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08 February 2012

A Tale of Two Women (and thousands of lives saved...!) 

This is the story of two women.  One woman uses a piece of clean string and a clean razor blade.   With  it she saves,  scores, hundreds, probably thousands of lives. The people she saves are mothers and their babies. The mothers have given birth where there is no medical assistance.  Lack of hygiene, lack of knowledge, even some traditional practices in severing the umbilical cord provide the fertile conditions for infection. Sometimes mud or even cow dung are used to apply to the raw ends of the cord.  The clean string is used simply to tie the cord and the sterile blade to cut it. .

Now the woman makes up cheap kits. They simply contain instructions, soap, sterile string and blade and some.  All it takes to save two lives is a clean pad, soap, razor blade, a length of string and a set of illustrated instructions.  Each kit will save 2 lives.  The kits are quietly  distributed to where they are needed thoughout the world.

The other woman who follows the same path. She travels to rural Central America with a small team to carry the same simple message and taking also, birthing kits with her.   Year after year she returns and year after year she finds more women who, having seen the results of what she has been teaching others, wish to learn. Her course lasts 4 days. The woman  educates child birth attendants to wash their hands. Thousands of women die every year because of not doing this. She educates them in the simple things that will save.

 Both women know that 820,000 women die because of  childbirth every year; 99% of them are in developing countries.  They know that, worldwide, a woman dies in childbirth every 40 seconds.  They know that three quarters of the 4 million babies who die every year could be saved by simple interventions. They know that so many women simply have no access to safe medical facilities (in Bangladesh for example only 9% of births take place in clinics or hospitals)   They know the grief and suffering of so many families through these events.

So quietly, simply, they have rolled up sleeves and helped.  No full spread media campaigns, no double-space TV ads, no fleets of white SUV's, no first-class  'celebrity spokesperson' visits. They just do it themselves, unsung heroes, quietly saving lives...


06 February 2012

'A Gift of Music'  by Nicholas Read.  (From the Vancouver Sun 6th February 2012)

Harpist sends instruments to Zambia.  "As you read this there's a ship bound for AFrica with 126 musical instruments on board.... There are violins, guitars, drums, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, cello's, a euphonium, recorders, tubas, a double bass and three piano's....   ..Click to download the full fascinating article and read on...  

24 September 2011

Stand Tall Education - Uganda.   Teaching more than just education !!

"Stand Tall Education Network is a non-profit organization composed of a group of educators and social entrepreneurs from Uganda and Canada that have come together through common goals and shared beliefs regarding education. We believe that the most effective education is one that trains young minds to think ‘out of the box’, make choices, and ask questions – necessary qualities for successful leadership and innovation. Our approach follows a style of teaching that is referred to as ‘child centered learning’ which has been widely embraced in the West. It involves interaction between student and teacher rather than the traditional lecture and listen approach".

15 September 2011

29 July 2011

Malambo Grassroots - Zambia: Program update 2011
Schook kids enjoy donated hoola-hoops

2011 update:

An energetic last visit, from October 2010 to April 2011 is past. Working with donations from our salt-of-the-earth sympathizers, and with Stitchting Mwabuka Zambia, we focus on education, community development, and income generation. We …

… started builting two teachers' houses for our needy local school Malambu Basic, without which the Ministry will not place much-needed teachers.  We need to find additional funds to complete the second house.

...located and found funding to pay two temporary teachers to work in a school that was missing two teachers. The students had been coming to class even though there was no one to instruct.

… donated exercise and text books, pencils, chart paper and other teachers' aids to two schools. Funded a computer for a school for child-headed households.

… established the kernel of a library -- 56 new books and a bookshelf in the Malambo Women's Centre. Friends joined enthusiastically, clearing out their children's home shelves, and our local school children devoured them. Needed: a library building and more books, the demand being for science books especially.

… financed a women's workshop on openly discussing issues that are difficult to talk about, or which people feel must be kept undercover, such as orphan abuse, AIDS, spousal relationships and employer/employee  relationships. (They called the workshop "Not talking the truth".)

