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How UNIS Hanoi’s microfinance and social enterprise programme impacts lives
It was to be a second loan application. A request for what to many in the UNIS Hanoi community is 'just' two million Dong, but to an isolated pregnant mother in a rural farming village it meant much more, it meant a lifeline. Young, uneducated and a victim of domestic violence, the two million Dong, she hoped, would give her the chance to buy and rear 50 chicks; just enough to generate an income for her, her young daughter and her yet-to-be-born baby to live on.
Yet despite her determination to work towards a better, safer future, the decision to turn her plans into reality was not in her hands. But lay in the palms of five UNIS Hanoi students.
As part of the School’s Microfinance for Change with Bloom service learning programme, the students who sign up for the group are deliberating over real loan applications received from women living in one of six villages that make up the Phu Minh Commune in Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province. In collaboration with micro-financing cooperative, Bloom Microventures, the students review at least four loans every month. And they soon discover that it’s not just cold, hard facts and figures that play a part in granting loans. Social circumstances matter also. “When we look at the applicant’s loan history, she has proved she can pay back” said Carl Anderson, a Grade 9 student, originally from Denmark. “But her situation seems to be much worse now. There is little guarantee she’ll be able to meet the repayments. Yet I do think we have a responsibility to help her while she’s pregnant.”
Listening to the discussions is the Operations Director from Bloom Microventures, Ly Tran. She suggests the students take into consideration the purpose of microcredit, which is meeting the human needs of people on the breadline. “Our work is the story of small changes,” she revealed. “Through microfinance and social enterprise we help women in farming communities improve their cash flow so that they do not simply rely on income from perennial crops such as cassava and canna. We also believe we have a social responsibility towards the women to help improve their quality of life. That includes assisting women in dire needs who, despite their best efforts, simply may not be able to repay.”
However, thanks to the almost non-existent interest rates, successful loan applicants have all repaid their loans, albeit with a few delays.
“Over the course of two academic years, we have overseen 47 active loans,” said Ms Donna Frose, UNIS Hanoi teacher and facilitator of the Microfinance for Change with Bloom programme. “Our partnership with Bloom Microventures who in turn work with the local Women’s Union, means we receive very solid applications, minimising the risks usually associated with lending.”
But it’s not all paperwork for the group, the students also get to see the villages, meet the faces behind the names and hopefully witness the difference a small loan can make. Donna continued, “At the beginning of the school year, we take a trip to the area so that the students get a sense of the applicants’ daily lives. Taking them to look at the culture, the economics and the personal lives of these people and acknowledge that they are not coming from that area of privilege that our students from the most part come from, is really important as it is teaching them IB learner profile ideals that we want to instil in our students. A lot of the economic concepts that they are dealing with, they are learning in a very practical way, which is beneficial for students who may also be learning Economics.”
In 2014, the Microfinance for Change with Bloom programme benefited from a $10,000 grant from UNIS Hanoi’s Birthday Gift Fund, enabling the group to offer different kinds of support to the Phu Minh commune. “We have currently divided the students into small groups of two. One group oversees the active loans, while another group of five students will be marketing and selling honey produced from the farmers who live in the same commune” shared UNIS Hanoi Community Liaison Officer, Ms Nathalie Grun who is also a supervisor for the service group. “From the profits, we hope to be able to increase our budget for lending, giving us the opportunity to offer further loans to more people.”
And thanks also to the Birthday Gift Fund grant, Bloom Microventures has been tasked with delivering skills training workshops to the residents of Phu Minh commune, offering them even more ways to generate an income. In the near future, the students also hope to promote rural tourism by marketing Uncle Ty’s Homestay, which is located in the same commune.
“Remaining involved in the same area, helping the same group of people but in different ways means our service becomes more engaging and sustainable for everyone” affirmed Nathalie. “We are excited to be part of a programme that truly transforms lives.”
By Akofa Wallace
School Storyteller: email@example.com