Gifting Smiles

By Nancy Isabel
December 28, 2018

Have you ever wondered what kind of impact your contributions really make in people’s lives? Or who participates in Plan International USA’s projects halfway around the world?

When I visited Kenya last month, I had the good fortune to see your gifts in action, and to meet some parents, teachers, and community volunteers who can attest to the power of your gifts firsthand.  

One of these people was Susan.

On a visit to the Rodi Health Center in the western part of Kenya, Susan sat in the shade of a small cluster of trees and talked about the early childhood development project operated by Plan in her village. 

It all started when she heard about a parenting group. Someone mentioned that it involved a micro-loan program, which could help members pay for things like school fees, home utensils, or even starting a small business. Since Susan needed help with all of these, she quickly signed up.

“The parenting program has made me change myself,” Susan told me. “We have had programs dealing with HIV, how we talk with our children, the adolescents, the young ones, 0-5 years. Parenting group has made me be a friend to my daughters.”  

In the group meetings, Susan also learned how to plant a kitchen garden. Normally, people in Susan’s village grow small patches of maize, or corn, in their backyards. But it’s a plantation crop, requiring a lot of water and a lot of work. It’s not practical for such a small area. 

So, Susan and her group members learned about planting other crops in their gardens. Now, she has a variety of healthy vegetables to feed her family, like kale and tomatoes.

She also got involved with the micro-loan program that originally caught her eye. The Village Savings & Loan Association (VSLA), a concept Plan uses around the world, creates a sort of community bank in villages like Susan’s. A group of people get together and agree to contribute what they can to the community lockbox. Some might contribute 50 cents, others one or two dollars. The total might get up to 10 or 20 dollars, much more than any individual member has on their own.

After collecting the savings, members are allowed to request small loans. They present their idea, and if the group approves it, they receive the money. You might request a loan to buy seeds, so you can sell tomatoes. Then, with the money you make, you pay back the loan with interest over time.

Susan took a small loan from the group to buy a few chickens, and she learned how to properly care for them. Eggs are a great source of protein for her children, and she sells the extra eggs at the market. She took another loan to pay for her daughters’ school fees.

After these successes, Susan set herself a greater goal: she wanted to build a better home for her family. So she took small loans from the VSLA and paid each one back on time. 

“You buy your materials one by one,” she says. “You go piece by piece and you keep going.” 

Today, she has reached her goal.

Her face breaks into a wide smile as she tells me proudly, “I have built a house! It is made out of mud, then cement. And it looks so nice. I painted it yellow and blue.” 

Support from people like you put that smile on Susan’s face. From parenting advice, to better health, improved income, and a place to live, people like you have touched Susan’s life in so many ways. 

“You’ve done a lot in my community,” she said. “We truly appreciate you.”