Last month WORTH women in Uganda invited Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of American Democratic Congressman and 2008 presidental hopeful Dennis Kucinich, into their groups to learn about WORTHs unique model and the amazing results of their participation in the WORTH program.
Upon her return to the U.S., Mrs. Kucinich wrote the following account about her most recent trip to Africa and particularly about the WORTH program on her own blog.
"As you may already know, I lived for 16 months in East Africa, in a village of subsistence farmers. There was no electricity and no water bore hole in the village, and I loved it. I learned to value and respect the ‘peasant’ culture of self reliance, community, respect for the environment and freedom from the tyranny of an industrial society with its constant economic demands. There I learned a great deal about the industry of international development and experienced for myself the tremendous Western disparity and confusion between the simplicity of the lifestyle of peasant culture and the label of poverty. Something I am working very hard to remedy, working to create opportunities for peace, prosperity and a healthy environment to flourish, without destroying a valuable way of life that we in the West should be learning from.
It is with this heart that I flew to Uganda to visit some women’s groups in villages in the Mbale region. These communities have benefitted from a WORTH, a women’s empowerment and savings based microfinance program that was developed in Nepal with the help of a wonderful lady called Marcia Odell and her husband Malcolm who encouraged her to use ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ a method that instead of looking at problems and solutions, looks at how we can strengthen our strengths so our weaknesses fall into insignificance. WORTH is now in eight different countries, serving hundreds of thousands of women through their empowerment and education, providing them with the skills to run their own community banks and strengthen their communities through micro-enterprise, education and basic community led savings and loans services.
It took three and a half hours to make the drive from Kampala to Mbale and then about an hour driving into the rural villages to meet with one of the groups of 25 women who were running their own WORTH microfinance savings group. They meet each week to learn literacy, skills in micro enterprise and community banking, as well as to save together and lend their collective savings to one another at 2% interest, so that each member of the group has the benefit of the use of capital to start and develop their enterprise...
I spoke to one lady who explained the value of WORTH to her and her family. She had 14 children of her own and was now looking after her brother’s five children, after he and his wife had passed away due to AIDS. Through the ethic of the WORTH model, with emphasis on group support and strengthening, community empowerment through women’s empowerment, education and microfinance through the mobilization of savings, this previously illiterate women with little hope to support nineteen dependents explained how she could now clothe them, feed them and send some of them to school. A dream come true. Her microenterprise started after joining the WORTH group and realized that people had to go great distances to buy medicine. She took out a loan from the community’s joint savings and invested in a small number of medicines. She set up a little stall in the village and sold the medicine to those who needed it. She used her profits to pay back her loan and to buy a larger stock of medicine. She now has a thriving business that provides affordable medicine to the community and now advises people on aspects of healthcare. She supports nineteen dependents using a mixture of her income from her microenterprise and the produce from the land she and her family farm.
According to a recent government report, 1 in 8 people in America live below the official poverty line of $19,971 per year for a family of four. Over 97 million live on less that twice this level and all those are without adequate healthcare. 50% of bankruptcies are due to healthcare costs. Having come from a country with a tremendous national healthcare service, I am astounded that America of all places still does not serve its people with this most basic need. Whilst Dennis and I strive for the transformation of the health industry to become a health service and for sane economic practices which enable equity rather than debt, it is my dream to for those models that are working in the ‘Global South’, namely WORTH to help those in need in the ‘Global North’ who in many cases suffer great levels of poverty through systemic faults (which Dennis and I are working to correct), which can be overcome to some degree through community networks and empowerment. It is the responsibility of us all to encourage and facilitate the creation of systems of education and economy that provide communities with the skills to employ their own enterprise to secure the fulfillment of the needs of their families."