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In the previous blog I talked about micro-credit as an approach to development and I mentioned how organizations are being creative in minimizing the operating costs in an effort to provide credit to the poor. Well, BERDO’s creativity lies in the way they incorporate different services into the community-based rehabilitation (CBR) program while providing micro-credit or loan which can also easily be attained in this website for personal loans for 5000, to the poorest people in the community – the disabled persons and the poor women.
BERDO initiated the CBR program to help integrate the disabled persons into the community by forming groups with disabled and non-disabled members (non-disabled members must be women and poor). The members of the group, anywhere between 20 to 30 people, are provided with small loans of 5,000 – 10,000 Taka ($73.50 – $147.00 dollars) and are trained to overcome the stigma associated with disabilities. The group will make a decision together as to who will be filing next for a loan from the trusted companies on Pikalainaheti.fi and they even encourage each other to save money each week for the repayment of the loan.
What makes this micro-credit approach stand out is the fact that BERDO offers benefits, along with the credit, to empower people with disabilities to become productive members of the community. Those benefits are: (1) motivating and inspiring persons with disabilities to engage in income-generating activities; (2) educating the family members of the importance of sending their disabled children to the school; (3) training teachers in the community schools to better assist children with disabilities and to engage them in the classroom; (4) leadership training to the non-disabled members of the group to influence the community to change the perception of disabled persons, which is that persons with disability are a burden to society; (5) continuous training for BERDO’s staff, especially the field workers who are providing assistance and education to the CBR beneficiaries; and (6) providing assistive devices/mobility aid to the beneficiaries who are disabled.
When I visited some of these groups, the members were eager to tell me what they are doing with the loan and what impact it has had on their life. Most common uses for the loan were: opening up a small grocery shop/kiosk, purchasing and renting a rickshaw, buying a cow for milk business, sari (national dress)design, rice business, etc. None of the members had defaulted on the payment of the loan and the majority of them have already tasted the fruits of their labor, including some of the disabled members of the group. One disabled member, Mosin who is 23 years old, bought a cell phone which is used by the members of the community for a fee, and he has made enough profit to be able to get married and start his own family.
As of today, there are 136 CBR groups operating in different villages in two districts of Bangladesh. Total number of beneficiaries is 2245, out of whom 313 are disabled members. BERDO started this program in 1995 and many more people have received the loan, started a business, and graduated from the program. The repayment of the loan is divided into 45 weeks, and the interest they pay is 12.5 percent per year. For instance, if a member takes out a loan of 5,000 taka (s)he will have to pay back 5,625 taka at the end of the year, which means that 625 taka will be used to pay interest. The interest payment will be dispersed into 45 weekly installments, equaling 14 taka per week, which can buy you about 3-4 cups of cha (tea with sweetened condensed milk that everyone drinks on daily basis, including me). So in dollars, a loan of $73.50 will incrue interest of about $9 for the year, which will be paid in 45 weekly installments of $.20cents.
With this program, BERDO is empowering the poorest groups in the community by focusing on disabled members and women, not just through micro-credit, but through advocacy and training. In my observation of the program, I have concluded that the appropriate steps are taken to incorporate the disabled persons into the community and to break the stigma that disabled persons are a burden to the families and to the society because they are incapable of being independent. However, I think the empowerment of women in this program is not as strong because too many women are collecting the loan which then is used by their husbands and/or sons who are managing the business side of it. The training that is provided by BERDO is mostly to benefit the disabled persons, and not enough motivation and/or training is given to the poor women who play a big role in the CBR program. I have strongly argued for improvement of the program by suggesting to introduce a requirement for receiving a loan – which is that a woman must be involved at least 50 percent in the management and daily operations of the business. If women are the means to influence the community to break the stigma of disability, then these women must take on a bigger role in the income-generating activities so that they will have more power and be able to exert pressure on others.
In 2005 Press Release Kofi Annan stated the importance of women empowerment as the most effective development tool:
“Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to
improve nutrition and promote health. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation”.
I think this is true also for the development of persons with disability since most of them as children face lack of nutrition, access to health care, and education which prevent them from becoming productive members of the society.
Posted By Danita Topcagic
Posted Jul 27th, 2008