kg. The rabbit cages filled an entire car when they arrived to town in the afternoon. Once the staff members checked the inventory, they immediately sent the cages to the village.

The arrival of these cages came during the rice harvest season when farmers were very busy. The households that wanted to raise rabbits could not find people to help transport these cages. People gradually began to arrive when it was almost dark. Some families sent 2-3 people, others only 1. The families who sent only 1 person needed to travel home and back to transport everything. Those who came early needed to leave; those who were supposed to come did not come yet. There were also people just standing nearby to watch the spectacle. As the staff members hectically introduced the products and kept count of the inventory, they also had to disassemble everything.  The whole scene became very chaotic.

It was 9 pm. The distribution was finally over. The staff members breathed a deep sigh of relief. As they began to pack up, they realized that there was a problem. One family was busy pounding millet and did not come to claim their cages, but there were no more left. The staff members then went household-to-household, hoping to find the missing cages. All the households claim to only have taken one.

Goodness, the staff was angry! They were so careful in recording down the cages; yet, now they were missing one for no reason. These sets of cages cost more than 800 RMB each, that’s two months of one staff member’s salary!

The leader berated the staff members, “Look, you can even accomplish this one small task! You will have to pay for the loss!”

The staff’s family members replied, “So what? You see all those people outside working in business…those people can earn up to several tens of thousands of dollars a year. You heard of Xiao Ling? After working less than a year, he was able to purchase a big house. What about you?”

To whom should these grievances be said to?

Bitter Tears

Early on a cold March day, Hai Ou woke up with a smile. After three months of hard work, their farmers’ organization would be established today. This organization would have a total of 5 groups made up of 25 people.  Although two days prior some people had lingering doubts about having meetings every 10 days and multiple installments, these doubts quickly subsided after she patiently gave explanations. For sure, the first loan would be given out successfully. Hai Ou washed her face and notified her colleagues to get the material ready.

Hai Ou hummed a little song while traveling to the designated place for the organization with her colleagues. No one arrived yet so they took the opportunity to prepare some more.

Soon afterwards many people began to appear; even people from areas where there are no organizations established came.

The meeting began. As a general rule, Hao Ou introduced the benefits of having a farmers’ organization and the regulations of microfinance. Suddenly, a 50-year-old man came by and shouted for his wife to return home. Even though Hao Ou and her colleagues warmly welcomed him, he still interrupted Hai Ou, “You are all just using ‘poverty alleviation’ as a guise for your high-interest loans. When you get a loan, you need to deduct this and that. Eventually we have to start repayments before we even receive anything. And you also want 8% interest! Come on, people…do you not see that this is used to snatch money away from us poor villagers?”

What a mess! The crowd began to chatter and talk. Even though the staff tried to quiet everyone down and explain, there was no way to stop the discussions.

“Yea, this idea of meeting every few days will take away a lot of our time…”

“Forget it…I am not entering this…”

“I want to buy two pigs, but where will I find the money to repay my loan?…”

“I don’t want a loan anymore”

Some people left, and others began to leave. This sudden change was unforeseen by anyone. People even mocked the organization.

“Do you need some extra change? We can give you some without interest. Sounds good, huh?”

“That sounds good…we will be sure to come find you.”

More people left no matter what Hai Ou and her colleagues did. The farmers’ organization establishment ended in a failure. The hard work for the last couple of months went to waste, leaving Hao Ou crying sorrowfully.

Trust

This July (July 2008) ARDY set up a farmers’ organization in Kunshan Village in Sanwen Town…

On a blazing hot afternoon, Secretary General of ARDY and one of her staff members held a meeting to present government funds specially allocated to poor villages.

The participants had a lot to say. They all wanted to know whether these farmers’ organizations will be like the ones before, like credit unions, or like those associations where farmers do not receive any loans. They also wanted to know how the bonuses will be divided. All these things stirred up a much heated debate. But once someone nominated the poor to receive the government funds, a portion of the people stopped talking. Because ARDY did not know much about the village, they relied on the participants to designate 5 households to receive funds. To follow procedures and ensure equality, the Secretary General and staff member headed to visit the farmers, especially the 5 chosen households after eating a quick lunch of ramen.

The sun blazed down mercilessly. There was no wind. The rice plants and corn stalks shrank, and the water in the rice fields steamed off from the ground. Even the cicadas on the trees stopped their singing…walking along the ridge was like walking through a steamer. When they finally climbed over a mountain and came across two very small, beautiful houses, the guide told them that these were families “A” and “C” chosen to receive funds. Seeing the well-framed houses and gardens, the two were baffled, “We wanted to help these people. We have worked so hard. Why would they do this to us?” They decided to find the owner for details.