… expanded our chicken business project.

… started a new chicken business project in Mujika village.

… administered funding to support 44 students from Grades 8 to college.

… supported 3 adults in the completion of their education, namely teacher training and tailoring.

… built a toilet for a handicapped woman in Mujika.

...worked with our income generating groups to improve the design of their product lines.

… supported a man to legally secure a land purchase that would ensure a future for his family.

… supported the Malambo Women's Centre with building repairs and to manage large orders.

… helped various people as requested with fertilizer, leaking roofs, transporting the sick (especially children) to hospital, boarding school supplies, the unexpected birth of twins, and a derelict old beggar.

It was a brisk and spirited six months.

New goals:

Our immediate funding goals are to raise funding for...

...our library.

...teachers housing.  By 2015, the local government school is required to go up to grade 9.  In order to do this, the community, which is very poor, is required to build two houses to government standards, in order to get teacher placements.  This is beyond their ability.  If the school does not achieve this, the students in the school will be placed at the bottom of the list for available spaces for grades 8 and 9 in other schools.

... our scholarship program.

...funds to cover the cost of shipping a container of medical equipment donated to hospitals, and musical instruments donated to a school.

...a vehicle.  Our ancient bread delivery van, which we use to run our programs, is now held together by a lick and a prayer, and is in desparate need of replacement.  We thought we had resolved this when a Delica was given to us, but sadly, it seems the Delica is beyond repair.

Malambo Grassroots oversees a number of projects in southern Zambia, where the BaTonga people live. Our projects assist Zambians as they work toward making a better life for themselves and their families in a drought-stricken part of the country. We focus on income-generating projects, education, community programs, and emergency assistance.
We are a member-project of Rose Charities Canada. Rose Charities Canada is a registered, non-profit organization with the Canada Revenue Agency, registration number: 859442303RR0001.

[caption id="attachment_299" align="aligncenter" width="432" caption="Egg cosies made by the Lusumpuko group."][/caption]

14 May 2011

Acid Violence (Cambodia)

Female acid victi
Acid violence defies any bounds of comprehension. It is a violation born and nurtured in hell itself, a pitiless, hideous evil. It takes away both skin and flesh and the very soul of the victim. And it does so with finality that is often absolute.

As a physician, I saw my first acid violence injury around 10 years ago. I had set up Rose charities as an extension of my previous organization, Project Iris. Iris dealt with eye injury and sight restoration but so many injuries extended beyond the eye to the face and torso. Rose went beyond the eye to facial and other injuries. Word had gone around that there were “foreign doctors” helping the injured and had set up a simple operative and treatment clinic on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

My First Case of Acid Violence.

My first experience with this heinous manifestation of acid violane remains seared in my memory. I came in in the morning and she was there in the waiting area, brought in by a friend. She sat there on the hard wooden bench. I took her hand. She could not cry, she had no tear ducts since the skin fused tightly over where here eyes may or may not lie underneath. She just gazed forward; her skin mottled leather membrane, shrink-wrapped; her face no longer with any elasticity or ability to display any expression. Her name is Vanna.

Vanna had been beautiful, and for many poor, oppressed Cambodian women it is their only possession of value. Before becoming a victim, she had a low paying job in a restaurant. She had a boyfriend. The story goes: One day Vanna refused the advances of a much older man, a government official of some importance. Later that evening two men were waiting for her. They held her down and slowly poured the acid on her beautiful face. And then they continued to hold her while it did its work.

That’s the thing. Simply throwing acid in someone’s face might give the person time to rush to water and prevent much of the damage. But when the victim is held, the acid will continue working. It can be poured onto specific areas; the eyes, the genitals, the breasts and there are cases where large quantities, like a bucket-full, of acid is simply flung at the victim. If the victim can then get to a source of water very quickly she can limit the amount of damage – though it may still be severe, irreversibly damaging her eyes.

