The Karimu volunteer from several years ago who talked about lending ten thousand dollars to a group of Dareda Kati residents may have had no idea how much his words meant to the villagers.
Paul Yoronimo, then the head teacher of Ufani Primary School, led the discussions with the volunteer. Before the nationwide strike in 2012, which won pay raises from Tanzania’s central government, teachers who held teaching certificates but not Bachelor’s degrees—everyone at Ufani, at that time—earned less than two hundred dollars per month. Out of necessity, every teacher also farmed, and Paul was an especially dedicated farmer.
Most of the time, Paul did not dress as well as his assistant head teacher, Daniel Amma, whom I have never seen in blue jeans. Paul’s meetings with an American investor called for a certain dignity, however. He would dress up his jeans with a fedora and a blazer, and occasionally he would even change into slacks. Then he would huddle with the volunteer, who wore safari khakis.
They would discuss pigs, which we rarely saw in the village. Along Tanzania’s nine-hundred-mile-long coast, where great numbers of Muslims live, pigs create problems. In Dareda Kati, where almost everyone professes Christianity, the problem is cost. Yet a pig raised to maturity for butchering would bring a generous profit, and ten thousand dollars would buy many piglets.
Although Paul had a lot of ideas for the improvement of Ufani Primary School and the enrichment of the village, he always struggled to execute his plans. The plan to stock the village with pigs may have seemed more promising than most, because, as Paul understood, ten thousand dollars was insignificant to the volunteer.
The volunteer also talked about lending half a million dollars to Joas Kahembe so that Joas could expand the cultural-tourism business that had first brought Marianne and me to Dareda Kati a few years before. The last discussion between Joas and the volunteer took place after all of the Karimu volunteers had finished their two weeks in Dareda Kati. Joas arranged for a fleet of safari four-by-fours to park us at a luxury lodge on the shore of Lake Babati. This was where, on our first trip to Africa, Marianne and I had been intoxicated enough with the exotic surroundings to pay a young Tanzanian man to paddle our canoe to within fifty yards of a pod of hippos. Then, with our encouragement, the young man slapped the surface of the lake with his paddle to try to catch their attention.
On this night we enjoyed hearing the hippos bellow in the distance. Yet we heard the mosquitoes more distinctly. Sitting apart with the lanky visitor who might lend him enough money to take his business to a higher level, Joas evoked an earlier time, sweating into one of his suits and his punishingly knotted tie and soaking up rounds of gin and tonic, the cocktail devised to prevent and treat the ravages of mosquitoes.
A year after his talks with the volunteer had ended, Joas informed me that he was counting on me to use my influence in order to get the volunteer to make the loan. I could have answered that, if I had any influence to secure half-million-dollar loans from people who had half a million dollars to lend, then Karimu would already have built many more classrooms and many more teachers’ houses. Instead, I simply told Joas that I had no influence.
The loan to Joas never happened, perhaps because Tanzania’s sky-high interest rates convinced the volunteer that lending money in Africa must be risky. Even so, Joas has continued to prosper.
But ten thousand dollars sounded like a fortune to Dareda Kati’s poor farmers. They could not get the volunteer or his big talk out of their minds. The farmers continued to ask Marianne and me about the volunteer for a couple of years after he had returned to California and checked “trip to Africa” off of his bucket list. They thought the volunteer had made a promise to them.
Lending ten thousand dollars to villagers willing to work to make that money grow was a good idea, which needed execution by people who had not forgotten Dareda Kati. So Karimu encouraged the villagers to form a borrowing group, which they finally did in October 2012. They named their group the Ufani Agricultural Organization, or UFAGRO.
Within a few months, Karimu, for which ten thousand dollars is significant, managed to lend the forty-seven members of UFAGRO almost half of that amount. Subsequent Karimu loans, the monthly dues of eight dollars paid by each member, and the interest that UFAGRO collects on its loans—which is recycled back into the group, since Karimu charges no interest—have created enough excitement to increase membership to one hundred and thirty-five.
Like micro-borrowers everywhere, the majority of UFAGRO’s members are women; at most a quarter of the people at this afternoon’s monthly UFAGRO meeting were men.
One of the men was Alois Mideemay. Karimu funds loans of between two hundred and two hundred and fifty dollars, while the member dues fund loans of a hundred dollars. Alois has used a one-hundred-dollar loan to plant extra fruit crops, the product of which he sells at the street market held every fourth Monday near Dareda Kati’s town center.
He spends his profits on his four children, paying for more frequent health checkups than most village children get, as well as for a larger variety of clothes than most village children wear. Alois believes that the clothes, like the fresh coats of paint on the new classrooms and teachers’ houses that Karimu helps the villagers build, can inspire pride, motivating his children to succeed in school.
Micro-lenders tend to focus on women because ambition for family well-being is generally more prevalent among women than among men. But as Marianne and I and our friend Jane Keeffe, a two-time Karimu volunteer, walked away from today’s UFAGRO meeting with Alois, he carried his youngest child on his shoulders. The little boy wore lavender pants and a purple sweater. His clothes looked new.
It also seemed new to us to see a man carrying a child. I am not sure that it wasn’t the first time we had ever seen this in the village.