Twelve-year-old Fatimah* passed her days mending clothing by hand to earn some small bit of income for her family. Sometimes, as she worked alongside her mother at the house, she thought back on her early childhood. She used to attend school in those days. Her teacher had told her that she was the brightest student in her class, which meant that she would be an excellent student in junior high and even secondary school! Fatimah had excitedly relayed this conversation to her mother, who had promptly shut the idea down. “Don’t you know that school uniforms cost money, as does the ferry you would have to take to reach the school? We hardly have money to feed all of us, Fatimah! Your time will be much better spent earning an income mending clothing in our village.” And that was that. Outwardly, Fatimah appeared to give up hope of ever attending school. Still, deep in her heart, she fostered a dream of going back to school one day…
Fourteen-year-old Shanti* didn’t see her father often. With his work taking him to several different villages for long hours each day, the most she could hope for was occasional time with him on the nights when he did come home, exhausted. During these brief encounters, he would often bring up the idea of giving Shanti away in marriage very soon. Shanti didn’t dare voice her discomfort with such an arrangement–she knew their family’s poverty weighed heavily on her father. If he knew that Shanti was being taken care of by someone with even a little more food on the table, he would have more peace of mind.
One day, Fatimah heard a group of people talking excitedly outside of her house. She ran to see what the commotion was all about. “What’s going on? What’s happening?” she asked, but her small voice was not heard above the noise. Peering around all the adults, she saw her neighbor Parveen standing by a new, beautiful cow! How could Parveen possibly afford to buy a cow?! Fatimah thought. That would cost more than six months’ salary! And her family is just like us–they hardly have enough money for food!
Squeezing up closer to Parveen, Fatimah heard her talking about some people who had told her that selling milk from a dairy cow could double her family’s income. They had then loaned her money to buy a cow and do just that, so long as she promised to repay the loan by the end of 10 months. The people were so helpful, Parveen explained. They taught her so much about how to carefully manage her new income so that she could repay the loan and have money to spare!
A few months later, Shanti heard about some money-lenders who had come to her village that day. Various members of their community had taken out loans and seen substantial increases in their income, and as a result, were finding an improved quality of life. She excitedly told her mother that they needed to go talk to them about taking out a loan themselves. Who knows–maybe her own family could start a business at home so that her dad wouldn’t have to be gone so much! And, she thought to herself, maybe I wouldn’t have to get married just yet.
Shanti and her mother reached the money-lenders’ tables just in time to hear another mom telling her daughter about the plans for their loan. “I don’t want to promise anything,” the mom was saying, “but maybe–just maybe— we can send you back to school now that our loan is repaid.” As the pair turned around, Shanti saw that the daughter was her friend Fatimah, whose family had taken out a loan for a sewing machine. That machine sped up their work so much that they paid back their loan in two months! Shanti took in the scene, amazed.
A few moments later, Shanti and her mother spoke with the men at the table, who told them that their family, too, was eligible to go through business training and receive a loan. They had come at the perfect time to take out a loan, the men explained, as the hundreds of families like Fatimah’s who had taken out loans were just starting to repay them. This made loans available for families like Shanti’s in turn!
After further discussion, they all decided that it would be best for Shanti’s family to start a shop in the center of their village. With all of the people that her dad had worked for in neighboring villages, he had more than enough connections to people who could supply items to be sold in his shop. He would be near home every day and earning multiple times his current income! Shanti’s mother said they’d like to get started on the business classes right away. As they walked away, Shanti’s mother turned to her and said: “Now, about that whole marriage business… Maybe now we can convince your father to wait a while longer.”
All Shanti could do was smile.
Change the lives of South Asian families like Shanti’s and Fatimah’s this holiday season by giving a micro-loan through GFM’s Christmas Gift Catalog.
With each loan that is issued, multiple families are given the chance to come out of poverty with dignity and be introduced to the Gospel as the reason for the compassion they’ve been shown.
*Though Fatimah and Shanti are fictional characters, the details of this story are all based on real-life situations that we see unfold daily among the people we work with in South Asia. Thousands like Fatimah and Shanti have had their lives radically transformed as they come to know the hope of Christ and experience love in action.