It is hard even now, even as a physician who has seen many physical horrors in a lifetime to think back on Vanna’s face and body. It was as though the world had brought out a being so alien, so mutated that no one would ever recognize it.

What We Know About the Problem

Now, some 12 years later I have seen so many victims of acid burn attacks at our Rose Charities Surgery and Sight  Centers. Although statistics are scanty and subject to the inaccuracies of translation  it would seem that around 50% of attacks are the consequence of real or perceived extramarital affairs or other aspects of life leading to seeking of revenge. This is an extreme and tragic consequence of men seeking to control women. But attacks in Cambodia are not restricted to women. Some 15 - 20% of attacks are of men on men, or women (with or without the assistance of a male collaborator).And there are more victims. An additional 15% are secondary victims, usually a child, who have gotten in the way of thrown acid. The rest, not the result of gender-based violence but rather arise from civil disputes, such as over land and other property. Cambodia’s history of conflict and succession of imposed governments has ensured an enormous uncertainty in land ownership, resulting in claims and counter claims.

Historical Influence

Cambodia’s conflicts of the last 50 years have been extreme and brutal. Despite attempts to keep neutral, the country became heavily involved in the Vietnam war, its people first being hit by both sides, before eventually succumbing to one of the most genocidal regimes of human history, that of the Khmer Rouge. In this period, some 2 million persons were slaughtered, tortured, starved, or worked to death. Women were forcibly married to strangers, forced to watch as their children were taken away or their babies bayoneted in front of them.

The injury and illness of conflict and post-conflict can be discussed in three broad categories; primary, secondary, and tertiary. There is ‘primary’ injury that is mostly associated with wars; bullet wounds, blast injuries, etc. Then there is ‘secondary’ victimization, which is the disease or untreated trauma caused by the conflict and the induced breakdown of infrastructure. Third, there is the ‘tertiary’ category, perhaps the most pernicious, the most long-term, and an injury of the mind where the control of others is linked with violence, fear, and terror. While sadly, as we know from global prevalence data,  control and abuse of the vulnerable  is not only restricted to post-conflict scenarios, however, it may well be one reason why it remains rife in Cambodia.

The throwing of acid is particularly linked with the second and third categories above. A very weak and allegedly corrupt legal and law enforcement system means that the control by physical abuse is rarely punished, or prevented. The direct injuries can be inflicted with almost no fear of being apprehended by the legal authorities, and in the event that this does occur, it is easy to buy immunity with an appropriate payment to the right person.

Long-term Consequences and How Rose Charities is Helping

Rose Charities has been dealing with the results of violence against women in Cambodia since 1998. Over this time the range of acid injury has been very wide indeed, from a few superficial injuries covering one or two isolated areas to up to 60% or more of the body covered with deep penetration, even down to bone. The eyes, ears, and nose may be partially or entirely burned away.

Acid burns create a spectrum of disabilities for the survivor ranging far beyond the terrible disfigurement and physical disability. Livelihoods are ruined; there is social stigmatization, and breakup of families, marriages and relationships. Full time care is often needed and in a country such as Cambodia, this care is not provided in any way by the state. If the victims have no family or friends to look after them then they will be utterly outcast. So often the attack takes from the victim the only real asset owned in a quagmire of poverty, her physical beauty, which in many societies is the only way for a woman to advance. So the damage is also both psychological and social.

Dr Nous Sarom of the Cambodia Surgical Center (Operation First & Rose Charities) is now one of Cambodia's leading rehab surgeons having had years of experience working in the area both on his own and with various generous international organizations and specialists who have come to assist.  Donations and gifts of equipment and transfer of expertise have improved treatment ability but there is still a long way to go.  Rose Charities employs many treatment specialties in its arsenal, from direct eye and body surgery through physio and other therapies to give a 'holistic' approach to each case.  Where possible specialized education and vocational training may also be provided.  Counseling is always needed, though sadly can be hard to find.

