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"Fragile Lives", From 'Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories'

02/01/2013 01:56 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

Venture is a rich and readable collection of true microfinance stories. It is written for anyone who would like to better understand the realities faced by the the aspiring middle class in the world's least developed countries, the range of factors that affect their prospects for working their way out of poverty, and how microfinance can impact their lives.

The entrepreneurs featured in this book are all members of Zidisha Microfinance, a web-based crowdfunding platform that allows low-income, computer-savvy entrepreneurs in developing countries to share their stories and negotiate microloans directly with individual lenders. As the world's first person-to-person lending service to eliminate intermediaries and connect individual web users and entrepreneurs across the international wealth divide, Zidisha is uniquely positioned to offer an undistorted depiction of the variety of individual stories and circumstances that come to play each time a microfinance loan is disbursed.

Each story paints an unforgettable picture: A 70-year-old goat farmer who relocates his home to better care for his ailing father, carrying the sticks and metal sheeting it was made from across the mountains on his back. A plump, beaming detergent saleslady who lives in a home no larger than an ordinary bathroom but has adopted five orphans. A cancer survivor who supports herself and two children by pounding millet for $1.58 per day. An irrepressible lady who supplies half of her neighborhood with much-needed IVs and other medical supplies by day, and by night checks into the local cybercafe to chat with Facebook friends on the other side of the world. A young man who has no arms but insists on working to support his able-bodied parents out of filial duty. An accounting student who pays for his university tuition by purchasing a taxi and splitting proceeds with a hired driver. A bright young lady who renounces college to care for her orphaned siblings and overcomes gender stereotypes to launch a thriving construction business.

At its heart, "Venture" is a tribute to the remarkable community of Zidisha Microfinance entrepreneurs and countless others like them -- a tribute to their grit, ambition and indomitable spirit in the face of overwhelming obstacles. We hope this book will help translate the statistics about poverty and the opportunities afforded by microfinance into human terms, and inspire readers to reach out and connect with their counterparts on the other side of the international wealth divide.

Story 17: "Fragile Lives"

Ndeye Marie Traore was a single mother expecting her first child at the time she applied for a Zidisha loan of $780, which she intended to invest in her local fruit juice production business in Dakar, Senegal. However, soon after she received her loan disbursement, she was rushed to the hospital. She ended up using the loan funds to pay for an emergency Caesarean section: a life-saving intervention in a country where surgery is not covered by insurance and maternal and infant mortality is still very high.

The child, Max, survived but has suffered from serious breathing problems ever since, while Ndeye Marie herself was unable to work for a long time. She nevertheless managed to repay $228 of her loan, before Max's breathing problems became acute and she began dedicating all of her resources to his medical care. Max was finally diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, a condition that requires managed care throughout the patient's life at a cost that, while not impossible for Ndeye Marie to afford, will require a very substantial share of her income to ensure.

When Zidisha lenders learned of Max's diagnosis, two of them collaborated to raise funds for Max's medical care, while another researched and put Ndeye Marie in contact with a sickle-cell anemia support association in Dakar. The association offered much-needed moral support and factual information about the illness, and helped Ndeye Marie find an affordable local specialist to treat her son.

Max is now almost two years old, and is being seen by an expert in sickle-cell anemia on a regular basis. He is receiving prescription medications which cost a good deal, though Ndeye Marie has managed to afford them so far. She says he is in much better health, without the acute breathing problems he had experienced before he began treatment.

Max seems to be a precocious child, having begun walking at ten months and with a fairly advanced vocabulary for a child of his age. Ndeye Marie is determined not to lose hope, and works long hours to support herself and her small son.

Ndeye's Words:

Hello to all members of Zidisha. It has been a long time I didn't make any sign. I thank [Zidisha director] Julia and all the lenders for all you do for me and my son. I cannot thank you enough.
Max is much better, just his medicines are expensive but I am still hoping to find a job or resume my business and meet our needs. Thank you all.

You may view more comments and photos of Ndeye at her Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 17 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:How a resourceful Kenyan businesslady stabilizes her income by investing in multiple enterprises...