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Color Me In

Since its launch in 1963, the Peace Corps has provided a unique opportunity for a deep connection between peoples of many cultures.  this is certainly true of sarah Grant who was so deeply moved by her connections in Zambia, that she launched a micro-finance program with a very different focus from that of the aid projects she observed during her time in Zambia.  I think you will find her project very inspirationa.

In July of 2007, Sarah Grant, a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, asked a group of orphaned school children to draw what trees are used for as part of a lesson she was teaching.  Ten minutes later, shock rocked Sarah’s body as the kids handed in crayon pictures of coffins!

Three years later, Sarah is the founder and director of Color Me In! (CMI), a non profit dedicated to helping people in Zambia improve their lives through starting small businesses as well as regenerating the local forests.  The name for the organization stems from that july day with the school children while the inspiration for CMI’s work comes from Sarah’s continual observation of the shortfalls of well-meaning but unsustainable chairity and aid work in Zambia.

“I was constantly noticing in Zambia how dependant people were on hand-outs and there was a noticeable decrease in both motivation and honesty in regions where people were being supported by NGOs.  Results on the ground were skewed to present better reports for the donors,  and in many cases, people in my village were participating in development projects, not because they felt any ownership for it, but because there was a free lunch or bicycles provided.”

A lot of the aid to Zambia has been given with a big heart and the best of intentions, but it ws not producing long-term results.  Zambia is now dramatically poorer than it was at independence despite having received more aid over the years despite having received more aid over the years than most of the other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  At the same time, deforestation is rocking the country as an illegal charcoal trade has become one of the easiest ways for people to earn extra money.

Color Me In’s solution to these issues is two-fold:  Help the people to generate their own income by beginning small businesses to supplement traditional farming and; reinvigorate local knowledge about the link between forests and healthy waterways, soil, weather and wild foods.

The result is a non-traditional lending system targeting groups of entrepreneurs throughout the country who can take out a business loan from CMI at no collateral and pay it back by planting trees.

The concept of credit is not yet highly developed in Zambia, due both to the challenges of rural banking and a strong culture of aid.  Our goal is to begin by helping people to learn more about savings, credit, how to put their ideas into a business plant, and finally, lhow to work with the resources around them in a sustainable manner rather than exploiting them.

To date, CMI has worked with over 17 groups of clients reaching over 500 entrepreneurs directly and providing over $50,000 in loans.  35,000 trees are in the process of being planted and 90% of CMI’s clients are in good standing.

Nest for the organization is a shift in lending models to incorporate a higher percentage of cash payment with low interest — about 8% — with tree planting continuing in parallel with each loan.  The goal, Sarah explains, “Is to both prepare clients to intereact with local banking institutions through practice in normal credit concepts and also to help CMI become more financially self-sustaining over the long run.

You can learn more about Color Me in!’s Green Lending Initiative at their website, or e-mail Sarah directly.

Patricia Rain
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