The injuries are often so severe that complete recovery is impossible, even with the most sophisticated methods of treatment. Thus the aim is rather to alleviate as much of the trauma as possible both mentally and physically and then lead on to try to help the victim return to life with quality.

Male acid victim
William Grut, MD, Rose Charities

(Revision and update of an original article written 2008)

10 May 2011

'Not just a free school': Stand Tall Uganda Education...

This was a month of accomplishments. Below are only some of the value additions to our very special school.  Stand Tall is much more than just a free school with nice buildings. As we grow, we continue to add educational programs that are designed to enhance and individualize the learning experience. Our children continue to grow in confidence, creativity and academic ability.  Guided by our well-trained staff of teachers, these children are blossoming into their own. As one student wrote, “I love Stand Tall because it has made me what I am”. How exciting.

In less than a year of operation, Stand Tall Training Centre has attracted diverse groups of people from within and outside of the country. The relevancy of an education that enhances Teacher/Student interaction and creative learning practices is being continuously appreciated. We acknowledge with thanks the many resource persons with various skills, teachers and volunteers who have come in to work with us.
At Stand Tall, we cherish practical skills alongside academic education. We call upon you to join hands and support the disadvantaged children as we cannot do better without you. Any contribution counts, however humble it may be.

Gerald is our newest member of the Stand Tall team and our financial consultant.  He is an accounting wizard and organizational expert and we are all grateful to have him here once a week monitoring our expenses and keeping us on budget.


Our one -day-old chicks are adjusting to their new surroundings.
They will ‘brood’ for two weeks in a heated box before being let loose in the coop.
We bought the local variety of chicken for its superior resistance to disease. The children will be learning the process from vaccinating to feeding from our neighbor and our experienced Principal.

chicken rearing lesson


Many thanks to Festus, Nurse Maria and Josephus  for presenting our children with an afternoon  worth remembering.  The children were completely focused on the short film about Sexually Transmitted Disease and Festus, the presenter, had just the right mixture of humor and facts to keep the kids engaged and listening.  We are grateful to him for presenting a difficult subject in a most accessible manner.

Festus guides STD talk

Nurse Maria teaches technique

our dental kits

lining up for kits

Josephus continued with the theme of HIV prevention and warned the children of the dangers of STDs.

Nurse Maria ended the afternoon with a demonstration on tooth brushing and dental health care.  She also did a stellar job of keeping the children attentive and smiling.
The  afternoon ended with the distribution of dental kits to each child. Dr. Angelina Loo of Vancouver generously donated the kits.  There was so much excitement as the children lined up and waited their turn to receive a kit.


ready to plant
Thanks to a generous donation from Claudie and Gary Snarch on behalf of their newborn nephew, we have purchased 41 fruit bearing trees.
They include papaya, orange, mango, avocado, macadamia, and guava.  With a two-year maturity date, we can expect our grounds to look like a garden very soon, not to mention the benefit to our bellies

We are very happy to announce that our Uganda Board has a new member, Josephine Buruchara from Kampala, Uganda.  She is highly skilled and is sure to be a valuable asset to our Board. For more information on Josephine, visit

Hello generous donors! You have made our computer lab a reality.
Our next purchase will be a projector as soon as we get the funds and then we are really on our way! There are so many educational DVDs we want to show them.

computer lab

We’re really getting there and the children are totally fixated on learning computer language. We still need more equipment but we are much closer to our goal. Now, how to keep them from discovering the app store.


skype call to Moldova

Wow, Wow, Wow – the kids got to talk to children in Moldova thanks to PEDN, a Ugandan organization that focuses on improving education and administers the world wide Aflatoun program here in Uganda.  Among many other things, Aflatoun promotes chlld saving , child empowerment and global interaction among fellow Aflatouners.  So where is Moldova, anyway? Moldova is a small country bordering Romania and once a part of Russia but now independent.
The children were enthralled and so were we.

