How $500 loans change lives

The WAVS ExtraCredit micro-loan program just finished its first year and we’ve got good news! All three borrowers repaid their loans in full and on time. Now we’re bringing you their stories to show how your partnership with WAVS has helped change lives with something as simple as a $500 loan.

We’d like to give a special thanks to our partner organization, Give To Grow International, which helped make this project possible!

(To be a part of the work that WAVS is doing in Guinea-Bissau, visit us atwww.WAVSchools.org.)

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Marcelino Tilana: A risk that paid off

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Marcelino sits in front of his small shop while reviewing receipts from his recent trips to neighboring countries.

He’s not afraid of taking risks. But in Guinea-Bissau, that can mean losing it all.

Marcelino, a slim and soft-spoken entrepreneur in this poverty-stricken West African country, invested his life savings a few years ago into the cashew harvest – the country’s cash crop. But it was a disastrous year and his money, as they say in Guinea-Bissau, was “all eaten.”

So Marcelino moved to the island country of Cape Verde in search of a new life as a construction worker. But two years later, with no money in his pocket, he returned home.

Marcelino’s story is a common one. In Guinea-Bissau, a tiny and politically tumultuous country where more than two-thirds of people live off less than $2 a day, you have to take risks if you want to survive. Steady jobs and predictable sources of income are a foreign concept.

Often, however, the only capital available to take those risks is someone’s life savings. Usually, it’s not enough money to reap a meaningful return. And when things go bad, it leaves families destitute.

I met Marcelino, a 28-year-old husband and father, one year ago in Canchungo, a town of about 20,000 people in western Guinea-Bissau where WAVS has established its vocational job-training center. I was working with local WAVS staff to implement a new program called ExtraCredit, which gives local entrepreneurs (which is almost everybody in Canchungo) a $500 loan that they must pay back in one year with interest. Marcelino was one of three borrowers in our pilot project.

Last week, I visited him at his shop in the market to find out whether the loan helped. Marcelino, like the other two borrowers, had paid back his loan, plus interest, in full and on-time.

Since this was the first time WAVS was experimenting with micro-loans, I wondered how much difference $500 could really make in one year. My doubts rose when I saw Marcelino’s “shop” – the rusted-out remains of the last four feet of a shipping container with two creaky metal doors on either side. Inside, with a few rays of light peeking through holes in the container, I saw pairs of bright pink, blue and green slippers, a few shirts hanging from the container roof, and a cardboard box full of hand lotions and hair extensions. Outside the container were two dilapidated wooden tables that probably would have been used for scraps anywhere else in the world.

Marcelino explained that after returning from the Cape Verdean islands in 2009, he rented space in the market for this shop. Earlier in life, he has sold basic goods for six years before his meager profits disappeared with the failed cashew harvest in 2007.

“I know this work well,” he said.

Despite the fact that his last big investment went bad, Marcelino knew he had no choice but to keep taking risks if he wanted to, for example, finally finish constructing his house in a nearby village. So when he heard about the WAVS ExtraCredit program, he eagerly accepted the $500 loan.

With that money, he told me, he made several trips to The Gambia, a neighboring country, and to Senegal’s capital, Dakar, which is a 14-hour drive from here. On each trip, he bought as much as he could and loaded it onto a public transport vehicle back to Canchungo, knowing that with poor infrastructure and political instability in Guinea-Bissau, everything in his home-country costs more than in the better-developed neighboring countries. Hair extensions – which many Guinean women wear – cost $4 in The Gambia and sell for $6 in Canchungo, for example.

The $500 loan was just what Marcelino needed to take advantage of the market price differences and help grow his shop.

“After all these challenges in my life, this loan really helped me start my business again,” he told me.

But the loan did more than that. With some of the remaining funds, Marcelino planted peanuts in his village, spending $180 on hired labor and $60 for seeds. After the harvest, he sold about 50 bags of peanuts for $500 – more than doubling his investment. He used the profits to buy zinc to cover his house, literally putting a roof over the head of he and his wife and 2-year-old son. Soon, he plans to open a small shop attached to his house. His future is looking brighter, he said, “all because of the micro loan.”

Because Marce-lino paid back his loan, he’s now eligible for a $1,000 loan from the ExtraCredit program, which he’ll receive in December.

“This program is able to help people,” he said. “If someone wants to work hard, it will help you grow. I want to say thank you. You did a good thing for us.”

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Abulai Gomes: Funds to grow – his business, and rice

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Abulai stands in front of his small shop in the Canchungo market.

Abulai, a jovial and energetic 23-year-old with a strong handshake and big smile, runs a small shop – brightly painted yellow – with just enough space for him to stand behind the counter. It’s stuffed with baby shirts, baby socks and small toys.

He received a $500 micro-loan from WAVS in early 2012 that he used to purchase new items from the capital in Guinea-Bissau and sell them in Canchungo. This gave him the cash he needed to diversify his purchases and find out which products sold well in his hometown.

Also, thanks to the increased revenue from sales this last year, he was able to plant rice on his property so that his family didn’t have to buy expensive sacks of rice from the market.

 “I was able to invest the money in some things that were able to help me a lot,” he said.

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Pedro “Cande” Gomes: Turning capital into profit with cell-phone credit

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Cande uses his phone to send cell-phone credit directly to customers.

Cande’s shop is a couple hundred yards from the main market, so he doesn’t see as much foot traffic as other business owners do. This has forced him to focus on finding a niche in the market – in this case, selling cell-phone credit.

The soap, spaghetti, candles, oil, and bottled water in his shop don’t always sell well. “But I can sell credit quickly,” he said.

WAVS awarded Cande, 39, a $500 loan early last year to help expand his business. After repaying the loan in full and on time one year later, WAVS issued him a $1,000 loan in May. He’s already invested that money – purchasing a used motorbike to transport goods and two cell phones that he and his nephew are using to send cell-phone credit directly to customers’ phone.

The loan has made it possible for Cande to purchase the phone credit in bulk and at a discounted price so that he can re-sell it for a profit, giving him the money he needs to support himself, his fiancé, and many relatives and friends and his social circle. Recognizing that the WAVS loans are critical to his business’s success in the future, Cande says that he’s determined to continue to repay the loans.

“My main goal is to make the loan payment because it’s not my money,” he said.