Sunday, July 7, 2013

Africa - June/July 2013

Imagine 24 wonderful days in Africa!  That's what eight PEER Servants volunteers were able to enjoy at least parts of traveling with PEER Servants President, Todd Engelsen, in June and July.

Canga, Todd, Herma
First stop - South Africa and our partnership with Aloga Financial Services in the Greater Pretoria area.  PEER Servants Board member, Dr. Herma Williams, and PEER Servants Aloga Relationship Manager, Canga Kamwambe, were PEER Servants' threesome for this leg of the trip.  The primary purpose for our time with Aloga was to act as consultants as they considered merging with Ikussasa Trust, another South African Christian microfinance organization.  We're excited about the prospects of the two organizations becoming one and having much greater impact in extending the kingdom than either could have alone.  When we weren't consulting and training on mergers, we were visiting Aloga's microfinance clients, including the "Women of Integrity", pictured here with Dr. Williams.  These women have come together to form a small cooperative where they can do much more together than they could separately.  As seamstresses, they can now purchase better equipment, attract larger orders, and have great fellowship together while they work.  Aloga has stepped in and provided them the access to credit they have needed to grow their business.  There are hundreds more clients like these Women of Integrity who Aloga is empowering through their products and services.  We can't wait to see how the merger allows them to eventually reach thousands.
Aloga's Clients - "Women of Integrity", with PEER Servants Board Member, Dr. Herma Williams
PEER Servants Volunteer, Jim Martin
Next stop - Mongu, Zambia.  Mongu is in Zambia's Western Province, considered the materially poorest province in the country.  There PEER Servants CEMFIN Relationship Manager, Jim Martin (pictured), and
Todd Engelsen met with our newest microfinance partner, CEMFIN.  CEMFIN just started making their first loans over a year ago, so the focus of this trip was building the team needed to allow the organization to grow and flourish.  Our meetings and training on team building went exceptionally well and we left Mongu encouraged that CEMFIN will be able to grow.  We have always been impressed with CEMFIN's clients - they are eager to grow, and appreciative of the products and services CEMFIN is making available to them to do so.
CEMFIN's Board of Directors and Advisors - just part of the team dedicated to CEMFIN's growing impact
Final stop - Arua, Uganda.  Arua is in the northwestern corner of Uganda, a stone's throw from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and South Sudan.  It is now one of the most peaceful places on earth.  It's
PEER Servants Volunteers and CAFECC Staff and Clients
the headquarters for our Ugandan microfinance partner, CAFECC, and five volunteers (PEER Servants Team Uganda member Bob Uhlig, daughter Jessica Uhlig, Rob Krieg, PEER Servants Internship Director Patrice Jenkins, and husband Dave Jenkins) joined Todd Engelsen and PEER Servants Intern, Ryan Shenk, on this final leg of the Africa trip.  There were many objectives for the time with CAFECC - capturing the stories of transformation in the lives of the CAFECC clients, providing consulting and training in new product development and how to access funds beyond donated equity (e.g., savings deposits and debt financing, including Kiva), helping CAFECC in updating their own website, and much, much more.  It wasn't all work and no pleasure!  We took time to celebrate the Executive Director, Patrick Obiga's, forthcoming wedding and enjoyed hearing the accounting of how many cows, goats, and more it was going to take to win the hand of his beautiful bride, Evelyn, from her family.  We also took a day to treat the extremely dedicated and hardworking CAFECC staff to Murchison Falls, a local game reserve, and saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, and much more during our game drive, including a boat cruise on the Nile.  We were so encouraged by the time with CAFECC.  They, like Aloga in South Africa, are already extending the kingdom to hundreds in this part of Uganda, and plan to soon extend that to thousands as God leads.
Some of CAFECC's new clients, being trained in how to run an effective business prior to applying for a loan
Africa is one of the most diverse continents on the planet, but what is common throughout Africa is an exceptional commitment to hospitality and community.  We were blessed in each of these 24 days by both.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Philippines - April 2013

Well, if truth be told, we've been doing so much traveling this past year that we failed to take the time to post our trips on this blog.  Let's see if we can correct our ways going forward given all of the 2013 travel planned to our microfinance partners.

Trips to The Center for Community Transformation (CCT), our microfinance partner in the Philippines, never disappoint!  As high as our expectations are every trip, CCT always finds a way to exceed them.  The April 2013 trip was no exception.  If you would like to visit CCT with PEER Servants, mark October 11-20, 2013 on your calendars and contact us at to get more information.

PEER Servants President, Todd Engelsen, accepting CCT's Award
This trip was our smallest yet to CCT - just Jeremy Schuh, PEER Servants Corporate Intern, and President Todd Engelsen.  There were two primary reasons for the trip.  The first was to accept an award CCT was giving PEER Servants for our 5 years of partnership at a gala event in Manila (see picture).  The second was to complete work on the next case study on CCT, "Spiritual Integration in Every Nook and Cranny of Your Microfinance Operations".  The award was a real honor to accept from CCT, and Jeremy did a great job completing his research to be able to write the case study.  As usual, God had far more planned for this trip than we did.