Art   always speaks for itself…….

making books

painting a mask

proud of my envelope


letter from Stand Tall learner

Nootka Elementary in Vancouver sent 36 pen pal letters to Stand Tall learners and now Stand Tall has answered.   Among the questions asked “Do you have snow in Uganda?” and “Do you have computers at your school?”.  The dialogue continues…


birthday card

Sweet hugs from the children of Stand Tall to my wonderful mother, Cely Schouela, who donated a big, creamy and very chocolaty cake for our school party celebrating my birthday.  I was truly spoiled by the songs, dance, speeches and the wonderful presents. I received fruits, eggs, vegetables, bead necklaces, bags, a gorgeous penholder, money, a wallet and a live rabbit! Thank you!

my rabbit


And finally Zanzibar….. What does Zanzibar have to do with Stand Tall? Absolutely nothing but I couldn’t pass up posting some photos of this incredibly beautiful and exotic place.

Womans meetings, debates, and bus rides - Sri Lanka

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for us at the Rose Charities Sri Lanka office. The Women’s Sports Meet was a great success as women’s groups from Kalmunai, Pandarippu, Natpaddiumunai and Karaitivu came to participate in a fun day of team building games, skill competitions and social activities. Prizes were handed out to winners while everyone enjoyed a fun-spirited afternoon at the Rose Sri Lanka Head Office.

In the traditional English class, staff are learning how to construct an argument, an important skill in all languages. To display what they have learned, we conducted a class debate between women staff and men staff. The topic was “Women need to have a profession, participate in the work force and the duties at home should be shared between husband and wife.” The girls’ team supported the statement while men were against. It turned out to be a heated debate, demonstrating strong debating skills on both sides. The men of the office stated safety is an issue for young girls and women, especially after dark, limiting a woman’s working hours and freedom to leave the house. On the other hand, the women argued that the more women become professionals the more likely women’s safety will become a priority in society. It was clear that this debate is an important issue among young people in Sri Lanka. Many of the women staff members voiced strong opinions on this issue, attitudes that were certainly formed well before the debate assignment.

Sonia and I spent the weekend at Arugam Bay surfing, swimming and enjoying the beautiful Sri Lankan beach. On our way home, we opted to take the public transit to Kalmunai. About a half hour outside of Kalmunai, a woman boarded the bus with bags of flour and many supplies. She had gone to a neighboring town to purchase ingredients and supplies. As she turned around and saw Sonia and I on the bus her face lit up as she recognized us from the Rose’s Women’s Meet last week. She then exclaimed to the entire overcrowded bus that we were from Canada working in Kalmunai for Rose Charities, an organization that had lent her money to start her small business. As soon as she said the word “Rose” we could see that many people recognized the name and looked at us with gratitude and excitement.

As a token of her appreciation she handed us two small bags of kurakan flour, a type of flour used to make string hoppers and puttu (my favorite Sri Lankan meal). She then quickly jumped off of the moving bus with her luggage and gracefully placed the heavy bags of flour on the crest of her head. As the bus pulled away we watched her balance the bags, weaving in and out of street traffic and into a side street.

The last week has demonstrated the strength, generosity and intelligence of the Sri Lankan people, especially the women. Whether at the Women’s Sport Meet, in the office among the staff or on the bus, we can’t help but appreciate the independent spirit of all of the women we meet.

01 May 2011

No bees, no honey; no work, no money (proverb)

