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Mali: Small Loans, Big Impact
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Mali: Small Loans, Big Impact
For people living in the remote Malian town of Yebe, the village bank cooperative has opened up new opportunities. With a microfinance loan of only 30 euros, Mama Coulibaly was able to buy a sack of corn and turn a profit. Now, she runs a small shop and is the only person in her village with a television. Will microfinance prove to be the anchor that keeps young Africans at home, with a bright future?
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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Sun, sand, and relaxation. The Canary Islands are a popular travel destination for wealthy holidaymakers from Europe: just a short distance away from Africa, and yet worlds apart. Every year thousands of people try to reach this paradise in the sun. Every day young men from the heart of Africa embark on a murderous journey to Europe. Dozens crowd together in tiny boats that are hardly seaworthy. Without food or water, they risk their lives setting out into an unpredictable Atlantic Ocean. It is their hope for a better future that makes them tempt their fate in this way.
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Mama Coulibaly
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Small loans, big impact
VOICEOVER
Many young men come from West Africa, from villages like this one. We are in Yebe, a small village in Mali, south of the Sahara. The old clay mosques are the only reminder of the former kingdom. This is where the Bambara tribe live, the people who once ruled West Africa. The people here are farmers. When there is enough rain they grow corn, rice and millet. The whole village is dependent on the harvest, just like Mama Coulibaly, a local trader. She sells the wheat from Yebe in the surrounding cities and brings back some revenue to her impoverished village.
MAMA COULIBALY [Trader]
During the drought two years ago there was no rice. We had to survive with very little corn. We couldn't even afford soap. Even this year we still have to buy extra rice for our village, but the prices are rising. Everything is in short supply. That's why many of our boys and men go to Europe. In times like these we must look out that we don't starve.
VOICEOVER
And yet Mama Coulibaly and the people in Yebe are relatively well off in comparison to other villages. There is only one reason for this: eight years ago development workers came to visit their remote village, which had no electricity or water. These aid workers helped the villagers to build up their own special savings and lending bank. Financial expert Kunibar Darré regularly comes to Yebe to advise people about savings and loans. He keeps to the old rituals, first visiting the village elder before inviting everyone to a general meeting.
GRIJO
Friends from a white TV station have come and would like to talk to you. That's why we have called for a village meeting today. Everybody is to come to the assembly square after the lunchtime prayer. The council of the elders and all men and women should come to talk about their experiences with our village bank.
VOICEOVER
Today Mama Coulibaly is also invited. This is unusual, because according to the tradition of the Bamara, only the eldest men have the power to make decisions.
KUNIBAR DARRE
Good day, inhabitants of Yebe. Our friends form Europe want to know what we have achieved with European help. How have you used this help and what have you been able to do with it. To show our friends that we need their support, we will talk about whether our new bank has helped you to live better lives. Men and women, please tell them freely what you would like to say, tell them your concerns.
DAR
The white people came to us and suggested that we build a village bank. They didn't give us any money, but they explained to us how to build up a cooperative and that everybody must pay in some money and everyone gets a savings account. That's how it started. We saved a lot and gave out many credits. The neighboring villages then also joined us. It works well, we are happy with it. That's why we hope that this kind of support will continue. Now this woman may speak.
MAMA COULIBALY
With the loan I received from the bank I worked very hard and I made a good profit. I was able to pay back the money very soon and I got another loan. My business improved a lot this way. It was a big success for me, it was a really good deal. We always paid our loans back on time. I always managed to pay it back. I am very grateful that we have this bank.
VOICEOVER
Over 80,000 families in the whole of Mali have received small loans. More than half of these loans went to women, because most of the men have long left the villages in the desert. The women here have always traditionally loaned each other money. Although the oldest men in the village have all the power, it is mostly women who work in agriculture and are involved in trading. They are used to making a lot happen, with very little money.
VOICEOVER
Mama Coulibaly received the equivalent of only 30 euros for her first loan. She used the money to buy a sack of corn and a sack of millet. She took the grain to the market of the provincial capital Djenne and this is how she earned her first 25 euros. Today with her small shop Mama Coulibaly supplies the people in her village with the foodstuffs that they cannot grow themselves. The profit she has made has enabled her to be the first person in her village to buy a television set. Everyone who wants to watch her television has to pay a little, so that she can buy fuel for the generator that powers it. Here too, Mama Coulibaly, a businesswoman through and through, makes a little profit.
VOICEOVER
Mama Coulibaly is about 40 years old. She is the mother of seven children aged 13-24. After her first husband died, she was married to his younger brother in keeping with tradition. But he is not very present in her life. She earns her own living and her children help her with the housework. Mama cannot read or write, but she makes sure that her daughters attend school.
MAMA COULIBALY
Come on, come on. Hurry up, you must get to school on time.
