Via Catherine Price at Salon comes the story of Olga Murray, who devised a simple, practical philanthropic solution that has virtually eradicated a tradition of starving Nepalese farming families selling their daughters into indentured servitude.
1n 1989 Murray was horrified to learn that in poor farming districts a daughter would be sold into domestic slavery to wealthy families for as little as US$35-75. But she and her colleague Sam Paneru came up with an idea based on their understanding of the problems facing poor Nepalese families struggling to feed every mouth – piglets.
Murray and Paneru understood that pork was a prized meat in Nepal and that many families were selling their daughters because they couldn’t feed the rest of their families. So they began approaching village fathers with a proposal: If they promised to keep their daughters and to send them to school instead of selling them, the organization Murray and Paneru worked for, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, would give them a piglet to raise — a piglet that would fetch the same amount of money at market as one of their daughters. What’s more, the NYOF would pay for the girls’ schooling and provide families with a kerosene lamp and 2 liters of kerosene a month. The result? Of the 37 families they approached the first year, 32 said yes. (The Chronicle notes that “some asked for and received a goat instead of a pig” — proving that even in the most absurd situations, it’s good to be flexible.)
The craziest part: Since the beginning of the program, Murray and her colleagues have helped to save 3,000 girls from slavery and, says the Chronicle, to “all but eradicate the long-held tradition of indentured servitude in the Tharu village.”
There’s a lot more detail, including how girls who have been freed as a result of the piglet program are now vocal activists and watchdogs on behalf of other girls, in the San Francisco Chronicle feature that prompted Catherine’s post.
She’s not the only person to come up with these microfinance programs that can make a huge difference to a larger systemic injustice or deprivation. I’m a big fan of the program that builds micro-hydroelectric generators in Africa for only a few hundred dollars a time – during the day it can power a business endeavour, and during the night it provides light for children to study, or for a family to listen to the news and be better informed. (of course, it’s only effective in countries with no water shortage problems)
What other effective microfinance programs do you know?