To bee or not to bee:
As Bill and I were heading off to Cambodia to work with Rose Charities projects in Phnom Penh,  Josephine (de Freitas) put a bee in my bonnet about looking into beekeeping  while we were there, lamenting that on her last visit to Cambodia she had noticed that Cambodians frequently burn the hives to take the honey and larvae.   I promised to look into it.  
As luck would have it my son's roommate's sister, Bryn, runs a large honey operation (8000 hives)  in Alberta with her husband, Hendrick. I contacted her to ask if she would be willing/able to help set this up. She replied immediately to tell me that they would be very interested and had, in fact, been to Sudan on a similar mission.
Armed with this encouragement I launched a search for a suitable partner and venue a few weeks after our arrival in Phnom Penh.   A six-hour bus ride took me to Siem Reap (happy for an excuse to spend more time in this lovely town located in eastern Cambodia, close to Angkor Wat); however, my meeting with a charismatic, if somewhat eccentric, beekeeper, Danny Jump, was discouraging. 
Stung but resolute, I bumbled along.  Some research on the Internet proved more fruitful.  An Atlanta-based NGO, Helping Hands, which supports a Children's Centre in Battambang for the families of poor villagers and local farmers, had tried to get a beekeeping project going a few years ago but ran out of funds.  An email exchange with Christine Wagner at Helping Hands confirmed that they still had a buzz on for this project.
The next step was finding out exactly what is involved in beekeeping. An email to the British Columbia Honey Producers Association elicited a prompt and positive response from John Gibeau at the Honeybee Centre in Surrey. John is with the Bee World Project, a not-for-profit organization that sends commercially-trained beekeepers to third world countries to teach beekeeping. They already have a presence in Cambodia and are interested in expanding into Battambang.
So off Bill and I went for another six-hour bus ride to Battambang. We visited the Children's Centre (immediately falling in love with the children) and explored the village. In truth, I had no idea what to look for but we took many photos and were motivated by the obvious poverty in the area. Producing honey here will help more than the bees!
Back in Canada we met with John. I will confess I was getting a bit nervous by now. Everything was moving very quickly and we had no idea how much money it was going to take to launch this project.  You can imagine my elation when John said that Bee World had a budget and would sponsor all expenses! Since then he has been busy as a bee organizing kits, funding and a rekkie of the area to ensure the success of the project.
One final piece of the puzzle had to fit: I mentioned to John my communications with Bryn and Hendrick and asked if they could be part of this project, given their interest and support. It transpires that John knows them well (it is a small world) and, if all goes according to plan, Bryn and Hendrick will be taking their three children to Battambang for three months this winter to introduce beekeeping to the local farmers.  Plans are for 30 farmers to have 10 to 15 hives each.
The bees will be saved, they will work their magic on the local agriculture, the honey will provide nutrition for the villagers and the farmers will enjoy some much needed extra income ... Bee-at that!  

24 April 2011

Early Childhood Education Program - Rose Charities Sri Lanka

The more we visit Rose’s programs, the more we realize how far-reaching Rose Charities Sri Lanka really is. Since 2006, Rose Sri Lanka has directly supported isolated and marginalized Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities. In 2011, Rose is addressing educational needs in 9 different districts, covering a large part of not just Kalmunai but the Eastern Province.

On Thursday morning P. Latha, the sports coordinator and P. Kanalakannan, the health and nutrition coordinator took us to Chalambaikrany, a dominantly Muslim area. We visited three preschools, Zahira Preschool, Iemam Hasal Preschool and Mega Preschool where we were welcomed by teachers, parents and children. At Zahira Preschool we met a teacher that had won the ‘Best Preschool Teacher’ award from Rose in 2009. She seemed to take pride in not only her award but her children’s progress. The children were lined up in a semi circle around the teacher, some of the most well behaved 3 year olds we’ve ever seen.

At Iemam Hasali Preschool, we walked in to find children playing with red paint and crayons. There was red paint on their hands, faces and uniforms just as much as their papers. It was exciting to see the children given so much creative freedom and thoroughly enjoy their extra-curricular activities. Rose provides the preschools with art supplies and encourages teachers to balance behavioral development with fun, stimulating activities like art and singing. While in Kalmunai, Sonia has been spending time with preschool teachers to share teaching methods and improve English skills. Singing songs like “Eyes, ears, mouth and nose” and "The Hokey Pokey" has not only been fun but is an effective way to teach 3 year olds about anatomy.