VOICEOVER
Only about half the residents of Yebe send their children to the French-speaking school. Books and school supplies have to be paid for by the parents and for many families it is more important that their children work, especially the girls. Mama Coulibaly's daughter is the only girl in the afternoon classes. After finishing school she can even go on to study; her mother will do everything to give her the opportunities she never had.
MAMA COULIBALY
I believe that only women should receive small loans. Here in Yebe it is basically only the women who work. They can do something with the money. And if you help the women, then you help everyone, especially the children. We don't really have anything here. We need money to trade food and we need loans to help ourselves.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Friday is savings day in Yebe. It's the only day the village bank is open. Experts from Germany taught the cashiers of the village bank basic accounting. It was a big problem to find the right people, as hardly anyone here can read or write. Surprisingly the Europeans never brought cash here but they brought their know-how and advice. Today the administration of the village bank works well in Yebe. The chairmen of the bank are the village elders, a sign of respect to African tradition.
VOICEOVER
Yakuba is the head of the bank. He checks who has paid back their credit on time and decides whether there are enough savings to warrant new loans. The bank regularly counts the money and works out how much it can afford to loan to people. This month Yakuba has noticed that it is far less than they expected. Savings have shrunk a lot recently. Loans are being repaid very slowly these days. It is not that people are lazy or don't want to pay back their loans, it is the continuing drought which is ruining their business. The harvest was meager and people need their money to buy extra food. The interest rates are relatively high at over 20 percent. But they are necessary for the bank to continue to operate. Nobody in Yebe has any securities to offer and everyone needs their loans immediately.
KUNIBAR DARRE
Microfinance in Mali means self-governed village banks. They give out small loans. This is something the banks in the cities don't do because it is hardly worth it for them and the people in the countryside have no securities to offer. The idea behind microfinancing is to give those people small loans who would never stand a chance of getting one from a normal bank.
VOICEOVER
To receive a loan from the village bank applicants don't need a big house or property or even cash as a guarantee. But they do have to join the cooperative, like Mama Coulibaly did.
MAMA COULIBALY
Good morning, did you sleep well and your family? I am here because of the loan I asked for. I would like to know if you will loan me the money?
SPARKASSE [Bank Worker]
Mama, I'm afraid that as far as I can see right now, we do not have enough money for your loan. Not enough people have paid money in, we are short of cash. But Yakuba can tell you exactly what the situation is, he is the head of the committee.
YAKUBA [Committee Chief]
Mama, as you see we are all sitting here because we don't have enough money. Many people have come here to get a loan, but nobody has received one. I have checked the books and as much as I would like to do it, it is impossible to loan money right now.
BANK WORKER
I know, Mama, you are one of the best members of our cooperative. You always pay your debts on time. That alone makes you eligible for a loan from us, but only when we have enough money. It is hard for us to not be able to help you, we are sorry. Have a little patience.
MAMA COULIBALY
Thank you for your frank words. But God will help us, I wish you all a good day. I hope that things will improve soon and that we will soon be able to get loans again.
YAKUBA
This bank has opened up opportunities for us which were unthinkable eight years ago. At the moment we can't give out any new loans but when the harvest is poor then people can at least buy food because they have some money left.
VOICEOVER
Kunibar Darré, the microfinance expert from the German-Malian Development cooperation still controls and consults the village banks regularly. To gather all the heads of the village banks once a year he uses the radio – also a former development aid project.
MAN
We interrupt our music program for an important message from the villlage bank. Kunibar Darré is with us.
KUNIBAR DARRE
This is Kunibar Darré with an important message for the heads of the village banks. On Sunday at 8 o´clock there is a general assembly in Djenne in the office of the microfinance cooperative for all the heads of the village banks. I would like you all to personally attend the meeting and in particular it is important that Jakuba Traoré, head of the village bank in Yebe should attend Sunday's meeting.
VOICEOVER
Sunday in Djenne. Many people have gathered in front of the mosque. The state president has announced his visit to the cultural capital on the Niger Delta. All the tribes in the region will play their music and perform their dances. Most of the heads of the village banks are also the oldest in the village or well-respected hunters. The respect for African traditions plays an important role in the success of the village banks.
KUNIBAR DARRE
Welcome to our meeting. I am happy to see you all. We want to talk about the future of our banks today and about our experiences with microfinancing, especially in this year where the harvest was so bad.
MAN
Yes, it really isn't easy at the moment. But now that the banks have been set up and they work, we must continue. We need your support and it is good that we can have this exchange of ideas.
VOICEOVER
It's not just village elders who run the banks. Some younger men have also reached these desirable positions. In return they had to promise to keep living in their villages. Kunibar wants more villages to start up banks. As always he must first ask the council of elders for their permission to present his ideas and his suggestions. Only then can he start to promote his ideas.
KUNIBAR DARRE
Hello, good day, have you ever heard anything about the banking cooperatives and the microcredits?
