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placeholder Parishioners provide microfinancing for Malawi project

Missionaries of Faith begin parish ministry in Alameda

Social worker targets crucial needs of low-income Concord seniors

Survey finds youth crave more family, community connections

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placeholder September 8, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA

Some of these students seem more curious about the photographer than their teacher in this outdoor classroom in a Malawi village helped by the Kasimu Education Fund.
Parishioners provide microfinancing for Malawi project

Caption style applied to cell. apply v space 5 to photo (or H space if caption to side)
Augustine Mulomole photos

Last year three Fremont parishioners became international investors in a promising venture in Africa. Rather than financial riches, they made social justice their bottom line.

Through the investment group they founded, the trio are hoping to help the people in a village in the impoverished southeast African country of Malawi improve the educational opportunities of its youth.

The 14-member Corpus Christi Invest-ment Group recently provided a $1,900 grant to the Kasimu Education Fund that will fund the purchase of goats by small farmers in the Malawi’s Zomba area. As their goat business grows, the profits will help pay for a “much needed secondary school,” said Marge Leonard, a founding member of the investment group.

Leonard, with fellow parishioners Mary Joe Kochly and Patty Leal, began the investment group following their participation with JustFAITH, a program that brings together people who share an interest in social justice. “JustFAITH graduates are asked to extend and expand opportunities for social justice,” Leonard said.

The Fremont parishioners decided to base their outreach ministry on microfinance, a system of investment for low-income people who have a business plan but no funding.
“The three of us share a belief that microfinance is an ennobling and enabling path out of poverty in that it creates a system for the recipients of the loan to develop their own business plans rather than have them imposed,” Leonard said.

The three scheduled the initial meeting for their investment group in October 2007 by placing invitations in their bulletins of their parish, the nearby parishes of St. Joseph and Holy Spirit and a local Congregational church. They also spread the word to friends and acquaintances who are not church members.

Fourteen people attended the first meeting. The group met regularly every two weeks from January to May of this year. Because they gathered in classrooms at Corpus Christi the investors began referring to themselves as the Corpus Christi Investment Group, Leonard said.

Through their discussions, the group decided their funds would be an investment rather than a donation. “As with any banking endeavor, we studied the proposal, asked for a system of monitoring the investment and for timely feedback. And we hope for success,” she said.

From the start the members agreed that there would be no “required” investment. Rather, each person would “invest” an amount of their own money at a level they are comfortable with. After listening to the presentation by local representatives of the Kasimu Education Fund, each member anonymously wrote down the amount he or she wished to invest. These anonymous notes were counted to determine the total investment of the group.

The group was open to local investment, but no opportunities were presented. Instead, they chose the Kasimu Education Fund in part because five of the group’s members are teachers and all members share a conviction that education is “a path out of poverty,” said Leonard.

They were impressed with the fund’s work in improving the Kasimu Grammar School, which serves 1000 students from several villages. The school is staffed by five government-paid teachers and six volunteer teacher aides. However, the village does not have a high school and few children are able to continue their education because of the tuition costs and the funds required to board at a distant high school.

But most importantly, the group saw that the fund’s business plan, developed by the Malawians themselves, conformed to the traditional microfinance model.

The investment group recently turned over the funds to members of the Kasimu Education Fund (KEF) board. Mary Burns, KEF’s president, and her husband Robert, KEF treasurer and former fire chief of Mountain View, have East Bay roots. They were married at St. Jerome Church in El Cerrito.

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