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To University By Donkey Cart, From 'Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories'

12/28/2012 03:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 27, 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 12: To University By Donkey Cart

Sammy Kanja has donkeys and donkey carts which people rent from him to transport water and material in Rongai, Kenya. Sammy has just repaid his second Zidisha loan of $971. He used the first loan to buy new tires for his cart and to repair it. With the second loan he bought another cart and donkeys. Now he has six donkeys and two carts. The names of the donkeys are Toto, Jimmy, Tony, Kilo, John and Sammy. When I asked him if Sammy the donkey's name was spelled the same as his, he said "like me" and added, "I do love it" as explanation. Sammy has four children (whose names I didn't ask).

Sammy has a small farm as well. His wife looks after it while he takes care of the donkey-cart business. He also now employs two persons to assist him in his business. He said that his life had improved because of Zidisha loans. This is something I have noticed in many cases. From the second loan onwards you start seeing a very noticeable and perhaps measurable difference in most people's incomes, spending and lifestyles.

Sammy's wife has studied until secondary school, while Sammy himself has just finished primary school. With his enhanced income, Sammy now aspires to educate himself. He told me that he first wants to finish secondary school and then go on to do a course in accounting so that he can take better care of finances for his business and possibly get a job in the field.

Sammy's Words:

My names are Sammy Kanja Nganga, born in Kandutura village, Rongai division, Rongai district, in 1976. I am married to one legal wife according to the traditional Agikuyu customs... and blessed with two kids, a boy and a girl. The girl is the apple of my heart. I started schooling in 1982, in a remote primary school called Kandutura. After I dropped out of school because of lack of fees, I started a business to earn a living and support my family...

I provide some services using a donkey pulling cart. My cart is pulled by three donkeys. I offer transportation to people and goods from the farm to the market and from the market to the farms. Most people prefer the services I provide, as a pulling cart can be used in different conditions of roads where vehicles cannot pass... On average I charge about KSH 500 [$6.25] on any customer who hire my cart to transport his goods to his place of destination. At times I charge about KSH 1,000 [$12.50] if the goods have to be taken for a distance that is greater than 8 kilometers...

I am doing well with my business, for this time I am transporting beans from the farms to the nearby town.The business is booming, hoping to succeed in every kind... I receive the amount on time and I did as I said from my profile. I bought one more donkey cart and three donkeys worth KSH 70,000 [$875]. The rest of the money I spent on buying drugs for the animals and repair the other cart. The money was helpful to me because I'm ten steps ahead of where I was. Now I went back to school to complete my secondary education, for education is the key of life.

You may view the latest news and photos of Sammy's business at his Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 12 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:An irrepressible Senegalese entrepreneur breaks the traditional gender mold, and finds herself at the forefront of Africa's technology revolution...