WOMAN
Yes.
KUNIBAR DARRE
Do you really know the advantages they have and how they work?
WOMAN
No, we don't really know much about them. But we do know that Mama Coulibaly has done very well with them.
KUNIBAR DARRE
I can explain to you how these banks work, but for such a bank to be successful many of you have to become members. I should come back to this village another time and then we should all meet up in the village center. Hello, I am from Djenne and my name is Kunibar.
MAN
And what is your surname?
KUNIBAR DARRE
Darre.
MAN
Hey, that means lion hunter, doesn't it? Don't try to hunt wild animals here.
VOICEOVER
Until recently many people in the village worked as seasonal workers in the cocoa plantations of the neighboring country, Ivory Coast. It brought much needed income to this region. But the war in Ivory Coast has forced many people to return home -- people like Lamine Traore.
LAMINE TRAORE
When the war started I stayed at home, because the military ordered us not to go out. But when things calmed down we fled and we tried to return to Mali via Ghana. We managed to get through in the end and that's how we came back here to our village.
VOICEOVER
Lamine was only able to bring part of his family with him. His wife and his youngest children still live in Ivory Coast. He wants to build up a new life for them here.
LAMINE TRAORE
I don't want to go to Europe like so many others. I just want to stay here to live my life in peace. I will try to build up a new existence. I would most like to stay here on the land, because this is where I am at home.
VOICEOVER
This is difficult, as there is hardly any work for men here. Even in Yebe many people are still dependent on the money that their relatives send back from Europe. The head of the village bank, Yakuba Traore, the father of 15 children and husband of three wives, has not taken out a loan from his bank. Instead he is counting on the generosity of his two eldest sons who have both gone to Europe to find work.
YAKUBA
We don't regret that they live and work there because they regularly send us money to support us. There is no real work for young men here anyway. If I were rich my sons would not have to emigrate to Europe. Then we could perhaps build up something here. But it's simply a question of money. I may have three wives but other than that I am a poor man.

Segment 3

VOICEOVER
Mama Coulibaly won't let her children move to Europe. Her sons and daughters live in the countryside and the youngest are all doing some kind of vocational training.
MAMA COULIBALY
Hey Mussa, let us help you. Those sacks are really heavy. But if you insist then carry them alone.
VOICEOVER
Monday is Mama's hardest working day. That's when she drives to the provincial capital Djenne, to sell grain from her village at the market. She gets up at six o´clock. She travels for three hours by ox-drawn cart.
MAMA COULIBALY
There are days where I am totally worn out, because I think of my mother who suffered more from poverty than I ever have. Now I try to help her. One sees this very clearly with the whites, when they are doing well they are very happy, but one must have patience. Many young people have left to find work somewhere else. That's not good. If God made you to make something of your life here, then nobody should change that. But it would be better if more women like me received help. It really is my wish that many more women manage to do the same as me and that we are successful. Hello Yakuba, what are you doing here already.
VOICEOVER
Mama has not had a market stall for a long time. She sells her wheat directly to traders in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
MAMA COULIBALY
Give me all the money. I won't confuse who gets how much.
VOICEOVER
56,000 CFA is how much Mama gets for her grain. Now Mama is buying goods and produce for her shop. Goods that are not available in Yebe.
MAMA COULIBALY
Do you have canned tomatoes? How much do you want for them? What? 2,000 CFA? That's too expensive. How much is this garlic? 100 CFA? I'll take it.
VOICEOVER
This is how Mama Coulibaly plays her part in Africa's domestic trading. She supplies the people in Yebe and Bamako. The village eldest, Yakuba, is in Djenne today. But he is not doing business, he is at the bank trying to get the money from his two sons who live illegally in Spain. He is totally dependent on their generosity. But this does not affect his status or his reputation as a man. He does not have to work for his money and can still support his family. With the youngest of his wives he is expecting his sixteenth child. Like these young men Yakuba's sons have made their way to Europe. All the way through the Sahara desert, via the nomadic cities like Gao via Algeria or Morocco. Often people travel for weeks in pick-ups until they get to the Algerian coast. Like this man.
MAN
We come from Segu in Mali and are trying to get to Morocco. We leave our country because it is simply too poor. There is no work and no future. The journey is hard, we have to earn money first in Algeria to get into Morocco. Everyone knows that the border between Morocco and Algeria is closed and still we take on the risk of trying to get across the fence. The number of people who die each year is much higher than those who make it across to Europe. I know because I have tried it once and was caught. And still I will try again. It is my last chance.
VOICEOVER
Is Europe really the only chance for Africa's young men? As Mama Coulibaly's success story shows, microfinancing offers young Africans the biggest chance in a long time to build a future for themselves at home. Small loans, initiative and hard work could spare many people the murderous path through the Sahara desert and across the ocean to Europe.
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[End credits]