This week I finally got out to visit projects that MEDA funds. The people here are faced with many challenges when trying to start or improve a business; first of all the country is post-soviet, so entrepreneurs simply were not allowed to exist a short while ago! Therefore business skills are lacking, they have never been taught anything about finances, business plans, etc. Secondly, it is a cash based economy; could you imagine barely making ends meet and trying to save enough money to start a business with 100% cash upfront!? Another large obstacle that the people must overcome is the lack of power, gas, and running water. Every winter, for about 4 months, these utilities are turned off the majority of the time. It's on for a couple of hours in the morning and in the evening... other then that it's just up to luck! And how are the citizens supposed to have successful businesses without such basics!
Enough of my rambling... so MEDA has given out several Small Matching Grants, where the people must save up half of the fund, and MEDA donates the other half. This ensures a sense of responsibility in the clients to make a success of the project because they have personally invested. MEDA also supplies them with mentoring from agricultural specialists, lessons on business skills, how to write a business plan, etc. And the results from the projects I visited were outstanding! We saw several greenhouses that are built into the ground to insulate them and help protect them from frost in the winter. People here love eating tomatoes, they really are a staple food item, and to grow them all year round would make for excellent business. We also visited a partner NGO's project where they built latrines at a primary school to collect urine; it collects in a cistern type storage facility and drys out in a couple of years to use as high quality fertilizer.
One of my favorite parts of visiting our clients is seeing how happy they are when we arrive. They are so excited to show us what they have done, tell us all about their project, and see our reaction! Then they tell us to have a seat on the topchan, relax, and enjoy an abundant amount of food and tea! The project we visited at lunch time filled us full of fruit, veggies, nuts, bread, candy, tea... it was unbelievable! Then the next project we visited after lunch had a huge spread of desserts - cookies, dried fruit, candies, tea and coffee... I was stuffed!
Another thing to mention is the truck ride to visit the projects, the roads are quite rough and the truck was not so smooth. I thought a couple of times my head was going to hit the roof when we went over the bumps! But apparently I was the only ones that thought the drive was bumpy, the locals kinda laughed and told me to just wait... those were some of the best roads in Tajikistan! The scenery along the way was also quite the site; sometimes we saw mountains, sometimes it was desert, and sometimes it was lush vegetation near a river.
Check out google photo's for more!