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In February, Five Talents Executive Director Sonia Patterson returned from South Sudan
and Burundi with a hard-drive full of video footage and interviews featuring women and men in our microfinance programs. We're delighted to share some of these interviews with you in a condensed, three-minute video focused on micro-entrepreneurs who work in a small community outside of Juba, South Sudan.
You'll meet women who grow cassava leaves, brew tea and coffee and sell daily staples at a market stand. And you'll hear how foundational literacy and numeracy training through our partner Mothers' Union
enables the micro-entrepreneurs to make better decisions about their businesses and their families going forward.
"Before, we didn't know anything," Rose, a savings group member who lives near Juba, told Sonia. "But now in my business I can add and I can count and I can even make change."
Five Talents believes that women and men running survival businesses need more than a micro-loan. That's why we work with our partners in South Sudan first to ensure these individuals have basic literacy and numeracy skills. We build on this education by organizing savings groups and providing basic business training in areas like marketing and accounting. Over time, savings group members begin taking out small loans.
Together, these literacy, training and financial services ensure that micro-entrepreneurs have a much better chance of developing a sustainable business that can provide for their family and keep their kids in school.
Please take a moment to watch the video and then share it with your friends on Facebook
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I'm currently in Juba, South Sudan, and I want to share with you some of the amazing things I'm seeing and hearing from participants in our programs here.
As women in America, we can take so much for granted. We know how to count. We know how to read a street sign. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you could not do these basic things?
Yesterday, I was sitting in on a group meeting and watching as women wrote words like "chicken" in the dirt. The facilitator was drawing pictures, and the women were spelling out words that identified those crude drawings.
This may seem like a small accomplishment, but when a woman learns to count, read, write and save money, something shifts in the foundation of her household: The woman finds her voice, and the entire family benefits.
One man told me of the changes that have taken place in his own home since his wife has begun participating in the financial literacy and savings program we've established with our local partners.
"I want to sell a goat to buy some nails for building, but she [my wife] has to agree first," he said, adding, "Now you have to ask your wife even if you want to sell a chicken!"
What a testimony to the transformation that is taking place in households and communities all over South Sudan!
When a woman can read, write and count, she can know where she is going on the road. She can write her own name. She can follow directions on medicine packages. She can weigh in on financial decisions.
And she can learn how to save money and run very small businesses.
Ringing in my ear are the words of joy and hope from women with whom I have spoken.
"I can read a sign now, so I know where I am going."
"I can write my own name."
"You have brought us love and understanding at the same time."
As one man told me, "Change has come to the community." I can't wait to see more of this transformation in the coming days.
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Our program director, Suzanne Schultz Middleton, is currently in South Sudan, and last week she e-mailed this photo of a child in a cattle camp near Malakal, in Upper Nile State.
In this area of South Sudan, families traditionally keep a permanent home in a small village-like setting and grow some crops nearby. Cattle are typically relegated to the plains and kept in cattle camps. In order to protect the animals from predators and raiders, herders and their families band together. These rough, temporary settlements are full of dust, cattle, dung, and insects. But they are not also without hope and joy.
Five Talents and its local partners, including the Diocese of Malakal, are overseeing the development of savings and financial literacy groups made up of women and men who live in or near the cattle camps.
Children, like this little girl, benefit when moms and dads are taught to read, write and count. Eventually, many of these adults graduate to savings groups, where they learn to manage money and develop a micro-enterprise that can help them provide for their family. One cattle camp has even seen the formation of a small church!
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This photo of a gentleman carrying his savings group's blue "locked box" was featured in our brand new infographic, which we posted to the blog last week. The shot was taken by David Middleton for Five Talents shortly after a savings group wrapped up one of its regular meetings near a market in Lietnhom, South Sudan.
According to a recent survey of our savings group members in the village, 44 percent are involved in trade. Another 30 percent have a farming business. Savings groups like this one enable micro-entrepreneurs to safely build up cash reserves, access microloan capital, and receive training in basic business skills, like marketing and accounting.
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Whether you are slinging coffee at the corner Starbucks or pouring hot tea under a tree in South Sudan, good customer service is crucial to success.
Teresa, a 45-year-old mother of five in Western Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan, learned this principle while taking a leadership course with one of our partners in South Sudan, World Concern.
Teresa runs a tea business in the shade of a tree near the Eastern Bank Market. Beyond building a loyal customer base through good service, she's also fulfilling her calling as a Christian by showing love and compassion for the people that God brings to her business.
Teresa first launched her tea shop with the help of a loan of 150 South Sudanese Pounds, or about US $50. Every customer who stops by gets not only a good cup of tea, but also a reminder that they are loved by God.
In one case, Teresa befriended a woman named Akec. Like many relationships, theirs started with some small talk and a few funny stories. Then, one day, Teresa invited Akec to attend a church event with her.
The Rev. Peter Garang, an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church of Sudan and an Economic Development Officer with World Concern, recalled what happened next.
"Mrs. Akec got convicted from a speaker who was preaching on God's love, and, as the result, she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior," said Peter. "A few weeks later, she got baptized with her four children in Eastern Bank Parish. Five months later, one of her daughters became a Sunday School teacher in the Parish."
Around the same time, Teresa also began reaching out to a woman nicknamed "Anger" who was known in the community to have a struggle with alcoholism. This woman's behavior in the market was becoming a public spectacle. This broke Teresa's heart, so she began to speak with "Anger" about her problems.
