Tiny bank serves thousands

By August 4, 2008

(MNN) — A tiny bank in a former butcher shop is serving thousands of people
right in the center of the marketplace of Blantyre,

Only four people staff the mini-branch of the Opportunity
Bank of Malawi (OIBM), which opened in March 2007. It is already in high demand: over 3,000
people have already opened savings accounts, some of them from cities as many
as 100 kilometers away. It also offers
loans and insurance to clients. 

Even though it is located in one of the poorest countries in
the world, the bank averages 18 account openings and 30 transactions per
day. 70 percent of its clients are
women. They no longer have to make
expensive, risky trips to the main branch of the bank in Limbe, because the
mini-branch is located right in the area where they live and work. 

Almost 100 percent of the bank's loans are repaid on
time. Tabia Chibale, who runs a small
business making and selling necklaces, plans to pay off her loan before the end
of its eight-month term. If she does,
she will be able to take out a larger loan and expand her business. 

"It's a great bank," she said. "I have 100% [higher] profit
now than before."

The mother of three girls, Chibale travels to Zimbabwe twice
every month to purchase raw materials for her business. 

Mrs. Jabalasa, who buys and sells potatoes, believes her
money is safer in the bank than it was when she hid it in her home. She recently opened her very first savings
account after learning about the bank from friends. 

is an extremely poor country, with 76 percent of the population living on less
than one dollar per day. Almost 14
million people live in Malawi,
and tens of thousands of them die of HIV/AIDS every year, according to the
CIA. Opportunity International has over
17,000 active loan clients in the country. 

Opportunity International-U.S. strives to reach the world's
poorest people through its micro-enterprise development programs. 

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