Francine, one of CCT's inspiring "Community Partners"
The first surprise God had for us was the opportunity to meet some of CCT's amazing clients, or "community partners" as they call them.  Over the years, we have met many of CCT's community partners, and most of them are just that - partners in effecting community transformation.  It's one of the reasons CCT may have as much kingdom impact as any Christian MFI with which we are familiar - they don't do all the work, they partner with the Holy Spirit and their "clients" in doing it.  One of those inspiring community partners was Francine, pictured here.  She started with under a $100 loan, but has since grown not one business, but two (the second for her daughter).  She has come to a strong faith in Jesus and is now hoping and praying her husband will come to know Jesus in a similar way.  Click here to check out Francine's story and join us in praying for the salvation of her family members.

God wasn't done with his surprises.  You know when Jesus talks about the first becoming last and the last becoming first?  Most may think that only applies to heaven, but we are supposed to be the ones extending the kingdom of heaven to earth.  We were reminded of that on this trip when we had the opportunity to meet

Jervie (right) and Jerby (middle) with Todd Engelsen
Jervie and Jerby, pictured here with Todd Engelsen.  Both of these handsome and sharp young men used to be living on the streets of Manila.  CCT saw them, and saw them as God sees them.  They provided them a safe place to live, food on their table, and access to excellent education.  Through that kind of love, Jervie and Jerby embraced the even greater love God has for them and desired to follow Jesus.  Remember the gala event in Manila at which PEER Servants received their award?  Not many present at that event will remember PEER Servants, but no one will forget Jervie and Jerby.  As they gave their testimones, those who heard couldn't help but celebrate the fact that the kingdom of heaven was among us.  Many in that room were "first" in the eyes of the world, but some had chosen to become last, so that those the world would consider "last", like Jervie and Jerby, could become first.  They were the ones that evening who brought the greatest joy to those present, the joy that comes when we see the kingdom of heaven being extended to earth.

Do you want to see more of the kingdom of heaven being extended to earth?  Join us October 11-20, 2013 for the next trip to the Philippines!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Philippines - April 2012

Our April 2012 trip to the Philippines was a wonderful experience!  We were not only with the CCT/Philippines staff, but representatives of our Sri Lankan, South African, and Ugandan microfinance partners for training provided by CCT on "Establishing and Multiplying Healthy Microfinance Branches".  CCT has 140 branches around the Philippines, and the other participating MFIs have no more than 5, so there was much to learn from our Filipino sisters and brothers.  This was one more module in the Strategic Training Initiative (STI) partnership between CCT and PEER Servants aimed to train smaller Christian MFIs in key aspects of Christian microfinance.

Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Ugandans, and South Africans learning from each other.
PEER Servants Team Uganda volunteers Richard Kinyua, Canga Kamwambe, and Jake Mahon joined PEER Servants President Todd Engelsen on this trip.  In the first half of the trip, they joined the 15 students (including recent new "Team Servants", or Branch Managers, within CCT) in observing all that CCT is doing in and through their microfinance branches.  In fact, CCT is expanding the programs and services offered through the branches to establish community centers, offering vocational training for young men, pre-school education for the children, health care for the family, and even a church plant for the community to complement the microfinance that focuses more so on the women and mothers.  In the second half of the trip, the group migrated to CCT's Tagaytay Retreat and Training Center - a beautiful campus that is just one more example of CCT's wonderful vision becoming reality.  Here training was offered in developing a branch viability model and an opportunity to debrief regarding what the class participants had seen with CCT's branch management, group formation, internal controls, and staff discipleship.

As with any PEER Servants trip, it was a lot of work but not without play!  We were able to overlook the beautiful Taal Volcano while enjoying lunch on one day, did some shopping in one of the Manila markets, became addicted to the "Mafia" game one evening, and caught one of the most amazing sunsets in the world looking west from Manila Bay.  All of this built a very strong fellowship among class participants that led to some sad good byes at the end of the week.

PEER Servants makes two trips each year to the Philippines for the STI training.  The next will be November 9-18, 2012 -- let us know if you'd like to join the trip!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Zambia - March 2012

Christian Empowerment Microfinance (CEMFIN), PEER Servants' Zambian microfinance partner, is just about ready to make their first loans!  That led Team Zambia volunteer Ken Lloyd and PEER Servants President Todd Engelsen to travel to Zambia in March 2012 to provide the final training that would prepare CEMFIN for launch.

CEMFIN staff and Advisory Board members in front of the office in Mongu, Zambia.
CEMFIN is based in Mongu, in Zambia's Western Province.  This is considered Zambia's materially poorest province and a great place to establish a strong Christian MFI.  The CEMFIN team, led by Executive Director, pastor Alick Kalonga, has been woring hard for literally years to launch CEMFIN, having finally received formal approval from the Bank of Zambia in late 2011.

