Chief Executive Geoffrey Dennis writes from Bosnia and Herzegovina where he is with ITN’s Alastair Stewart visiting the latest entrepreneurs to be added to Lendwithcare. UK
19 years after I was last here during the war, I was quite surprised to see a lot of buildings and infrastructure are still in the same poor condition as they were then, some exactly as I last saw them. We travelled to Srebrenica early this morning, which economically and physically appears to still be in a very bad way. Buildings still bear bullet marks from the conflict. The economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina has slowed down considerably, particularly since 2008, and as a result approximately 40 per cent of working age people are unemployed. Sarajevo
© CARE/Jon Spaull
Clearly, many families are in a very vulnerable situation. In many cases the head of the house and the only breadwinner is now the mother, as thousands of fathers were killed in the war. Many are struggling to earn a living and a large number are still reliant on food kitchens to keep their family together.
One positive story, however, was a woman we met today. Her name is Nermina. She is now 51 years old and lost her husband in the 1995 massacre. She was left alone with three young children to look after, all under the age of five. In recent years, Nermina has benefitted significantly from education, training and loans through Lendwithcare’s partner and is now able to support all three children with income from a greenhouse and an agricultural smallholding particularly concentrating on chickens.
Lendwithcare gives vulnerable families the opportunity to stabilize their lives - the idea is that individuals in the
make small loans to entrepreneurs in a poor community. So far 100 percent of these loans are repaid. When you make a loan to a Lendwithcare beneficiary, which I have done several times, you receive updates on a regular basis and repayments on your loan. Lendwithcare has just started operations in UK ; in other countries it has already proved to have an extremely positive effect on people’s lives. Bosnia and Herzegovina
We also met inspiring staff from CARE’s women’s empowerment project and discussed the issue of the sex trade that has affected a large number of young women in this country. I see a really positive link with the Lendwithcare programmes as this will allow affected women to change their lives and start building a legitimate small-scale business as an alternative to the dreadful life they’ve had to lead.
I have now seen Lendwithcare operating in three countries and I’m very impressed with the effect it has- I am a great believer in building self sustainable programmes so people don’t have to continue to rely on organisations like CARE. For a small loan- and I do mean these are loans- the effect is genuinely life changing and they restore the dignity of families who really do not want to rely on handouts.
What a wonderful way to invest in improving the life of a vulnerable family at Christmas time. Every staff member in CARE International UK is making a loan on Lendwithcare this Christmas and many of their family members are doing the same thing. Lendwithcare now offers gift vouchers to make it easy to share this opportunity with others. Please do go to www.lendwithcare.org and you can see numerous entrepreneurs and opportunities to make a loan which really will substantially assist a less fortunate family at this time of year.
While I’m writing this, I’m staying in a boarding house in Srebrenica. We have heard some really sad stories today, particularly relating to the killings that took place here 19 years ago. The last family we visited lived in a still partly damaged house and the weather is well below freezing point. I came away today feeling very sad about the situation for many of the people we met.
But I also feel positive about the difference CARE is making. I am personally going to make two loans for families in Srebrenica this Christmas. This is a really good opportunity to permanently and positively affect the lives of some wonderful people like the ones we met today.
By Geoffrey Dennis, CEO of CARE International UK