Opportunity International and Habitat for Humanity, both Christian-based organizations, have recently received the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, through USAID. Currently the two groups are working in collaboration to provide money and shelter for orphans and poor families in Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique.
Opportunity International, founded in 1971, serves the community by lending money, as little as 100 to 125 dollars, to needy group of individuals to help them start small business – which is a way to help them get away from poverty.
Christ Crane, the president and chief executive officer of Opportunity International, said: “What can you do with only 100, 125 dollars? Well, you can buy tools and raw materials to be able to make shoes, or to make handicrafts, or you can buy inventory for a stall in the market, or you can buy a used sewing machine and fabric to make school uniforms. We typically loan to twenty or thirty people in a group, we train the group together on how to run a business. They all guarantee the loan for each other, so there’s that mutual accountability and encouragement that the group gives to each other. We give people …typically eight weeks of business training, a few hours a week before they get a loan, and then we meet with them once a week after they get a loan to collect their loan payment and then to give them additional business training as we go along."
Until now, Opportunity International had a very high repayment rate, 98%, which keeps the organization going. Mr. Crane believes the loan program is more effective than simply giving money to people because without ongoing source of income, they will continuously remain poor.
He said, "If we make them a loan and we give them the business training they need to run a business and then we meet with them weekly to help them, then they will have an ongoing source of income. We’ve found if we can provide a mother or father with that ongoing source of income, that will provide health care and education and food for their whole family, especially the children, for 20 and 30 years going forward. So that’s the reason we make a loan, and we do charge interest, so that we can cover our cost, so that we can keep, then, loaning out the money to more and more people. As one repays we can loan it out to another and start up or expand another little business and help another small family, another poor entrepreneur, work their way out of poverty."
Dennis Ripley, the senior vice president of programs for Opportunity International, further explained about the partnership Opportunity shares with Habitat for Humanity. While Opportunity provides basic income access, Habitat provides the shelter.
He said, "When you go into the poorest communities in southern Africa, that have been impacted by HIV/AIDS, first of all you find that with all the parents dying it’s other families that are taking in the orphans, and they simply run out of space in their homes to take in so many orphans, and so Habitat will help them to expand their households so they can actually take in more orphans, and then sometimes there’s simply not enough families to take in orphans and they will group together orphans into an orphan-headed household and actually help to build a home for them."
The joint work between the two organizations is not 100% perfect. Ripley explained of the challenges they face in reaching out to the families, mostly because of the natural disasters that ruin their business even before it comes to fruition.
"We find some extra special challenges from the external environment, whether it be political, or economic, or natural disaster that basically changes the nature of doing business, and that’s when we have to get very creative," he said.
Despite unexpected obstacles, the two organizations have provided much needed financial and structural support for children and families in America, especially in the regions with AIDS pandemic.