Over time, the woman warmed to Teresa's advice and started attending church with her. Now, she and her five children have been baptized, and others in the community are marveling at her transformation.
Of course, besides reaching out to others – and serving tea – Teresa has needs of her own. She hopes to expand her business in 2013, and at the end of her conversation with Peter she offered up this prayer, which we want to share with you so that we can all join together in praying for Teresa and the women she has touched and will continue to touch through her business.
"May the Lord our shepherd who sees people's needs," she prayed, "bless my small business to grow well in the Eastern Bank area so that I can become a living example for my fellow workers and teach them to start their own businesses in our respective counties in Western Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan."
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Perhaps you already have 5 books on your must-read list for 2013. Or maybe you have more like 50. Either way, we hope you'll read at least a couple of the following picks over the next 12 months. We're recommending titles that approach poverty from a variety of perspectives. Whether you are a development specialist or someone who simply loves a good story, we have you covered.
The Dragon's Gift
If you're interested in Africa and would like to learn more about the aid and investments that are flowing into the continent, then Deborah Brautigam's The Dragon's Gift is a must-read. The author has spent decades studying China's investment and aid packages to African governments. Besides offering a timely and ground-breaking analysis of China's activity on the continent, Brautigam also provides context so that we can understand how China's approach to aid and investment differs from that of the United States and other Western nations. For a great review of the book, click here.
Where China Meets India
If you'd like to learn more about one of the countries where Five Talents works, we recommend this book about Myanmar (Burma). Last year, the Burmese government made news by launching a series of reforms, including a loosening of media controls and an embrace of democratic elections. What was once one of the most closed societies in the world was suddenly opening its doors to the West and inviting investment to help spur development. Where China Meets India, by Thant Myint-U, is an engrossing travelogue that shows just how fast Myanmar is changing.
A Free Man
If you want to read a profile of an individual who is struggling to escape a world of poverty, look no further than Aman Sethi's A Free Man. The author, a correspondent for The Hindu, focuses his non-fiction narrative on the life of a homeless day-laborer in Delhi, India. The fast-paced story takes the reader into a world that few of us in the West have ever seen. Esther Duflo, co-author of Poor Economics (another great book that we have written about), calls Sethi's book "a beautiful work of journalism," adding: "What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend."
Through the Eye of a Needle
If you enjoy history and would like to learn more about the early church and Christians' view of wealth and poverty, read Peter Brown's acclaimed Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, a respected historian, excels at evoking the life of the ancients through colorful prose and through profound readings of saints like Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome. As Christianity Today puts it, Brown lets us "hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization."
When Helping Hurts
If you'd like to learn about how the Christian church has helped – and hurt – the cause of the impoverished around the world, then pick up Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. The book was re-released in 2012 with a new foreword and two new chapters. Readers interested in learning more about the philosophy that informs Five Talents' approach to micro-enterprise development will find this book particularly helpful.
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Last week, we shared the story of Adon (middle), a micro-entrepreneur in Kuajok, South Sudan who adds value to the ground nuts she grows by roasting them, grinding them up and turning them into paste. Adon is putting her children through school by selling this peanut paste, and she has become a model for others in her savings and loan group.
Here, Adon is attending one of the group meetings in Kuajok.
When Five Talents Program Director Suzanne Schultz Middleton spent some time with Adon earlier this year, she came away feeling delighted about her story.
"When I see someone who is doing tailoring in the market, who is adding value [like Adon], it makes me smile," said Suzanne. "They see the value in what God has given them. And they're doing something with their own hands, as opposed to getting second-hand clothes from Uganda or food from Kenya and just changing the location of that good. There's nothing wrong with those businesses. But, to me, there's just something really hopeful about working hard and making something from what you have."
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If you were to travel with one of us on a program visit, we would inevitably take you to a local marketplace to meet a few of our micro-entrepreneurs. As we walked past market stands, we'd tick off the types of products being sold: bananas, potatoes, second-hand clothing, cups of tea.
Many micro-entrepreneurs sell products that have been purchased in bulk or grown on their own plot of land. Some, though, take an existing product – or a discarded one – and refashion it in some way in order to add value.
We've written about Reech, a micro-entrepreneur in Wau, South Sudan who takes old mosquito nets and turns them into rope.
We've shown you the children's sweaters that Marta sews in Peru.
During Program Director Suzanne Schultz Middleton's last trip to South Sudan, she met Adon (R), a woman in a Five Talents savings and loan group who was selling peanut paste at a market in Kuajok.
"In South Sudan, a lot of people are bringing goods in. That's how they add value -- just by transporting things. But this woman had cultivated some ground nuts, what we call peanuts, and she'd turned them into paste (peanut butter) and sold it," said Suzanne (L). "Through her own work she had added value."
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The end of the year is fast approaching. But the road out of poverty is long and hard.
In order to continue meeting our commitments to micro-entrepreneurs in places like Bolivia, South Sudan and Myanmar, Five Talents needs your support.
For an example of how your generosity can change a whole community, look no further than this project in Malakal, South Sudan, where over 10,000 participants have been given what is often their first opportunity to become literate and numerate.
For stories of individual lives transformed, look no further than those of Rosma in the Philippines, Narcisa in Peru, and Roda in Sudan.
Here are five ways you can make a tax-deductible donation and help us keep these women – and tens of thousands of others – on the road out of poverty: