Thailand (MNN) — Ten years ago, refugees were making their way
into Northeastern Thailand.
Joseph Richter with FARMS International says they were tribal
groups, and poverty was preventing them from thriving. "Many of them relocated from Vietnam and Laos because of the war. They
were very disadvantaged, living in Hill Tribe areas and small villages,
needing this type of help."
FARMS launched a micro-enterprise project in the area. The
region, as a whole, represents 450 projects among the Hmong and Mien tribes. A loan would be given to a vetted recipient,
who would also be a member of the local Church. The idea is that once he starts seeing
profit come in from his project, he tithes from that.
Another distinctive of FARMS is at that their loans are interest-free. Most micro loan programs charge high interest averaging 36% or
more. Attempts to shake poverty are encumbered by the interest rates.
Richter explains that their outreach runs their programs with volunteer
loan committees, which eliminates the need for profit from the people they
would be serving. "So, it became good example of our overall type of program."
"We were able to document their original economic situation, which was
pretty dire. I think the median income of the people we were working with was
$750 a year," Richter notes.
How would micro-enterprise change
the region? FARMS sent a team to conduct
an extensive field survey of nearly 80 percent of the families in their project
areas. The results were stunning. What they saw was an average project return of about 186% on
housing had improved, and their children's education had improved. We also saw
maybe 20 percent said they started new business. Over 10 percent said they
purchased new land."
Nearly all of the project participants had repaid their initial
loans. Are those numbers true? Because FARMS does not use "solidarity groups," they don't force
people to guarantee each others' loans.
Richter notes, "The Bible calls this surety, and it can and does cause
tremendous shame and destroys relationships. It may guarantee high
repayment, but it also puts a burden on others in the group to bear the burden
of the defaulter."
As a result, the local church can support itself. "We've seen over 100 percent of the people tithe,
which is the cornerstone of our project. And almost 100% said they had grown in
faith. The same percentage said that their churches had benefited."
God has been moving in the area. "We've seen such faithfulness, that
we're going to expand the area. [We'll] also expand the size of the loans that people
can receive," which further enables support to the church leader, freeing him
to take the Gospel into more places.
You can help. Click here for more
details about where FARMS is working.