A UNESCO-backed micro-credit program is helping poor Jordanian women to start up business and educate their children.
How do you get forty goats? You buy ten, tend them well and wait! That's the secret of success of Radia Saoud from Hashimiyya village in the Ma'an region of Jordan.
With a family relying on her to improve its life-style and cater for its educational needs, Mrs. Saoud sought a loan from the Microcredit Program for Children in Need, a joint project of the Noor Al Hussein Foundation (NHF) and UNESCO. Using an initial loan of $850, she began to raise goats. Carefully farming the animals, her original ten soon multiplied fourfold. The milk from the goats has not only improved her own nutrition and that of the children of her eleven member extended family, but she also has enough leftover to sell for additional cash. Now, she has expanded her business through goat trading.
Mrs. Saoud's story is just one of the many successes of the Children in Need Program, launched two years ago with $500,000 from UNESCO. Through careful placement of microcredit loans, the Foundation has given hope to hundreds of families throughout Jordan. It concentrates on implementing new model projects that enhance the lives of women and youth.
"NHF trains and empowers women for ownership and self-management of their small enterprises" says Executive Director, Dr. Sima Bahous. The evidence shows that benefits from these businesses flow on to children through better educational opportunities and increased health standards.
In the Inbid Governate in the north of the country, Manal Mahmoud Daki-Lah heard of the microcredit program through the Mother's Club in Himma village. Based on her training as a hairdresser, she borrowed $700 and established her own beauty salon. She is now training other women. The business is making a profit and Mrs. Daki-Lah uses the cash to improve her family's life-style and the education of her children.
Further south in Karak, Muntaha El Awasah, from That Ras village, used her loan to plant medicinal herbs, such as Thyme, which she sells directly to merchants in the nearby city. In a neighboring village, Najah Sulaiman Al-Haddar supports her six children through a sewing and embroidery enterprise she started with a $700 loan from the NHF/UNESCO project. Now she has not only taught other women and girls in the village how to embroider, but she also employs them to sew items as her business continues to expand.
With a 15-year record of community work in Jordan, the NHF has pioneered a number of innovative projects that have served thousands of needy families. The microcredit program for Children in Need is targeting seventeen villages, which form part of NHF's Quality of Life project. "For the first time in Jordan and the region" says Dr Bahous, "development projects are fully handed over to the communities."
Village Loan Committees process microcredit applications, thus ensuring that villagers themselves have full participation in the program. The average overall repayment rate of loans is a healthy 84%, with some villages achieving a payback rate of over 90%. Loan recipient families must have at least two children. More usually, it's over four. Although Jordanian women are, traditionally reluctant to seek loans and establish small businesses, NHF's microcredit trainers make special efforts to encourage them to put forward applications. Thanks to the program, women entrepreneurs now also own bakeries, grocery shops and other enterprises. NHF helps them to sell their handicrafts, rugs, embroidery and other goods locally and internationally, through a product marketing division.
Dr. Bahous is pleased to see villagers taking control of their own destinies. "NHF prides itself not on how many projects it administers" she says, "but by how many projects it has actually handed over to local communities."
Field evaluations of the Children in Need microcredit program have shown a marked improvement in the quality of life of beneficiary youngsters and families, especially in their hygiene, health and nutrition. NHF's innovative strategy for rural families is, clearly, delivering results, which also impact on better educational achievements.