Sunday, August 23, 2009
BREAKFAST WITH AN ICON
We were fortunate to receive a message from Ingrid Munro, founder of JamiiBora, that she would meet us for breakfast at 7:30 before we left Nairobi. We had heard a bit of her story from many people, several of her were beneficiaries of her thoughtful generosity. She was working with the Pan African Housing Development in Nairobi for several years before her retirement. Once she retired, many of the recipients of the agency’s aid did not understand the concept of “retirement”. Since many of her clients called her “Mama”, they felt she had abandoned them. They told her “a mother does not retire”. While living in Nairobi, Ingrid adopted two street children and through them met the mothers of her children’s friends and came to understand the plight of the most impoverished and least served members of the community.
Ingrid knew these mothers wanted to improve their lives but had neither the means nor the understanding of sound financial practices to advance themselves, as theirs was a hand to mouth existence. She told them if they saved 2 schillings a day (equivalent of 12 cents at that time) for five days for five weeks then she would get them a loan of 500. This made no sense to the mothers because any coins they managed to scrap together was spent immediately. They were skeptical until Ingrid decided to lure them with free maize and beans once a week at the same time they were to give her their “savings”. The group started with 10 women who met in the garden of Ingrid’s home every week. Those women all transformed their lives by taking the small loan to buy a chicken, potatoes, charcoal, or another product to sell. Each time they made a payment on their loan, Ingrid saw that they also set aside savings so they learned it was their savings that they were able to leverage to advance to another level.
Ingrid says it’s always the bravest who go first, then the second bravest until finally the coward’s will come forward and the others help pull them up the ladder.
Ingrid has advanced the concept of traditional micro loans to a holistic approach, providing assistance in multiple areas of a person’s struggle with financial difficulties. They created a training program, a drug and alcohol abuse counseling center and most recently have acquired a bank. Today each member must pay health and loan insurance which JamiiBora has secured for them with health insurance averaging the equivalent of $15.00 per year (yes, you read that right) and the loan insurance depends on the amount of the loan.
We were in awe of the many experiences Ingrid shared with us. When we expressed our admiration for all she accomplished and the number of lives that have been touched by her, Ingrid quickly pointed out that it was the two generations of women that came before her who set the stage for her success by securing women’s right to vote and establishing themselves in the workforce. Susan and Betsy noted that my mother, who will celebrate her 90th birthday next month, took flying lessons in college, went to work in the Panama Canal Zone upon graduation and was one of the first three women hired by Eddie Rickenbacker as President of Eastern Airlines to fill management positions. She also joined the American Red Cross, serving in Paris, after which she attended the Nuremberg trials and went to law school. Ingrid asked questions and was very interested to hear about my mother’s life as it supported her sense of obligation to that generation. I have added this portion of our extended 2 hour meeting as a tribute to my mother and that she knows that Susan shares my pride in her accomplishments.
Meeting Ingrid for an extended conversation made our last hours in Nairobi so meaningful and gave us confirmation of the individual successes we had witnessed in the day before. This large organization did in fact grow from the heart and mind of just one “retired” person who saw a need and was compelled to apply her core values and years of experience.