We got to Mega Preschool at around 11:00 am, just as students were getting ready to go home. While the children were gathered together with their Rose backpacks, mothers and fathers came to collect them. The teacher at Mega Preschool shared that parents are increasingly supportive of early childhood development and extremely helpful to the teachers inside and outside the classroom. A mother was practicing the English words that her child had learned in class until he worked up the confidence to come up to us and introduce himself in English. I've never been more pleased to be asked "Hello, how are you? What is your name?"

We also learned that the Sri Lankan government has recently agreed to contribute milk packets to each preschool child as a snack. This contribution is the start of a cooperative relationship between Rose Charities and the Sri Lankan government to improve early childhood education in the Ampara District.

Early childhood education is one of Rose Charities’ central programs, with 14 preschools running across the Ampara District. However the program does not only improve access to early education, Rose is constantly working to improve the quality of education in each preschool. Now with government support, perhaps Rose’s model in Ampara can be applied throughout Sri Lanka in future years.

08 April 2011

Sonia and Amanda – Rose Sri Lanka Volunteer Update

On our first day in Kalmunai, Anthony took us to the village of Malwatha where we saw a preschool class in progress. We were greeted with many good mornings from the children who were dressed neatly in their uniforms and Rose Charities ties. Next door, the mothers of the children were also in school, learning their own trade involving design and sewing. The preschool gives many of these young mothers the opportunity to not only educate their children but to develop useful skills. The most significant impact of this program is the importance of education which is instilled in both mothers and children.
English Classes
We’ve started a combination of traditional English classes and computer classes with the Rose staff. A class in the morning with all of the staff is delivered in the classroom.  We then have two separate computer classes with groups of 6-7 in the afternoon using the Knowledge One program. So far, we’ve covered material on phone and email etiquette, practicing phone conversations and reading out loud in class. It took a couple days to determine which staff members were intermediate and which were beginners.  One thing is for sure, despite the varying levels, ALL of the staff here are extremely keen to learn and improve their English skills. Sonia has a hard time picking a volunteer in class because everyone puts their hand up! She is excited to teach such eager students. Amanda on the other hand has taken up Tamil; language exchange!

Women’s Micro-credit Meeting
On Wednesday afternoon we attended a monthly women’s micro-credit meeting. Some women wore turquoise saris, representing the village of Natpaddimunai while others wore pink saris, representing the villages of Pandiruppu, Neelavanai and Veeracholai. The sari colors act as a unifying symbol among women of the same village, creating a large support system . At the meeting the women discussed issues around their loans and made loan payments. Many women were eager to apply for a bank loan and used the meeting to find others that were willing to co-sign with them. It was interesting to see women from different areas, who normally would not meet, band together in order to achieve economic independence.

We met a long time successful loan recipient that ran her own fishing business. With the loans she was able to slowly build up her capital and buy a boat and large fishing nets. Unfortunately, her boat and fishing nets were lost in the recent floods, however that didn’t seem to diminish her strong entrepreneurial spirit.
We also met a woman in her early twenties who had enrolled in a sewing class through Rose’s vocational training program. After graduating, she successfully applied for a micro credit loan and bought a sewing machine to start her own business. She now has enough credit to apply for a private bank loan that will enable her to expand her business. Though she is young she is a leader within the women’s group.
On Thursday we attended another women’s microcredit group in Annamalai district. Here, we saw a preschool that was initiated and built by the local women’s group in order to provide their children with a preschool education. We found that this group had similar concerns to the women in Natpaddimunai, creating groups of ten in order to apply for loans. Additionally, the women talked about their concern for their children’s education as their local school was short teachers. One woman volunteered to go and speak to the principal about their collective concerns.
Our first few days in Kalmunai have been very rewarding, we are so impressed at how much Rose is embedded in the community and how micro credit is the driving force of the organization. Most of the women who receive loans from micro credit have children involved in RCSL’s preschool, primary and secondary educational enrichment programs. As a result, these meetings are a place for women to come and not only talk about loans and their business, but also the needs of their children and families.
We are looking forward the girls’ sports meet on April 11th and will update you on all of the fun activities. Sonia is planning to play her first cricket game!