Kenya turmoil increases as mediators fly in

By January 24, 2008

Kenya (MNN) — An effort to mediate Kenya's bloody election standoff is underway this week. 

In the meantime, the violence doesn't appear to have let up, resulting in more displaced families. There's almost no agency left unaffected. 

Mano Kamaleson is CEO of Opportunity International Kenya. Operating in Western Kenya, the head office is currently located in Kisumu, and there are five branch offices. Kamaleson says, "We have about eight thousand clients, and about 20% of those clients have been displaced. Our primary concern right now is safety."

Opportunity International has been working microenterprise in with ministry in Kenya since 2006. They provide small microfinance loans — sometimes as little as $50 — as well as banking, insurance and other financial services that allow poor entrepreneurs to start or expand a business, develop a steady income, provide nutritious meals and education for their children, and create jobs for their neighbors.   

As a result, they develop relationships with their clients. When instability affects them, it becomes personal. "Several of our clients have had their businesses burnt to the ground, their homes threatened. There are a few that have actually been killed; [fortunately] none of our staff has been injured." 

Opportunity has taken a three-pronged approach at this time which involves loan restructuring, emergency loans, and an established social network. 

Staff can reschedule client loan repayments without penalty, adjusting them to the climate of their business. This can range from being given a grace period or loan restructuring. If they're able to service their loan, they can continue. But even if their business is not impacted by the violence, there is a need to recognize that they are/will be impacted by the loss of the economy.

Emergency assistance will help many of their clients who have good business experience.  Opportunity will be there to help them get back on their feet, particularly if their business has been burned down or inventory stolen. 

The team is working hard to find out what information and technical assistance would be helpful in their client's recovery and productivity. Opportunity is in the transformation business, not just providing loans but business training, support and assistance to help people work their way out of poverty. 

Kamaleson says the hope of Christ will play a critical role in the recovery in the aftermath.  Their team aims to be a ray of hope in the despair that currently exists. More than ever, their services are needed to create a new hope for Kenya. "Opportunity International is a Christian organization whose primary focus is transformation–the improvement of quality of life, economically, spiritually and socially. So we have our work cut out for us."

Opportunity International is accepting donations to the $1 million Kenya Emergency Fund set up to support their clients who are suffering in the wake of violence and disruption of business in Western Kenya. Click here if you can help.

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