After communicating patiently, the Secretary General and the staff member realized that these people were affected by the past experiences with farmers’ organizations. They no longer believed in these organizations and feared their false marketing of alleviating poverty. That was why everyone deliberately selected those two households to see what ARDY would do.

In fact, household “C” was in financial trouble despite the appearance of their home. Household “C” had huge debts from renovating their house and paying for the wife’s medical bills. The owner of “C” explained, “I do believe that this is everyone’s planned intentions because we are not the household you should be helping. I never met an association that works so hard. We are all very grateful, and I fully support this project. I will like to join this organization…so please record a share for me. I will go tomorrow to hand in the money to pay for the shares.” ARDY’s two representatives let out a sigh of relief as one problem seemed to have been solved.

At this time, the staff member received a call from home saying her aunt just passed away. The funeral would be held the next morning at 6, and he needed to go back home, which was 60 km away. The two looked at the time; it was past 8 pm. Fortunately, they had their own motorbike, and it was still light outside since it was summer. They decided to go visit one last household before returning home.

By the time they left the last household, the sky had turned dark. A gust of cool wind blew across as the two rushed home on the motorbike. But the wind grew stronger... the clouds in the sky gathered. A lightening stroked across the sky. A storm was coming! The rain pounded down in sheets, forcing them to wait under a roof near the roadside for more than 2 hours. By the time they got home, they were soaking wet, and it was already 12 o’clock in the night. No more shops were open by this time so the two ended up eating ramen for dinner.

In this weather, the staff member whose aunt died could not even travel to his uncle’s house for the funeral. He could only sit by the heater and slowly dry his wet planner…

Difficult to Deal With

Working in ARDY, the staff members face the greatest difficulty with customers who are unable to pay their loans. Once the money goes out, there is always risk. Along with project failures, natural disasters, sickness, and deaths, loans that have not been repaid become even more outstanding. If the person is reasonable, there should be no problem. However, there is an old saying, “Do not be afraid of tough adversary. Be afraid of crafty opponents.” If you meet a sly customer, you will not know whether to laugh or cry.

Miss Chen was the famous local “Che Jin Ke” (an unreasonable person) in Biquan Farmers’ Organization. She also has been ARDY’s most difficult customer to deal with. In the beginning, she entered the association by attending an activity regarding women’s health. But, when it came to microfinance, people were scared of being dragged down by her and did not want to be in the same organization with her. Miss Chen yelled back, “Are you scared of me? I am not that kind of unreasonable person all of you are saying. If I take a loan, I will be responsible to pay it back…perhaps I will be better at paying back my loans than any of you..”

To save her face, her neighbors reluctantly formed an organization with her and gave her a loan of 800 RMB. With the money, Miss Chen went to buy two pigs. She also repaid back her loans regularly in the beginning months. Everyone thought she changed.

Four months later, Miss Chen lost her money in mahjong and could not repay her loans. When people urged her to come, she replied that she was busy and promised to come the next time. The next time came around, but her excuse was that she went to visit a relative. When staff members went to her home, they could not find anyone. By the third time, she was the only one in the entire center that did not return her loan. Everyone was angry and went to her home. Her child said she went to the fields. Not being able to do anymore, people returned home and announced through the village speakers for Miss Chen to come to the organization’s center and repay her loans.

Miss Chen felt that the broadcasted announcement made her lose face and her dignity. She asked why they decided to do what they did. In addition, she once again reiterated that she was not someone who took money and not repay it back. Yet, she was unwilling now to repay the loan for what they have done. No matter how the staff members and people in the center advise and persuade her, she would not be moved.  The whole village racked out their brains to no avail. It was not that Miss Chen decided to hide from people; it was that she would not pay. To whoever that came to urge her for repayment, Miss Chen would quarrel bitterly with them, demanding the entire village apologize to her through a broadcasted announcement. Only in this way could she regain her dignity she said.

Because of this issue, the staff member that went to urge her for money decided to leave his/her post. The new staff member tried his/her best to work with Miss Chen. After all, Miss Chen did repay 150 RMB before, and ARDY had placed 400 RMB of principal in the overdue loans…

 

These kinds of stories are plentiful. The top stories are just short clips of what ARDY has experienced. Hopefully, with these stories, you can better understand our work in poverty alleviation through microfinance.

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