Making a difference
One Village At A Time
South Ender Susan Gross, sitting on the first floor of her West Newton St. house, fields questions from my eleven year-old daughter Rubi, who has come along on this interview.
"Is everyone in Africa poor?"
"Why do they look so happy?"
"Why do they have nice clothes?
Rubi is responding to images Gross is showing us from her laptop. The "they" are children in Africa; dressed in their neat school uniforms. A video of kids laughing and singing is in stark contrast to what I can see along the edges-a school with no desks, no supplies. I know that not everyone in Africa is poor, but also that poverty is far worse than Rubi can imagine. I can see Rubi struggle to comprehend as Gross tells her why a girl would have to stay home from school while she has her menstrual period. There’s no way the girl could attend class because she doesn’t have access to sanitary supplies. The students’ enthusiasm in the images belies the truth of their environment.
"They are spectacular," Gross told South End News in 2011, and the sentiment remains the same.
Ten years ago, Gross launched One Village At A Time, a small non-profit working to create a sustainable method of economic and health success by partnering with villagers, and creating contracts with parents called Memorandums of Understanding, and utilizing microfinance loans.
The process starts with an initial visit to a new village. There, Gross and her colleagues teach reproductive health classes, feed and weight all the children and explain microfinance. They also de-worm all the children, to show villagers the kind of immediate results they are capable of.
Then, the nonprofit leaves, giving parents and villagers a chance to decide whether or not they can take on the responsibility of feeding all their children, which, Gross explains, takes work and dedication.
"We say, ’If you want this, we’ll be back,’" Gross says. "...We haven’t been turned down yet."
Once a village has agreed to the program, parents are given a "passbook" and an assignment: to bring food or time to the school their children attends. Then, they have three months to show One Village At A Time they are serious about the endeavor. Everyday, parents convene to gather and cook the food, which is then passed out, in equal share, to all of the children. All the time and food given is recorded in the "passbooks," which are then examined by the nonprofit. If after three months, the village is succeeding, One Village at a Time steps in and provides a one-time payment of $3,000 to help buy additional food.
Ultimately, Gross says, parents get used to the concept of working together to feed everyone.
One Village at a Time has also paired with K-Met, a microfinance company that works with the larger microfinance company, Kiva, to help create sustainable economic development in the area. One Village at a Time provides K-Met with a one-time payment of $1,500 that can be used for loans to villagers.
"Loans get repaid and repaid and we lend it out and lend it out. It never leaves. So they build up a bank," Gross says.
One Village remains committed to staying small. Gross hopes to avoid the trap of raising money simply to grow the organization.
On Saturday evening, May 12, the fifth annual One Village Nambale Harambee (fundraiser) will be held at City Year, 287 Columbus Avenue. The evening will include an open bar, food from B.Good and Pink Berry, live cabaret and a selection of silent auction items including a one week getaway to Moonlight Basin Montana, 7 night South African Safari, VIP Pavilion tickets to the Deutsche Bank Championship, and Red Sox tickets.
Performers from Atlanta’s Serenbe Playhouse (including one of Atlanta’s 10 most eligible bachelors, Brian Clowdus), actress and singer Dasie Thames, and Brian De Lorenzo (Talent America’s 2001 Performer of the Year) will be featured performers.
Tickets are $50 each and available at http://onevillageatatime.org/harambee/