Greetings to all of you my friends, colleagues and most importantly my community on PulseWire! I am truly thankful to be part of this dynamic community and I feel a sense of common/shared purpose on PulseWire than any other online communities that I belong to. It certainly feels good to be part of something bigger than myself. I know that together we stand a chance of making our world community a better place for all of us. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the staff at PulseWire for creating such a wonderful platform that connect us all so that we can collectively work together on many issues that impact our global community. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to share my story with all of you and most importantly, to share the stories of many women who have given me the voice and opportunity to serve them. As most of you know, I am the founder and executive director of First Step Initiative (www.firststepinitiative.org), which is a Minnesota-based microfinance organization that works with very-low income entrepreneur women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At the beginning of this year I shared with you our five year plan with the goal of reaching 11,000 women in the DRC, thereby reducing the economic hardship and promoting women’s empowerment. I am glad to report that we have already started planting seeds. I was in the Congo about a month ago and we had 20 new women who joined our loan program in April. We are expecting 60 new women to join us in July 2008, and about 100 more will join us in September and by year end we expect 120 more women to join our loan program. From where we are today if all goes as planned, we expect to reach and provide micro-financing opportunity to at least 300 women by the end of the year. I know that we have a long journey ahead of us but we are off to a good start. At the sometime, I know that I will need you all to join me in this journey so that we are able to empower more women such as Muzi, Hortense, and Gisele to achieve their full potential. Here are the stories of three women listed above. I will be sharing stories of more women throughout the year. 1. Muzi is a mother of two and she is 24 years old. I met Muzi last month through one of our partnering agencies in the DRC. First Step Initiative has started a partnership with the Catholic nuns who teach young women trading skills so that they can be able to start their own income generating activities and sustain themselves. Muzi is one of the young mothers who is participating in this training and has been learning how to make jam and how bake bread, cake,...etc. She wants to open her own bakery store in the next couple of months. I remember having a conversation with her about her dreams for the future, and she just looked in my eyes and told me with much determination that she is going to work hard to make sure that her two children have a better future. She told me that all she needed to start her bakery business is a bag of baking flour which costs between $15-$20. This is all she needs to launch her business. Muzi like many other young ladies in her training class will join our loan program next month (June) and will receive their first loans in July. I was very encouraged to see many young women like Muzi who are determined to transform their lives and all they are looking for is an opportunity that would allow them to take the first step toward achieving their goals. And I am very proud to say that First Step Initiative has made a strategic decision to have at least 25% of our clients be young adults between the ages of 18-24. Below please find a photograph of Muzi mixing the dough for bread. 2. Hortance is one of our newest entrepreneurs in our loan program. She is 20 years old and a mother of one. She sells fabric which women in the Congo use to make clothes for the themselves and their children. Here is a picture of Hortance and her handsome son. This picture is taken after one of the business training with our clients. Hortance wanted me to meet her son; so she quickly run to her house after the training as I was leaving for another meeting and she grabbed her son literally running back toward where I was. I just remember seeing this handsome happy baby who was bouncing up and down and the mother almost dropped him but she caught him on time, and I snapped the picture capturing that moment. Seeing Hortence’s son gave me hope. Because I know that if we succeed in our work, it would positively impact thousands and thousands of children. Our hope is that by providing micro-financing to entrepreneur women, we will be able to reduce malnutrition and increase educational attainment for school age children. Here is picture of Hortance and her son. 3. Gilese is 37 years old and a mother of four. She owns a small kiosk and she is working to expand her business to reach a point where she could hire a couple of people to help her with the work so that she could spend time taking care of her epileptic daughter. Here is a picture of Gisele in front of her business. 4. Finally, I would like to report on the progress of one of our entrepreneurs whose story you have probably have read on our website. And that entrepreneur is Lizette. Lizette is one of the young entrepreneurs whose business is doing well. She breads hair for a living and her business is expanding and she has been able to training five other young women who are helping her out with the work. As usually, when I visited her business last month she braided my hair and here is a photograph of Lizette and myself. If you are interested in helping finance a business for a woman or a group of women in the Congo, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (763)-546-1932 Thank you very much for reading my post and I look forward to your comments.
Best regards, Chingwell