Ken and his wife, Phyllis, were SIM missionaries in Zambia and came to love and be loved by the Zambian people.  As Ken and Phyllis asked the Zambian leaders "what is your vision?", their response was "teach us how to establish our own businesses, so that we can better meet our own needs, that of our church, and play a greater role in extending the kingdom even beyond Zambia".  CEMFIN was born -- a Zambian Christian microfinance organization with a Zambian board, staff, and as of May 2012, clients!

Ken and Todd focused this trip on training the three CEMFIN staff members (Pastor Kalonga, Mike Kasoko, and Harriet Chibale) and members of the Mongu Advisory Board (a local governing board established by the Lusaka-based Board of Directors) in key aspects of microfinance operations - how to design products that clients will want, how to manage the risks of making a loan, how to administer the making and repayment of loans using microfinance software, and how to integrate a spiritual growth component so that CEMFIN is not just about meeting material needs.  Both Mike and Harriet have past microfinance experience and are very well-equipped to handle CEMFIN operations.  We focused on aspects of effective governance with the Advisory Board members.  They, too, are going to be an integral element in the success of CEMFIN.

While the trip focused on microfinance training, it was blessed with fantastic fellowship with our gracious Zambian hosts.  Every evening was one spent in great Christian fellowship and delicious Zambian cuisine.  We enjoyed worshiping with them on Sunday.  The good Lord even allowed us to see a leopard as we traveled through Kafue National Park to Mongu at the beginning of the trip.  These were wonderful days in Zambia, and we look forward to perhaps you being able to join us on a trip to Zambia in the days ahead!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

South Asia - February 2012

South Asia is home to two of the larger microfinance partners of PEER Servants - the Christian Service Society (CSS) in Kolkata, India and YGRO-HEED throughout Sri Lanka.  A PEER Servants team of six - Board Chair Dave Ryder, his daughter Patty Ryder, PEER Servants MIS Director Dave Leach, PEER Servants Team Sri Lanka volunteers Ramesh and Sheba Telore, and President Todd Engelsen - visited these two partners in February 2012.

CSS/India clients.
CSS/India serves almost 20,000 clients on the outskirts of Kolkata.  They serve the very materially poor, starting with loans less than $25.  Virtually all of their beneficiaries or clients live in Hindu or Muslim villages.  They have many different kinds of businesses - rice farming, tailoring/embroidery, raising livestock, jewelry making, and so much more.  Where this is our newest microfinance partner, the focus of this visit was to get to know CSS, their board, staff, and clients, even better.  Dave Leach also provided MIS consulting on a new loan tracking system CSS is installing.  We also had strategic planning discussions to map out the way CSS could have even greater impact in the days ahead.

YGRO-HEED/Sri Lanka client in a tsunami-affected area.
Then on to Colombo, Sri Lanka with a stop in Mumbai, to pick up Ramesh and Sheba.  In Sri Lanka we joined YGRO-HEED in celebrating their recent accomplishment of not only becoming operationally sustainable (covering all of their operating costs with their operating revenue), but passing the 1,000 mark in current active clients (with well over 5,000 clients served since inception of the program).  We provided training in how to have an even greater transformative impact while helping them map out next steps in their MIS loan tracking software installation and identifying steps they could take to better manage risk.  Then it was on to the eastern part of the country where we were impressed with the work being done in the Batticaloa branch serving hundreds of clients that were in the area hit very hard by the 2004 tsunami.

We left South Asia extremely impressed with both CSS/India and YGRO-HEED/Sri Lanka and the work they are doing to extend the kingdom of heaven into the lives of their people and into our lives as well.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Haiti - January 2012

ACLAM Staff and PEER Servants Volunteers at Strategic Planning Staff Retreat
PEER Servants Team Haiti volunteers Elie Lafortune, Barbara Crossman, and Marie Williams joined PEER Servants President, Todd Engelsen, for a January 16-20 Strategic Planning Staff retreat with the 35-member staff of ACLAM (Action Contre La Misère), PEER Servants Haitian microfinance partner.  ACLAM is already serving over 5,000 clients as a sustainable MFI, but their vision is to expand much further and, in so doing, become one of the leading Christian MFIs in Haiti.

Elie took on the role of Retreat emcee and did a fantastic job.  Marie presented the results of a survey PEER Servants had helped design and complete to provide insight to what ACLAM's clients really want for microfinance services.  Barb and Todd provided training in establishing vision and mission and managing risk.

We were really encouraged by the time together with the ACLAM staff - the first time we had ever been with all 35 of them at the same time.   We came away convinced that Haitians are the best equipped to identify and provide what Haitians needs - we can assist them in that, but we must start with their vision, not ours, and support them in their leadership role.