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DEVELOPMENT: Showcasing Solidarity

Inés Benítez

MÁLAGA, Spain, Nov 10 2011 (IPS) - How does a freezer purchased with a microloan change the life of a poor woman in Senegal? What are the Study Solidarity Olympics? How many lives can an ambulance equipped to attend births save in Ethiopia?

One of many women in Kenya who are self-employed thanks to microloans from the Women's Enterprise Fund. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

One of many women in Kenya who are self-employed thanks to microloans from the Women's Enterprise Fund. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

To answer questions like these, bring visibility to the work of development NGOs and foment the exchange of experiences, the city of Valladolid in north-central Spain is hosting the Encuentro de Proyectos Solidarios (Meeting of Solidarity Projects).

The Nov. 10-12 gathering has drawn nearly 100 groups that work in development aid in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The meeting that kicked off Thursday in the Feria de Valladolid – a large venue with a convention centre and conference halls – is sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).

It is one of the activities surrounding the 5th World Microcredit Summit, to take place Nov. 14-17 in the same city, with the participation of some 2,000 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The Meeting of Solidarity Projects is accessible to the public, who learn about the effect of projects focusing on health, education, nutrition or microfinance on disadvantaged populations, the director of the Feria, Carlos Escudero, told IPS.

“Microcredit has had a major impact on the women of Saint-Louis, in Senegal,” said one of the founders of the Spanish group Entre Mujeres (Among Women), Trinidad Gimeno, who is taking part in the meeting. “When they are given an opportunity, they seize it, and they say they will never go back to being poor. It has changed the lives of many women.”

Since it was founded in 2004, Entre Mujeres has loaned 40,000 euros (54,400 dollars) in microloans to 158 women in poor neighbourhoods of Saint-Louis for scholarships for training courses, or for the purchase of sewing machines, or freezers to store fish in order to sell the product at a higher price when it is scarce or to serve cold water or soft drinks at weddings and baptisms.

Gimeno told IPS that the maximum amount loaned out is 300 euros (408 dollars) per person, at an annual interest rate of four percent.

She said the women involved are empowered, as they go from “being treated somewhat like children to becoming leaders who know how to read and write, save money, learn from life, and keep their children in school.

“We aren’t a bank; we get to know these women’s homes, we go to the baptisms,” Gimeno stressed. She visits Senegal twice a year and considers a close relationship with the recipients of the microloans essential, “because they are not numbers, but people, and they need a lot of support.”

The number of poor women around the world who have received microloans has soared from 10.3 million in 1999 to 112 million today, according to this year’s State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report presented Thursday in the Feria de Valladolid parallel to the Meeting of Solidarity Projects.

A total of 137 million poor people around the world received a microloan in 2010, and microfinance benefited 687 million family members last year – more than the entire population of Europe, including Russia.

Furthermore, the number of very poor families who have obtained a microloan increased 18-fold in the last 13 years.

Entre Mujeres and the rest of the organisations taking part in the Meeting of Solidarity Projects want to bring visibility to their efforts to help reach the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of anti-poverty and development targets adopted by the world’s governments in 2000, with a 2015 deadline.

The MDGs, which set a 1990 baseline, include a 50-percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; promotion of gender equality; environmental sustainability; reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and a global partnership for development between the rich and the poor.

To contribute its grain of sand to achieving these goals, the Spanish NGO Coopera organised the ninth Olimpiada Solidaria de Estudio (Study Solidarity Olympics) where the efforts of young people translate, thanks to sponsor companies, into money donated to educational projects in developing countries.

Every hour of study is converted into one euro of aid for a programme in a disadvantaged area, Coopera director David Ximeno explained to IPS. He said that in 2010, 56,000 young people took part, donating 440,000 hours of study in classrooms across Spain.

With the activity, which has expanded to 10 countries, Coopera is not seeking so much to raise funds as to increase awareness and create a feeling of solidarity among young people, Ximeno said.

Coopera is carrying out education-related projects in Jerusalem, in conflict zones like the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola and Mali, and in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru.

The Feria director Escudero said the aim of this week’s meeting is to get the word out about the work of development NGOs, which includes showing visiting classes of schoolchildren what the different projects do.

“We have sent an ambulance equipped to attend births to the city of Gonder (in Ethiopia), to serve the outskirts of the city,” Clara Valverde, programmes director of the Global Action Movement Association for Women in Africa, Asia and the Americas (MAGMA), told IPS.

On the outskirts of Gonder, a city of 300,000, the poverty is extreme, and women with full-term pregnancies endanger their own lives and those of their unborn children by walking to the hospital – which won’t even admit them if they can’t pay, because in Ethiopia, healthcare is not free, Valverde said.

The activist added that her NGO hired four Ethiopians for the project, including a doctor, and furnished the hospital with a maternity ward complete with an ultrasound and a mammogram machine.

MAGMA, which receives funds from the Madrid provincial government and AECID, plans to build a neonatal unit next year in the Gonder hospital, “where newborns are laid on boards because there are no bassinets.”

To help visitors to the Meeting of Solidarity Projects get an idea of the dire circumstances faced by people in many parts of the planet, more than 25 hours of films will be shown, along with theatre, music and dance performances.

Cives Mundi, another NGO taking part in the meeting, shows how new technologies can be used to raise the public’s awareness, through its web site http//

The head of the Haitinet project, Gonzalo Gil, explained to IPS that by means of a powerful search engine, the web site provides up to the minute coverage on Haiti by gathering all of the articles available on the country on the worldwide web.

The first film shown at the Meeting of Solidarity Projects was “Y también Gaelle”, a documentary by Austrian filmmaker Natalie J. Halla that shows the return to Haiti of a group of Spanish firefighters who took part in the rescue effort after the 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000 people in January 2010.

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