Good Morning! This is Your Wake Up Call. It’s Time To Change The World.

Africa Bridge Founder Barry Childs in Tanzania 2006

Africa Bridge Founder Barry Childs in Tanzania 2006

There are things we’d rather not have sticking around. Toxic chemicals, radioactive waste, all those plastic water bottles + bags—just to name just a few. On the other hand, truly sustainable and BENEFICIAL endeavors—now those are ideas we can get behind for the long haul. We recently became involved with one such endeavor and you’re going to flip when you hear how such a simple concept is drastically changing lives in the best possible ways.

In 1998 Africa Bridge Founder Barry Childs returned to Tanzania after an almost 40 year absence. Childs spent his youth in the African nation, but left for the West at 17. Upon his return, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land and the spirit of the people, but also shocked by the poverty that marred both. While on this trip, he had a wake-up call—literally, at 3 a.m.—and decided in the wee hours of the morning that he was going to do something about it.

Do something about it he certainly did! It all started with the children, as Childs explained in a recent interview with us.

SE: What is the mission of Africa Bridge? What do you hope to accomplish when you start working with a village?

BC: What we’re really focused on is children and we want to do things that are sustainable by the communities where we work,” said Childs. “We started creating these co-ops—income generating cooperatives—that support the families of the most vulnerable children. The problem is not that the kids have no place to go—they do—the problem is that the families that take them in cannot afford to feed the kids properly, clothe them, send them to school, etc. So if we find a way to enrich the families, the families find ways to take care of the kids.

SE: So how do you make that happen? What is the process?

BC: We create a co-op, put capital into the co-op, and the co-op—not Africa Bridge—gives micro-loans to families that take kids in. And then when they pay back the capital with interest, more families can come into the co-op. We teach them to be more effective farmers, dairy farmers, or run piggeries, or grow maize or potatoes—or whatever—and then we support them for two years to make sure it’s working well and then move on to another community.

In addition to that, the other big problem is that there are just so many kids, orphans in this area, I want to say one in three—they’ve got government support, they just don’t have the resources to support that many kids. And the kids need social work and legal support, so we’ve trained people in the community to provide social support and paralegal support and that’s really exciting. So basically, we’re helping the community to take care of the problem and then we can move onto another community. That’s sort of the crux of what we do.

SE: Can you talk a little more about the micro loan concept, which has become internationally renowned for uplifting people in developing communities out of poverty, and how it differs from the American credit system?

BC: What you’ve probably heard most about is the Gramin Bank, and the founder of that got the Nobel Prize. And that is actually a bank. I think the key concepts of that, which make it different, are that most people receiving credit through microloans are—they don’t have any money. They’re mostly women and they don’t have any collateral. Our [Western] basis for giving credit is mostly to men who have money, and they have collateral. They’re sort of totally opposite.

The interesting thing is that in general the microloans are paid back much more effectively. The default rate worldwide on microloans is less than five percent. In fact in the communities where we’ve given microloans, we’ve only lost one or two, and we’ve recovered just about everything. It’s wonderful. And the way we actually do micro-loans is different than the way you hear most in the press about.

We actually create a co-op in a village. Then we teach them how to be bankers, how to account for money, how to be better farmers—and then we actually give them the capital amount, a grant, so we actually give them the money and then THEY issue the micro-loans. So people aren’t paying the money back to Africa Bridge, they’re paying it back to their community. And as the capital is paid back, more people can come in. So as the capital expands, the potential expands and so does the whole community.

SE: So Africa Bridge doesn’t actually “recover” any of their capital? The money that’s invested stays in the community?

BC: Yes. It’s a revolving fund. So that fund just keeps revolving in the community and keeps on going in perpetuity. So, do you remember how I was telling you that we train them to do the social work? So the farmer who takes the capital starts a cash crop of potatoes. She harvests them, and every time they harvest they pay back the money. So they don’t pay back the money every month, they pay back when they harvest a crop. They pay back capital and interest. The capital goes back into the capital fund. Half the interest goes into the capital fund. The other half of the interest goes into the social work fund. So the money keeps revolving and generating money to support social work and the co-op. It’s a very organic way of running the program.

Organic? Sustainable? Life Changing? We like the sound of that. So much so, that you’ll be hearing a lot more about the projects going on in Tanzania from us over the summer. Come and hear from Barry Childs at their annual celebration on Sauvie Island in Portland, Oregon – The Africa Bridge Harvest Gala is Saturday, August 29th. Buy tickets today! Stay tuned for Africa Bridge success stories and future plans. Childs has embarked on a six-week trip to Tanzania and we’re sure he’ll have lots to share when he returns!

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