This week I'm feeling more and more convinced that money can't solve anything around here. That may be obvious, but it's a daily frustration as everyone from personal friends, to the staff that works at the house, and the random person on the street asks us for loans, money for their cousin in the hospital, school fees, food, anything and everything! The challenge is...if you say yes once, the expectation is that you can help the next time, and the next person/people as well.
After developing a friendship, we decided to give a Malawian friend a six month loan of $100 to start a rice business. We saw this as a personal investment and an opportunity to learn how business works in Malawi. Our friend has great people skills, a lot of enthusiasm, some experience trading maize, and a large local network of friends who could be suppliers and potential clients. We challenged him to do simple market research ahead of time and when through cost analysis and cash flow budget scenarios with him ahead of time.
Two weeks later, we are disappointed to find out that all the money was stolen from his apartment. Curiously, he has some simple new furniture, which I'm sure the loan money was used to buy....but, like Jon says, "at least he got some furniture out of it." We are both really disappointed; not that the money is gone, but that it didn’t materialize into a great success story. I'm sure he's telling us the truth, but I also feel like there was some irresponsibility involved on his part and a lot of naivite on our part. Our little experiment took a kamikaze dive!
We are not going to give up on our friend (next time we will give him a bunch of avacados from the pregnant tree in our yard. He can sell those to build up some small capital to start with), but the bigger problem I see not just in him, but in the society in general, is a crippling dependence on foreign aid. There’s SO much foreign aid in Malawi, that it is often easier to get money by just asking, then by building up capital through a small business.
I'm getting geared up to start working with local artists who, so far, are mostly street vendors. I'm a bit hesitant because I know that the first thing they are going to ask for is supplies. Really, I would be happy to buy a few supplies for the artists, but it's only a short term solution and it perpetuates the problem of dependence. Therefore, I have been waiting to start meeting with them while I do some personal mind preparation. I think that I'm resolving to not "give" anything away. I want to help the artists identify their obstacles and try to walk through the problem-solving process with them. One week I might ask everyone to create a piece using only organic materials...recycled materials.... or supplies costing under 10 Kwacha (about 7 cents). Hopefully, this will force them to take closer observation of their surrounding environment and all the resources at their finger tips. I have been doing research and experiments on making paint from papaya leaves, natural red clay from the earth, chalk and charcoal. I will share these things with them only after they have struggled a bit on their own first.
Eventually, I would like to help them develop technique with classical materials (paint, pastels, charcoal, graphite, etc). I have ideas for how we could get supplies together, but again, I will present the problem to the group and hope to come up with a collaborative solution. One of my ideas is to gather a community collection of supplies. Each time people want to use the supplies they would have to pay a small manageable fee that I would then match with funds I would find in my personal budget or from donors. This solution has lot's of room for complications, but it's a start and I'm very interested to see what the group could come up with.